Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Preview -- Louisville

When #18 Louisville visits Villanova Wednesday for their 2011 season conference game. do not treat the casual fans of either team harshly if they continually refer to their game program rosters to identify the players. Hopefully the Wells Fargo Center will provide ones with pictures. For Villanova, the spotlight in the seasons 2007 though 2010 seemed to be mostly on Scottie. And forgive Louisville coach Rick Pitino that his roster was not "final" until they bounced the balls out for Fall Practice. In addition to pictures, Pitino needed a few NCAA appeals to finalize his personnel. The teams that meet on January 21, 2011 will different in many ways from the teams that met nearly a year ago to the day in Louisville...

The teams have played one common opponent, South Florida. And better yet, both were visitors within the last fortnight...

Opponent:South Florida

Louisville's best OOC win was an eight point victory over UNLV (MWC, 13-3, RPI #28). Best conference win is at home vesus Seton Hall (RPI #), a convincing 19 point win that put the Cardinals back into the polls. Of their two losses, each hurt their pride more than their tournament resume. Drexel out of the CAA beat the Cards at home by six points, the indignity of losing to a mid-major stung, but the Dragons have a #56 rank in the RPI -- not a deal-breaker for the Selection Committee. The second loss, by 15 to in-state rival Kentucky, for the second time in two years, was a killer. Kentucky is ranked #6 in the RPI. That loss will not keep them out of the tournament...

Lineups, Rotations...
...Slated to return about 50% of their 2010 minutes and 44% of their points, Louisville had replacements in the pipeline...until August that is. Pitino had a series of "Not comming" announcement through the month before school, and the roster assembled contained mostly the complement players from 2010, with little experience and talent coming off the bench. Some good news late (a won appeal to the NCAA) brought in another front court player, but Jared Swopshire a junior guard/forward, is out for the season with a groin injury and Rakeem Buckles, a sophomore forward and scorer, is out another five or so weeks with a broken finger.

Coach Pitino has nine available players who have logged time in 13 or more of the Cardinal's 15 games. Six of the nine have averaged > 20 minutes per game, while two of the other three have average > 10 minutes per game. In both Big East games the Louisville staff used a 10 man rotation. Look for a starting backcourt of three guards, sophomore Peyton Siva to handle the ball, with senior Preston Knowles and junior Chris Smith at the off-guard and wing spots. The front court has seen a lot of shuffling in the wake of the Buckles and Swopshire injuries. Against a "2 forward" Seton Hall line up Pitino gave the nod to juniors George Goode and Kyle Kuric. Goode is a 6-8'ish forward who weighs in at about 230+ pounds while Kuric is a guard (6-4, 185 pounds). Neither played more than 14 minutes against the Hall, as Pitino rotated a succession of three other forwards and two guards through the game. Against South Florida, a longer front court team, Pitino went with sophomore Stephen Van Tresse (6-9, 235 pounds) and freshman Gorgui Dieng (6-10, 225 pounds), a Huntington Prep player who qualified in mid-October after an appeal. Given the duo's success against the Bulls (22 points, 17 rebounds, 20+ minutes of playing time) and Villanova's most likely starting five, expect Van Tresse and Dieng to get the nod again. Pitino will also call the numbers for sophomore guard Mike Marra (6-5, 200 pounds), Jennings and Kuric. And do not be surprised to see Goode and one other (Russ Smith most likely) sub in to give the others a rest.

Villanova has used the same starting five -- Corey Fisher and Maalik Ways will split the point duties with Fisher shifting to the off guard when the staff wants to push the ball up the floor. Corey Stokes, who has found consistency with his outside shot and emerged as the scoring leader to this point in the season will take the third guard spot, playing mostly on the wing. The front court positions will be manned by Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou. Pena is a senior who has started off and on, for the past three seasons, mostly on for the past two. Villanova's rotation can go to 11, but nine, those five players who logged time versus Cincinnati on Sunday and freshman wing James Bell, sophomores Dom Cheek, Maurice Sutton and Isaiah Armwood, is more typical, especially in a closely contested game.

By the Numbers, Offense & Defense...
Both teams like to run. A lot. Expect possessions in the low 70s (72?). Villanova's pace has trended up for the past several weeks, a bit counter intuitive given conference games can settle into chess match-paced affairs. Neither team would be uncomfortable with an even faster (than 72) pace, and though Pomeroy projects 72 possessions. A "Four Factors" comparison when Louisville has the ball...

When the 'Ville has the ball...
Card O55.319.037.435.5
Wildcat D42.419.326.934.7

The 'Villes offense is ranked #13 according to Ken Pomeroy's Scouting Report, very much among the elites in Division 1. Louisville does two things well -- they convert their shots to points (especially 2 point attempts ironically, though they shoot 37.3% from beyond the arc, they convert a whopping 54.8% of their 2s) and they cover the offensive boards, giving themselves second chance opportunities if the first shot does not drop. The Cards' biggest weakness comes at the line, they do not shoot free throws particularly well. Louisville probably does not want to be in a close game that may have to be decided at the line, especially away from home. Villanova has become particulary good at defending the shot, their eFG% defense is ranked #11 in D1. Granted the slate to date has not featured strong shooting teams like Louisville, but expect both the shooting and boards to be areas of strenuous competition between the two squads. If the substitution patterns start to look like a chess match, consider that each staff is probably trying to gain an advantage on the boards or in the lane. The "Four Factors" look at Villanova's offense versus Louisville's defense:

When Villanova has the ball...
Wildcat O51.317.736.246.8
Card D43.325.433.441.1

The Card's adjusted defense is 88.9, ranked #25, among the near-elits for Division 1. They are strong shot defenders (good at defending both the two and the three, but ranked among the elite at defending the two), and enhance that strength with a high turnover rate, typically causing opponents to lose more than a quarter of their possessions without a shot. When opponents miss however, the Cardinals are about average at netting the rebound. Rebounding under Villanova's basket is a strength-to-weakness match up that could prove to be critical to the outcome of the game.

Want to Beat Louisville? Then...
Shooting is always critical, make them miss and convert your own, but...
1. Taking away second chance opportunities seems to cause the 'Ville real problems. In their two losses, Drexel and Kentucky both held Louisville to 27% or fewer offensive rebounds. Louisville is 1-2 in games when they do not rebound to 27%.

...Early pollsters looked with scepticism at Louisville's homebody out of conference schedule. How good are they really? The two teams are well-matched on their strengths and weakness (of the Four Factors kind), but this is only the second trip out of the state of Kentucky for a team that Pomeroy ranks #258 in experience. On a cold night in Philadelphia a more mature opponent and a (if the 'Cats get the turnout...) hostile crowd may be the margin.

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