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StLouHoo's Preview:

A Return to Yum!

Louisville Cardinals

Virginia returns to the KFC Yum! Center for the first time since their thrilling Elite Eight victory over Purdue last March. They've had a lot of success there over the years, but this time the Cards are the power program and UVA the decided underdog. UVA needs statement wins down the stretch; can they get one at Louisville this weekend?

Game Details:

Date/Time:Saturday, February 8th, 4:00 pm ET
Location:KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, KY
TV:ESPN

 

What 'They' Say

Vegas:Virginia +6.5, O/U 114, equates to ~60-54 UVA loss
Torvik:Ranks UL #9, predicts a 56-49 Louisville win, 83% confidence
KenPom:Ranks UL #8, predicts a 59-49 Louisville win, 82% confidence

 

Depth Chart:

Starters
PG#0 Lamarr Kimble, 6'0" 185, SR
21.3 mpg, 5.1 ppg, 3.0 apg, 35.9 3P%
SG#2 Darius Perry, 6'2" 195, JR
21.7 mpg, 6.0 ppg, 3.1 apg, 39.3 3P%
SF#24 Dwayne Sutton, 6'5" 220, SR
31.3 mpg, 9.1 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 50.7 FG%
PF#33 Jordan Nwora, 6'7" 225, JR
33.1 mpg, 19.3 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 46.2 FG%
C#23 Steven Enoch, 6'10" 255, SR
21.2 mpg, 10.3 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 52.0 FG%
Key Reserves
G#30 Ryan McMahon, 6'0" 185, SR
25.3 mpg, 8.8 ppg, 1.9 apg, 46.0 3P%
G/F#13 David Johnson, 6'5" 210, FR
12.7 mpg, 5.3 ppg, 1.9 apg, 40.0 3P%
F#10 Samuell Williamson, 6'7" 200, FR
15.7 mpg, 4.6 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 48.9 FG%
C#5 Malik Williams, 6'11" 245, JR
18.4 mpg, 7.8 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 48.5 FG%

 

The ABC's of Louisville:

A) They've got an incredibly veteran lineup. Louisville's top 7 scorers are all juniors and seniors. Much was made of their highly-ranked six-man 2019 recruiting class, including McD's All-American Samuell Williamson, but once the season started head coach Chris Mack leaned hard on his veterans. He already returned six upperclassmen from last year's NCAA Tourney team before he went out and recruited grad-transfer PG Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble from St Joe's in the Atlantic 10. Arguable no one in America, and definitely no one in the ACC, can lean on a steady veteran starting lineup and bench the way Mack can.

B) Jordan Nwora is an ACC POY frontrunner. The preseason ACC POY winner is doing nothing to dissuade voters from repeating their choice in March. On a deep and talented team, he still commands the ball and makes good use of it. He plays basically all of his 30 minutes a game as a modern face-up 4, and is just as deadly from long range (44% on 3's) as he is going to the rim (48% on 2's), incredibly high volume on both, so his 19.3 ppg comes on an efficient 14.1 FGA per game. Of course he hits the glass well on both ends, and his turnover rate isn't bad for as high as his usage is. He even hits his FTs at better than 80%. Nwora is going to be the hardest cover of the year for Mamadi and Braxton.

C) Goodbye matchup zone, hello Pack Line. A staple of our Cardinals clashes during the Pitino era (and the interim Dave Padgett year) was the often-dangerous matchup-zone, a hybrid man/zone scheme particularly dangerous with an experienced core. But 2nd-year coach Chris Mack is a Pack Line convert, and with a full year behind him with this veteran roster, they're executing it wonderfully this year, boasting KenPom's 18th best defense nationally and the 4th best in the ACC. They're holding opponents to an astounding 43.4% effective field goal percentage and maintaining great foul discipline. They play conservative, focusing more on penetration denial than ball-hawking, so their turnover numbers don't jump out, but teams do settle for a lot of contested jumpers, which is obviously not something this UVA offense wants to get stuck doing. Their opponents are hitting just 29% from 3 this year, so it could be another long day for UVA's shooters.

 

Their Season To Date

Louisville is 20-3 on the season, 11-1 in the ACC. They dropped non-conference contests to Texas Tech (neutral) and Kentucky (away) before stumbling in their first ACC game of January to a visiting FSU. Since then, they've won nine straight games, including a 6-point win over fellow Top-10 Duke at Cameron Indoor. Most recently they weathered a terrible first half performance at home against Wake Forest before boat-racing the Deacons in the second and winning by 10.

 

Keys to getting the win:

1) Pressure their ball handlers. This is a bit of a nit-pick, because Louisville's relative weaknesses aren't really true weaknesses, just areas in which they're less strong. But if I have to zoom in on where Louisville's offense is vulnerable, it's their guard play. The Cards don't have an elite pure-PG presence; Kimble was a shoot-first PG at St Joes and both McMahon and Perry prefer to play off the ball. Their A:TO ratios in ACC play (2.9:2.0, 1.4:1.0, and 1.8:1.1 respectively) are all pretty pedestrian. Sutton, Williamson, and Nwora on the wings aren't much better. Texas Tech, FSU, and Duke were all able to disrupt the Cardinals' ball movement and UVA's swarming defense needs to be able to do the same.

2) Shut down the 3-point line. The Cardinals have shot better than 40% as a team from the 3-point line in 9 of their last 10 games. That's just an absurd statistic. Good shooters at the 1-4 spots combined with the proverbial "extra pass" makes Louisville the ACC's most dangerous team from long range, 45.3% collectively in ACC play (for emphasis, UVA led the league last year at 43.1%). While Nwora is good going to the rim, his 44% 3P% by the math dictates we absolutely must drive him off the 3-point line every time. And for those who haven't yet blacked out the memory of our debacle at Purdue, Ryan McMahon is perfectly capable of doing to us what Sasha Stefanovic did.

UVA's defense is of course second-best in the ACC defending the 3-point line, holding opponents to 27.9%, but if any team is capable of upending us here, it's Louisville. How this "unstoppable force vs immovable object" battle plays out will go a long way to dictating Louisville's scoring in this matchup.

3) Hit the offensive glass. Virginia's offense is going to have a hard go of it against Louisville's excellent defense. Might as well just accept that now. But UVA has an opportunity to squeeze some bonus shots off of second chances. Louisville runs only one true big (Williams and Enoch essentially platoon for 40 minutes at the 5-spot), and while they've been good on the defensive glass (5th in ACC play), they haven't been perfect there. Eight of the Cards' last ten opponents have grabbed at least 9 offensive rebounds, and the Hoos aren't bad in this regard, sitting squarely at 8th in ACC play in OR% at 29.5%. If we choose to play big with Braxton at the 3, UVA can do some damage here and hopefully bail out the offense with putbacks.

 

 

Predictions:

Virginia's precarious Bubble situation needs two things to improve. First is simply wins against the league in general to get north of 20. But just as important, it needs what the Selection Committee considers "quality wins," or wins against top-ranked teams. Right now, UVA can really only hang its hat on their FSU win. The down season in the ACC means top-ranked opponents are hard to come by, so the few remaining opportunities must be seized. Fifth-ranked Louisville is one of those few remaining opportunities.

On paper, this matchup is intriguing but ultimately hard to get excited about. UVA can probably afford to go either big or small here, so that's nice. Papi probably deserves to get a bit of run as a decent matchup against Enoch and Williams. I think our backcourt can D-up the Cards' guards pretty effectively; McMahon, Perry, and Kimble are good but none are all-ACC players and none too big to give Kihei a ton of trouble.

But ultimately, as many of UVA's contests have done, this comes back to UVA's struggles to put together 40 minutes of solid offense. We saw the Hoos' offense go to absolute shit in the second half against Clemson, blowing what should've absolutely been a comfortable double-digit lead on our home floor against a barely-NIT-quality opponent. And now UVA has to go on the road play a team that's good enough to be eyeing the Final Four, primarily on the back of its defense. Hard to get excited about UVA's scoring prospects Saturday.

I want to bet on UVA to at least make this a well-contested rock fight, as we've seen them play to the level of their opponent (for better and for worse) for basically the last month, so hopefully that means they'll find an extra gear against the Cards. Past UVA teams facing foes with a singular ball-dominant scorer like Nwora has succeeded by taking away his supporting cast, trusting that one star can't beat UVA all by himself (even if Carsen Edwards can come damn close).

But much like Purdue used a visit from UVA to exorcise demons against us in December, this feels like Louisville is going to be extra motivated to exact revenge on a UVA program that's beaten them 9 straight times and 10-of-11 since the Cards joined the ACC.

Louisville Wins 63-49