StLou's Previews: Louisville Cardinals

Louisville Cardinals

Virginia attempts to spoil another senior night on Thursday as it travels to Kentucky to face the scandal-ridden Cardinals. Emotions will be high in this game, and Louisville has a lot to play for; will the #1 Hoos be up to the challenge?

Game Details:

Date/Time: Thursday, March 1st, 8:00 PM Eastern
Location: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
TV: WatchESPN, ACCN (local affiliates)

What 'They' Say

Vegas: Virginia -4, O/U 124.5
TAPE: Ranks UL #26, predicts a 66-60 UVA win, 72% confidence
KenPom: Ranks UL #34, predicts a 63-57 UVA win, 71% confidence


Depth Chart:


PG #4 Quentin Snider, 6-2 175, SR
32.3 mpg, 12.2 ppg, 4 apg, 41% 3P%
SG #24 Dwayne Sutton, 6-5 200, SO 
14.1 mpg, 4.2 ppg, 3.8 rpg, 46% FG% 
SF #0 V.J. King, 6-6 190, SO 
24.9 mpg, 8.9 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 40% FG% 
PF #22 Deng Adel, 6-7 200, JR 
33.4 mpg, 15.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 45% FG% 
C #13 Ray Spalding, 6-10 215, JR 
26.8 mpg, 11.9 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 54% FG% 

Key Reserves


#30 Ryan McMahon, 6-0 170, SO
16.5 mpg, 6.2 ppg, 1.6 apg, 39% 3P%
G #2 Darius Perry, 6-2 170, FR 
13.3 mpg, 3.6 ppg, 1.7 apg, 33% 3P% 
F/C  #5 Malik Williams, 6-11 215, FR 
11.7 mpg, 4.4 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 43% FG% 
C #14 Anas Mahmoud, 7-0 215, SR 
24.7 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 57% FG% 


The ABC's of UL:

A) They're playing a lot more small lineup. Against Virginia Tech, they played small, with Adel at the 4 for 32 minutes, and big man trio Spalding/Mahmoud/Williams combining for only 44 minutes (meaning only 4 minutes of playing two bigs together). This is a fairly new look for the Cards (the VT win was the first time they've started the game small), and is based partly on roster availability, partly on matchups against an increasingly smaller ACC, and maybe a bit of shifting philosophy from rookie head coach Padgett. For comparison's sake, against us in January, UL's big men played a combined 70 minutes. In other games lately the balance has been somewhere in between... in their loss to UNC last week they played small for exactly half the game. I think we'll see a similar balance. Spalding is simply too good a big to sit for too long, he's been arguably their best player over the last month, shooting 59% in conference play (9th place), 8th best in the ACC in defensive and 5th in offensive rebounding, plus blocking shots and creating turnovers. With Mahmoud also available, who's a plus defender and capable low post threat (to say nothing of it being his senior night), it's understandable they want to find minutes for him alongside Spalding. But playing small is all the rage right now for a reason, and Adel, at 6-7 / 200 lb is a good size for that Wing-4 position, and will possibly have a mismatch on the less athletic Wilkins. Expect to see Hunter at the 4 in long stretches if Adel (and in lesser minutes, Sutton) play the power forward spot for extended minutes.

B) They've quietly become the ACC's best 3-point shooting team. Now, it's worth qualifying that this is on pretty low volume, as they're only taking 31% of their shots from 3 (12th in the ACC), but the shots they are taking are going in reliably, an impressive 38.7% as a team. Senior PG Snider has really stepped up here this year; he was shooting 34% in non-conference play, but 45.5% in ACC play on steady volume. Reserve guard Ryan McMahon is a reliable gunner (56 of his 71 shots in ACC play are from deep) shooting 43%, and Perry is chipping in 46% and Sutton 38% on low volume. Adel is knocking down a reliable 35%. The only weak link is VJ King, who's been a cold 7/33 (21%) in ACC play this year. Their bigs aren't stretch threats, but the increased minutes in a small lineup (see above) could portend a shift to more reliance on the deep ball. They took 27 3PAs against VT (hitting 12 for 44%), and 20 3PAs against Duke, so our 1-4 are going to have to be vigilant defending the perimeter against their versatile shooting lineup, especially when the reserve gunners hit the floor (McMahon was 3/5 in our first matchup).

C) They have plenty to play for. Louisville is very much a Bubble team right now. Now, they're on the "right side" as of today, but that's tenuous. They host us this week, then travel to face a hot NC State squad similarly playing for postseason position. They're only 3-8 against the NCAA's Quadrant 1 teams, and another 1-2 against Q2, meaning they need at least one more regular season win (both us and @NCSU would be Q1) plus an ACCT win to feel good. They're coming into this game viewing us as a prime resume-maker, to say nothing of a revenge mindset after coming out on the wrong end of our January battle.

Their season to date:

Louisville is 19-10 on the season, 9-7 in the ACC.  Their best wins are at FSU, at a short-handed ND, and a sweep of Virginia Tech, the most recent coming on Saturday. Their 10 losses are all to teams at a minimum on the NCAAT bubble, Syracuse being the worst. In the last matchup against Virginia, the Cards lost at JPJ 74-64 on Jan 31st.

Keys to getting the win:

1) Dominate the TO battle. Both Louisville and UVA feature turnover-generating defenses, though they're doing it in very different ways. Louisville relies on pressuring perimeter ball movement, while we're looking to strip ball handlers and poach interior or cross-court passing. But while Virginia's offense is very good at limiting turnovers, meaning Louisville's defense may struggle to find success in this area, the Cards offense has been struggling with ball protection lately, so the Hoo defense has a real opportunity. Virginia Tech and Duke last week turned the Cards over 15 times each, and they've coughed up double digit TOs against basically everyone other than Pitt in recent weeks. When they last played Virginia, the Hoos won the TO battle 13 to 7. Expect Spalding and Mahmoud to be well rehearsed on passing out of the post double, so if the Hoos elect to trap, they need to be jumping the passing lanes to the cutters or spot-up shooters to capitalize.

2) Use midrange touches to set up the offense. This is obviously a routine point we've been hitting since the VT loss, but actually one we recommended last time around vs UL as well. Louisville's guards will be focused on perimeter denial and ball-hawking. Their posts are focused on rim protection. That means that the 8-15' range of the floor is where the offense needs to operate out of. Get there off the dribble or off the pass and react to the defense. If it collapses from the perimeter, kick to a shooter. If the rim protection comes out, dump to a cutter at the rim. If the help doesn't come, launch the midrange J or floater in rhythm. The Hoos have been doing an outstanding job in recent weeks of being deliberate in touching the post on most possessions, and the offense has looked much improved as a result. Louisville, especially given how they defend, is no different.

3) Keep them off the FT line. Louisville has supplemented its offense all season with regular trips to the FT line. They're 4th in the ACC in drawing attempts, led by hard charging wings King and Adel and traditional power post Spalding, though both Mahmoud and Snider are adept as well. In their win over VT they shot 21 FTAs. In a loss to UNC, they shot 22. It was 26 apiece when hosting Syracuse and FSU 3 weeks ago. But when we faced them in January, we allowed them only 6 trips to the line. In getting pasted at Cameron last week, Louisville only drew 7 FTAs. Our defenders have to be cognizant that Louisville is looking for contact, so a lot of discipline is required to defend legally, avoid unnecessary reaches or ill-advised block attempts, and force them to actually make contested buckets.

Bonus) Match their intensity. I mentioned above Louisville has a lot to play for in this one. They're in a tenuous bubble position and could really use an upset here to solidify their outlook. Additionally, it's senior night for Snider and Mahmoud, and Adel may explore the NBA this summer. Add all the negative media surrounding the Cards' forfeiture of their 2013 banner (something none of these current Cards players had anything to do with as far as we know), and there's the potential that Virginia is facing a ticked off, hungry, focused Louisville team. Virginia, by comparison, is playing mainly to lock up a 1-seed and a preferred Atlanta Regional placement, which are still important but admittedly lower stakes, especially with Duke's latest loss. As such, it's on the boys to figure out how to make this game as important to them as it is to Louisville, and match or exceed their level of want-to. Virginia found a way at Pitt to play locked-in ball the first half in a game they could've easily slept-walk through, so it's essential they find that same focus against the much more dangerous Cardinals. As a cautionary tale, the last two times UVA started conference play 15-1 (in 2014 and 2015) and had the conference locked up with a week to go, they managed to drop the statistically-meaningless road finale. Here's hoping third time's the charm.




There's a reason this squad has had sustained success against the Cards in recent years, and it's because Virginia's just a bad matchup for them. They want to play fast in transition, and UVA is disciplined in transition D. Their defense is predicated on turnover creation and our guards excel at ball security. And their matchup zone is well suited to counter ball-screen heavy offenses, while the Hoo offense only uses ball screens selectively anyways. None of that changes in this game, regardless of the X-factors like Senior Night, or "needing" this game more. In the first game, the Cards were reduced to taking a lot of contested jumpers, though to their credit they made many of them. Continue to execute the game plan, with a special emphasis in this game on defending the small lineup, and the Hoos are set up for success. Louisville has lost all three games its played this year against the league's Power 3 (UVA, Duke, UNC) by double digits, so for them to score the upset, they're going to have to either execute an excellent game plan or catch us sleeping.

I'm feeling the Hoos go to Louisville feeling locked in. They've had two weeks to essentially catch their breath (since winning at Miami on 2/13, they had a weekend off, a home game against a fiesty but overmatched GT, and a bench-emptying blowout at Pitt), and the team has played very well on the road so far this year (8-0 in ACC road play this year, with only 2 by fewer than 9 points). This game is UVA's chance to lock up the South Region#1 seed, put themselves in the record book with the ACC's first 9-0 road record, and stay alive to break the 16-win record they've twice achieved. I think the Hoos simply out-execute the Cards in this one, especially on the defensive end.

Hoos Win - 63-52