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StLouHoo's Preview:

Welcome to the Chris Mack Era

Louisville Cardinals

Virginia and Louisville renew the ACC's newest rivalry this weekend with a new twist, the Cards now under the tutelage of former Xavier head coach (and 2018 Big East CoY) Chris Mack. He's got the Cards in the Top 25 with some signature wins, but some puzzling losses as well. How will the Hoos match up with the new-look Cardinals?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, February 23rd, 12:00 am ET
Location:Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
TV:Raycom

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:Virginia -5.5, O/U 123, equates to ~64-59 UVA win
TAPE:Ranks UL #23, predicts a 63-58 UVA win, 68% confidence
KenPom:Ranks UL #19, predicts a 64-59 UVA win, 66% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#1 Christen Cunningham, 6-2 190, SR
31 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 4.9 apg, 37% 3P%
SG#4 Khwan Fore, 6-0 185, SR
20 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 1.2 apg, 34% 3P%
SF#24 Dwayne Sutton, 6-5 215, JR
32 mpg, 10.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 46% FG%
PF#33 Jordan Nwora, 6-7 225, SO
32 mpg, 17.3 ppg, 7.6 rpg, 45% FG%
C#5 Malik Williams, 6-11 245, SO
18 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 42% FG%
Key Reserves
G#30 Ryan McMahon, 6-0 180, JR
19 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 1.8 apg, 36% 3P%
G#2 Darius Perry, 6-2 195, SO
17 mpg, 5.4 ppg, 1.5 apg, 32% 3P%
F#13 V.J. King, 6-6 215, JR
13 mpg, 3.8 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 38% FG%
C#23 Steven Enoch, 6-10 260, JR
19 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 56% FG%

 

The ABC's of Louisville:

A) They're playing good positional man defense. Pitino's teams were always built on defense, and Mack has piggybacked on that identity, though it's with a different style. Whereas the Pitino versions pressed and ran matchup zones to get steals, Mack is dropping back into a half-court man defense, conservatively choosing not to gamble on steals (14th worst steal rate in ACC play) or blocks (14th worst block rate in ACC play). Instead, their defense, ranked 2nd in the league by KenPom, is doing it the old fashioned way, holding teams to poor shooting nights (2nd in eFG% allowed) and then closing out on defensive rebounds. Virginia will be able to get into its sets, but expect a high-energy Cardinals defense to prevent a ton of easy, open looks.

B) Small lineup, spread attack. Louisville has a smaller lineup than UVA's with four guards 6-2 or shorter (starters Fore and Cunningham, reserves Perry and McMahon). They'll even put three of them on the floor together for some stretches. They stay small at the 4 with wing-4 Nwora, backed up by the 6-5 Sutton. They use these guys to spread the floor, all of them at least okay shooters, and even their centers Williams and Enoch can shoot from the perimeter. UVA's pack line is going to have to choose between stretching to honor all five shooters and keeping some sagging help defense and trusting in their closeouts.

C) They'll challenge our pace. Louisville wants to speed things up to a 70+ possession game, ranking in the top 5 fastest tempos both offensively and defensively in the ACC. Mack usually ran one of the faster tempos in the Big East as well. This is a little peculiar as the Cards aren't doing it so much off of live-ball turnovers, but instead are just coached to take the first shot they're comfortable with. Coughing up turnovers (5th worst in the league) of course also shortens possession time. The Hoos have done a good job slowing down other fast offenses, playing Carolina to just 60 possessions last week, so we should expect the Hoos to once again make the Cards uncomfortable late in the shot clock.

 

Their Season To Date

Louisville is 18-9 on the year, 9-5 in the ACC. Non-conference they had good wins over Michigan State and at Seton Hall, but in ACC play found a way to lose at Pitt before scoring a big win at UNC. After winning 6 straight in January, they've lost 4 of 6 in February, most recently by 20 at Syracuse.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Run patient but continuous offense to get good looks. Louisville's defense is best when it can get opponents to take early, contested looks. If Virginia can run its sets well into the shot clock, it should be able to induce some breakdowns, or switch into some mismatches, in the Louisville defense. This, however, does not mean patiently dribbling down the shot clock only to initiate the offense or count on iso-ball with the shot clock under 10, but instead presses a need to run hard, continuous screens and cuts (whether with or without the ball) to move pieces around on Louisville's defense. There are advantages to be gained, especially with size advantages we may have at the 2-4.

2) Disrupt the point of attack. Louisville wants to run its offense through its front court. Nwora, Williams, and Enoch have the highest usage rates on the team in ACC play, with Nwora having the third highest shot rate in the league (29%). UVA's defense can disrupt those opportunities before those players have an opportunity to get a good shot. Louisville's offense is very dependent on ball movement, as they assist on made field goals at the ACC's 3rd highest rate (nearly 3 of 5 FGMs are assisted). But those guards are also prone to being disrupted, as the Cards' offense suffers from turnover problem, especially of the live ball variety, with everyone in their primary rotation committing at least a TO a game in ACC play, some averaging 2+. Virginia's guards and wings are well equipped to make life uncomfortable on ball handlers and on passing lanes, ensuring UL's offense rarely finds much rhythm.

3) Fast start. Louisville is a team that is still learning to win together consistently, and Syracuse was able to use a fast start to cut to the core of the Cards' confidence, putting the game away early. Virginia needs to open the game with an eye towards its offense, putting the right players on the floor to do so (as in: don't start Clark and Salt together), so that it can rip the energy out of Louisville's players and fans in the first half. There's plenty of time during the grind of the game to put a defensively-oriented lineup on the floor to hopefully protect a lead and grind clock, but off the bat, it's best for all involved if UVA can come out of the game already in a groove offensively.

 

 

Predictions:

Louisville is a really hard team to peg. Sometimes they're a team that can blow out UNC on the road and dominate Duke for 30 minutes. Other times they lose at Pitt, or blow a 20 point lead vs Duke, or get crushed by a good-but-not-that-good Syracuse. They're a team full of veterans who, at the same time, are still working with four new transfers and a brand new head coach. Who's going to show up, the veteran giant-killers or the inconsistent team mid-rebuild?

I think that Wednesday's game against Syracuse is very telling. Cuse, for all their warts (we'll get into those in 10 days), is still a veteran, experienced team under a long-tenured coach who preaches tough defense. And Louisville was unprepared for it.

Yes they've got good wins so far. Their win over UNC in January occurred when the Heels were still working through some early-season issues, and UNC promptly got revenge a few weeks later by double digits. The Cards were able to sprint out against the Duke freshmen who stupidly fell in love with their jumpers after their fluke shooting night in JPJ, but once Duke got back to what they do well, the Cards folded. Long story short, the Cards have yet to show me they can beat a Grade A team playing Grade A ball.

If Virginia is ready to start finding that 5th gear again, then the Hoos are the better team in this one, even on the road.

Hoos Win 67-56