Louisville has been a pleasant surprise in ACC play. Heading into Wednesday’s matchup with #2 Virginia, the Cardinals have won six of eight in conference play, their only losses on the road in overtime at #20 Clemson and Miami, both teams with strong NCAA Tournament resumes themselves.
It has been a season of upheaval, to put it mildly, in Louisville, with interim coach David Padgett picking up the pieces from the scandal that led to the dismissal of Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino on the eve of the 2017-2018 season.
A lackluster pre-ACC schedule that included narrow home wins over Nebraska-Omaha, Indiana, Memphis and Albany concluded with a thud, a 90-61 loss to rival Kentucky on Dec. 29.
Padgett will go 10 deep some nights, with only two players, Deng Adel and Quentin Snider, averaging more than 30 minutes a night.
Adel, a 6’7” forward, leads the team in scoring, at 15.6 points per game, on 47.2 percent shooting from the floor and 34.9 percent shooting from three-point range.
Snider, a 6’2” senior point guard, scores 13.1 points per game, on 44.6 percent shooting from the field and 37.0 percent shooting from three, with 4.0 assists per game.
6’10” center Raymond Spaulding is a force in the post, averaging 11.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 2.1 blocks per game, shooting 50.8 percent from the floor.
Louisville is shooting 46.5 percent from the field in conference play, third in the ACC, and scoring 80.4 points per game in conference contests, also third.
On the defensive end, the Cardinals give up .930 points per possession in all games, 14th nationally, and .969 points per possession in conference games, second in the ACC, to Virginia, which allows .850 points per possession in ACC play and a nation’s-best .811 points per possession in all games.
Spaulding is the third-best defender in the ACC, with a defensive rating of 86.2, and another Louisville post man, Anas Mahmoud, a seven-footer who averages 7.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per game, is eighth, with a rating of 90.4.
Virginia’s entire starting five is in the top seven of the conference in defensive rating: Isaiah Wilkins first, at 78.2, Ty Jerome second (86.1), Jack Salt fifth (87.5), Devon Hall sixth (87.5), and Kyle Guy seventh (89.8).
Louisville plays tempo, averaging 70.0 possessions in all games, 84th nationally, and 71.1 possessions in ACC games, fourth in the conference. Virginia averages 59.6 possessions in all games, 351st, dead last, nationally, and 61.1 possessions in the ACC, also last in that subgroup.
Keys to the game: Virginia
- Avoid foul trouble: Louisville is third in conference play in free-throw attempts. Virginia is among the best in the nation at avoiding fouls and not sending opponents to the line, but then there was the 65-63 win at Duke, which saw the ‘Hoos double up on the Blue Devils in fouls before Duke had to foul to clock the ball. Isaiah Wilkins logged just 14 minutes on the afternoon there with foul trouble the main culprit. With Louisville’s size, Virginia cannot afford a repeat of that.
- Attack: Size, aforementioned. Louisville is big, with three guys 6’10” or bigger averaging double-digit minutes, and size in the backcourt. The size in the post can lure opponents into thinking that jumpers from farther out are the way to go. Virginia is at its best when its guards attack the paint off the dribble and off screens from the bigs and move the ball from there.
- No hangovers: Coach Tony Bennett had his team celebrate the win at Duke by taking the kids out for ice cream. Hopefully, that put things to rest as far as the Duke win is concerned. Louisville starts a tough stretch for UVA that includes road games at Syracuse, Florida State and Miami and a home game with Virginia Tech over the next two weeks. Time to get back to work.
Preview by Chris Graham