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StLouHoo's Preview:

Senior Night for Salt

Louisville Cardinals

Virginia plays its home finale on Saturday against new rival Louisville, a team it embarrassed in the Yum! Center a few weeks ago with a huge second half, turning a 12 point deficit into a 12 point win over the final 19 minutes. The Hoo faithful say an official farewell to senior Jack Salt, and an unofficial farewell to undetermined members of its back court, in what is sure to be an emotional afternoon.

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, March 9th, 4:00 pm ET
Location:John Paul Jones Arena, Charlottesville, VA
TV:ESPN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:UVA -12.5, O/U 123.5, equates to ~68-56 UVA win
TAPE:Ranks Louisville #29, predicts a 67-55 UVA win, 88% confidence
KenPom:Ranks Louisville #21, predicts a 69-55 UVA win, 90% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#4 Khwan Fore, 6-0 185, SR
19 mpg, 3.4 ppg, 1.2 apg, 31 3P%
SG#1 Christen Cunningham, 6-2 190, SR
31 mpg, 10.1 ppg, 5 apg, 35 3P%
SF#24 Dwayne Sutton, 6-5 215, JR
31 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 45 FG%
PF#33 Jordan Nwora, 6-7 225, SO
32 mpg, 17.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 44 FG%
C#5 Malik Williams, 6-11 245, SO
18 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 41 FG%
Key Reserves
G#30 Ryan McMahon, 6-0 180, JR
19 mpg, 7.4 ppg, 1.7 apg, 35 3P%
G#2 Darius Perry, 6-2 195, SO
16 mpg, 5.1 ppg, 1.4 apg, 33 3P%
G/F#13 V.J. King, 6-6 215, JR
13 mpg, 4 ppg, 3 rpg, 36 FG%
C#23 Steven Enoch, 6-10 260, JR
18 mpg, 7.6 ppg, 6 rpg, 41 FG%

 

The ABC's of Louisville:

A) Jordan Nwora is All-ACC worthy. He'll probably end up on the 2nd or 3rd team, but in a 15 team league where a number of spots are almost pre-designated for the league's 5-star One and Done's, making any of the all-ACC teams is a hell of an honor; many programs don't get anyone on those teams. The Cardinal combo forward is having the breakout season we kind of suspected he would last fall, not just leading the team in scoring (16.8 ppg in ACC play), but doing it efficiently (36% from 3 on high volumne, 46% from 2, and 77% at the line), while also rebounding and moving the ball. That he does this often from the 4-spot just enhances the kind of matchup nightmare he is, and while he was a tad uneven in our first matchup, his 4/10 shooting line from 3 played a major role in the Cards building up their early lead. Expect him to be a focal point again.

B) VJ King may be out of Chris Mack's doghouse. The former 5-star, once recruited for the same scholarship DeAndre Hunter eventually took, was at one point primed to be Louisville's next big star. But he and new coach Chris Mack struggled to get on the same page at times this year, and though not injured (at least not that anyone knows about) many times found himself glued to the bench for the full 40 (to include our first matchup), or at best only playing single digit minutes. But the last two games, he's starting to get more run, playing 19 minutes in their road loss to BC and 24 in their home win over Notre Dame on Sunday. Now, his impact is still hit-or-miss, he's shot a combined 5 of 16 in those two games, but he only committed one foul and one TO between the games, and grabbed 10 rebounds in the Notre Dame game. His size and athleticism on the wing changes the ability of Louisville to play the small, spread lineup they prefer. Worth noting, King scored 24 points against the Hoos in the Feb 6th 2017 matchup at JPJ.

C) Their offense is on a cold streak. Looking at Louisville's stats over the entire season, and even accumulated over the course of ACC play, and the Cards offense looks okay. Average, maybe, but with pretty good shooting and a few other strengths. But Over the last 6 games, a stretch in which they went 2-4, and one of those wins being a survival at home against Clemson, their offense is really holding them back. Over that stretch they're shooting a mere 26% from 3 as a team. They're faring okay from 2, shooting 44%, but against us they went just 5 of 22 from inside the arc. Overall they're scoring just 60 ppg over that stretch, and when you take out the 75 they just dropped against a porous Notre Dame, that number is just 57. One has to think the Pack Line is the last thing they want to see right now.

 

Their Season To Date

Louisville is 19-11 on the season, 10-7 in the ACC. They're widely considered a "Lock" for the NCAA Tournament, and project as the 6th or 7th seed in the ACC tournament. Most recently they beat Notre Dame last Sunday, snapping a 3 game losing streak that included a 20 point margin at Syracuse, a 12 point home loss to Virginia, and an inexcusable 7 point loss at Boston College.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Lock down the perimeter. I know how the last game went, that we scored a double-digit road win by locking down the paint. But at the same time, I have to recall how Louisville's hot-shooting first half built up a 12-point mid-point lead for the Cards I'd prefer not to have to overcome again. The Cards like to jack up 3PAs, almost half of their shots coming from behind the arc, and the Hoos need to ensure their league-leading 3P%-defense comes to play against the Cards' 4- or 5-out attacks. The weakside help defense will need to be on point, of course, for when the Cards get past a closeout and into the paint. But those closeouts must be an emphasis to force the Cards to beat us in the paint.

2) Get second looks. Louisville is a strong defensive-rebounding team, 5th in the ACC. But Virginia will have a size advantage over their spread lineups, with Mamadi and Key at the 4 having opportunities to leverage some second chances. We only grabbed 7 offensive rebounds in the first matchup, but ACC opponents have gotten double-digit offensive boards on 8 occasions against the Cards, and if the bounces are favorable, UVA can do some damage as well.

3) Don't let emotion affect execution. Senior Day is an emotional day, especially with some underclassmen also likely (knowing/thinking) this (will/may be) their final game in JPJ. In many cases, this emotion can be a wave the team can ride to a high-energy performance. But there's always the risk that it can lead to playing a little too aggressive, trying to force passes that aren't there, gambling on steals or blocks instead of maintaining good position, or pulling up for a low-percentage shot out of an overabundance of confidence. I'll be watching the first 5 minutes of the game to see if the Hoos aren't forcing the issue more than Tony might like, and instead playing within themselves in ways that have led to big wins in recent weeks. Being locked in, without being wound too tight, means we can avoid the early struggles that have forced us into close or come-from-behind games over the last few weeks.

 

 

Predictions:

This is not a bad Louisville team. Jordan Nwora is a legit 2nd- or 3rd-team all-ACC forward. Chris Mack is a great young coach. This team's 20 point win at UNC earlier this year wasn't a fluke. When they're able to put the pieces together, this team can do some damage.

But this is a team that the numbers say peaked around the end of January when they were sitting at 7-1, then 8-2 in ACC play with good road wins over the Heels and Hokies (to say nothing of their excellent November win over Michigan State). We can't discount the fact that they've lost 6 of their last 9, including 4 of the 5 "A-games" as graded by KenPom (the lone top win over VT over a month ago). They've looked good in stretches, such as in building up double-digit leads over Duke and UVA in February matchups, but have been unable to sustain those into big wins. A one-point win over Clemson and a win over a 13-16 Notre Dame aren't much to hang a hat on.

And at the same time, this is going to be the final game in JPJ for a cadre of Hoo stars. Beyond Jack Salt, I'm not going to use this space to start a debate about which non-seniors aren't coming back next year, but I'm very comfortable stating that there are a few players who know this will be their last time suiting up for coach Bennett in Charlottesville. That counts for something. The Hoos haven't lost on Senior Day since 2012 (sorry Mike Scott and Sammy Zeglinski!), and that's a testament to the importance UVA places on defending the home court on that most sacred of occasions. Between the players and the fans, JPJ is a hellish place for a visiting squad to play when the entire Orange and Blue contingent is laser-focused on sending out its seniors with one final home win.

This weekend will be no different.

Hoos Win 72-58