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Virginia vs. Louisville Basketball Preview - Three Keys to a UVA Road Win:

Rick Pitino reacts after Virginia beats Louisville tomorrow.
Rick Pitino reacts after Virginia beats Louisville tomorrow.
Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports
Virginia looks to win their second consecutive road game, and fourth in a row overall, when they head to the KFC Yum! Center for a tasty, nationally televised game against the Louisville Cardinals .

Virginia (16-4, 5-3, #11 AP, #12 KenPom) at Louisville (17-3, 6-1, #16 AP, #3 KenPom)
1 PM
KenPom: Louisville 68-62 (75% WP)  - Vegas line not yet out.

The teams, designated as official rivals by the ACC, split their matchups last season. Virginia prevailed at home 52-47 in a slow-paced defensive battle (that was the game during which Justin Anderson sustained his hand injury), and Louisville won the rematch 59-57 on an unlikely, but still quite painful, Mangok Mathiang buzzer beater. UVA leads the all-time series 6-4.

The Cardinals enter at 6-1 in the ACC, with their lone loss on the road at Clemson. However, they've yet to take on any other members of the ACC's upper tier - their best wins are home games against Pitt and FSU and a road victory at Georgia Tech. Their out-of-conference was similarly bland, as they lost understandable road games at Michigan State and Kentucky, but don't have an impressive win either (their best was a 48 point home victory over Grand Canyon which is apparently the name of a college ranked just inside KenPom's top 100).

However, a lack of opportunity to impress doesn't mean that Louisville isn't good. They are good. They won each of their out-of-conference games by double digits and have beaten two teams on the road who UVA has already lost to.

Here's how they do it, through the "Four Factors," which reveal the Cardinals as an elite defensive team that's very good on the offensive side as well.

Louisville Statistics:
Offense Defense
PPP 1.15 (22) 0.91 (6)
eFG% 54.2% (28) 42.1% (4)
TO% 17.2% (97) 21.4% (31)
OReb% 42.4% (3) 28.5% (106)
FTA/FGA 36.0% (188) 41.8% (277)

Despite significant losses from last season's team, Louisville has reloaded impressively quickly. They did it by nabbing a pair of graduate transfers, both of whom were dominant on their mid-major squads and have transitioned smoothly into the ACC.  Damion Lee, who hails from Drexel, is probably the team's most dangerous and diverse offensive threat, as he's converted 56% of his 2s and 38% of his 3s this season and ranks 9th in KenPom's Player of the Year standings.  And shooting guard Trey Lewis came from Cleveland State to provide another three-point threat (39% behind the arc).

The more recognizable name (both because he was on the team last year and because of the name itself) is Chinanu Onauaku; he's 9th in the nation in offensive rebounding, a key part of Louisville's offensive game plan, and converts second-chance points himself at a high clip.

Rick Pitino has an assortment of tall rebounders that he rotates in off the bench, including the 6-10 Raymond Spalding and a pair of 7-footers that play relatively sparingly (Matz Stockman and Anas Mahmoud).

Three Keys to Victory for Virginia:

1. Get to the free-throw line

Louisville's defense is a tough one to beat. They make opponents miss both from inside the paint and beyond the arc, and they force turnovers too. The trade-off is that the Cardinals also foul often (277th in FTA/FGA).  The Hoos aren't primed to take advantage, as they enter ranked 234th at getting to the FT line and especially haven't done so on the road.  The team can't settle for jumpers (especially of the mid-range variety), and has to be aggressive getting the ball inside.

On a more positive note, UVA performed well against West Virginia, who ranks #1 in adjusted defensive efficiency with a unit that makes opponents miss and turn it over, but fouls often (though Louisville doesn't press with quite the same ferocity).  In that game, the Hoos took only 8 three-pointers but made 24 of their 35 two point attempts and attempted 20 free-throws. A similarly-styled effort will be key.

2. Protect the defensive glass (and grab a few more on offense).

Louisville relies heavily on offensive rebounding to score.  But in conference games, they haven't done so with quite as much success as they've had early on and had to rely heavily on their defense to win.   The Hoos have generally done an excellent job defensive rebounding during conference play, a saving grace of its otherwise meek defense, and have to continue to box out against a tougher and more aggressive team.

The Hoos have, however, slipped on the offensive end, where they rank just 13th in the conference. They have especially struggled on the road, where they've rebounded just 24% of their own misses. That's gotta change.

3. Get production from someone outside the "Big 3"

In Virginia's three ACC losses, Malcolm Brogdon, London Perrantes, and Anthony Gill haven't always played their best games. (Brogdon has combined to shoot 14 of 48 from the field, Perrantes had 2 or more TOs in each, and Gill combined for one offensive rebound against GT and FSU).

But they haven't had much help either, combining to score 72% of the team's points in those 3 games, while no other player has scored more than 7. (Remember the good old days, when Darius Thompson scored in double figures against WVU and Villanova, or Mike Tobey had 12 and 15, respectively, versus Miami and Notre Dame?)

Mike Tobey has the chance to be an X-factor against the Cardinals. UVA needs his length, they need his rebounding ability, and they need him to take some of the pressure against Anthony Gill, who has been forced to "do it all"  lately. A stretch like this one, at the start of last year's UVA-Louisville game in Charlottesville, would be a nice boost:

Tip-off's at 1 PM in Louisville. The ACC's been a roller-coaster ride so far, and no outcome would be surprising tomorrow.  All that is assured is that one team will walk away with a meaningful victory.