The Cardinals are coming off a decisive 69-53 victory @ Cincinnati on Wednesday, January 31, 2007. The sixth victory matches their Big East total from their maiden Big East voyage, in which they went just 6-10. Louisville’s improvement has come in spite of the loss of superstar Taquan Dean (a second-team all-BE selection last season), since U of L returns four starters from last season. It was a rocky journey for Louisville, which sputtered to an 11th-place finish at 6-10 Big East, 18-11 overall. They made a quick opening round exit at the hands of 6th-seeded Pittsburgh in New York, and were awarded a #1 seed in the NIT. The Cardinals did well, returning to New York for the semifinals, where they lost to South Carolina, the defending NIT champion and eventual winner.
Louisville is a superbly-coached team with a legendary figure at the helm, and the 2005-06 results are looking to be an aberration in the storied annals of the school.
It should be noted, though, that U of L has included in their win total, some very weak opponents, which is why their RPI is extraordinarily weak for a team with a 16-6 overall record and a 6-2 mark in a power conference. Nor is it just the mathematics of the RPI: the national poll voters have noticed it, too. Louisville has never been ranked, this season, in either of the two major polls, despite their strong record. The Cardinals’ strength of schedule ranks at just #45, compared to Villanova’s, which ranks #5 in the nation.
(Worth noting: in an exhibition game that does not count in their record - it’s true, they do have a narrow, hard-fought win over Georgetown – but not the REAL Georgetown of the battleship-gray jerseys in the nation’s capital. Surprisingly, U of L barely escaped nearby Georgetown (Kentucky) the day after Halloween, 94-92. I would suspect that the Cardinals may be the only team ever to play both Georgetowns in the same season, even if the Kentucky one was an exhibition.) They have a non-Division I victory, over the tiny Jesuit school Bellarmine in the NABC Classic (on U of L’s home floor) .
They posted half a dozen wins over:
a) Sacramento State (#283)
b) Ohio University (#93) - not Ohio State!
c) Savannah State (#264)
d) Northeastern (#198)
e) San Francisco (#171)
f) UNC-Asheville (#281)
The did have more challenging fare in their other five out-of-conference games:
A loss to #14 Arizona in the neutral-court Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden in New York (a homecoming of sorts for Sosa and Palacios, who played high school basketball there);
And at Freedom Hall:
A loss to archrival Kentucky (one of Pitino’s previous stops) by a dozen points;
A win over dreadful Miami (#167 – in this case, the real Miami in Florida, actually, as opposed to playing the “other” Georgetown and the “other” Ohio);
two Atlantic 10 schools: St. Joseph’s (#90), whom they beat in the NABC Classic (i.e., at home), and @ Dayton (#74), to whom they lost (although Dayton is one of the toughest homecourts in the nation, and Pitino deserves credit for being willing to go there).
So Louisville’s road/neutral record this year is 3-3, entering the Villanova game, as opposed to 13-3 in Freedom Hall.
That having been said, it’s still Louisville, with all of its grand tradition: 32 NCAA appearances, eight Final Fours, and two national titles (and 57 thousand-point scorers, tied with North Carolina for the most in the nation). U of L will officially christen its court “Denny Crum Court”, when the genuine Georgetown arrives on February 7, 2007. And it’s still Rick Pitino, the sartorially splendid owner of 11 NCAA bids and an incredible .756 winning percentage in the tournament, the third-highest in the history of the sport.
Accordingly, if Pitino’s Louisville team can finish 8-8 or better in BE play (which it certainly should, given their 6-2 mark already) and does respectably well in New York, the Cardinals will be tough to keep out of the NCAA tournament, even in a down year for the Big East. They still have USF, St. John’s, and Seton Hall due to visit Freedom Hall.
That having been said, the home court advantage should be big for Villanova. The Cardinals are far less formidable, when they aren’t in Freedom Hall. Last season, they went 1-7 on the road in the Big East, including a Wachovia Center loss. They have three Big East road wins this year, which is impressive, but all were against weak opponents: USF, DePaul, and Cincinnati. (The January 10, 2007 win @ USF broke U of L’s dozen-game losing streak on road/neutral courts.)
Coach: Rick Pitino (Massachusetts ’74) – career record (21st year) 485-178 entering UC game, U of L record 133-54 (sixth year), five Final Fours, and the 1996 national champion Kentucky squad. Nothing more need be written.
Louisville Cardinals Starters/Rotation (note: for the purposes of this preview, all individual player statistics do not include the Wednesday, January 31, 2007, victory @ Cincinnati, 69-53. However, that victory is counted above in Louisville’s record.)
#2 Edgar Sosa - 6/1 - Point Guard - Freshman - 11.4 points/2.2 rebounds/-- assists in 24.8 minutes (New York, NY)
Originally from the Dominican Republic – as is the most famous athlete with the surname, baseball outfielder Sammy Sosa – Sosa plays for his homeland’s national team. After arriving in New York, he led Rice High School to the NYC Catholic championship (where his teammate was UConn’s Curtis Kelly).
Sosa has also emerged as an impact freshman. He has started every game but one this season. His offense has steadily improved as the season has progressed – entering the Cincy game, he had reached double figures in six of the last seven games. He averages almost two steals a contest.
Sosa is very much a work in progress, though. For a point guard, he’s only a mediocre foul shooter (65.8%). He is a three-point threat, but is shooting less than 37% from beyond the arc. He has more assists than turnovers, but not many more.
#11 Brandon Jenkins - 6/3 - Shooting Guard - Senior - 4.6 points/2.2 rebounds/-- assists in 23.3 minutes (Detroit, Mich.)
The only scholarship senior on the roster, Jenkins has seen regular playing time since he arrived in Louisville as a freshman. Jenkins started all 34 games as a junior in 2005-2006 – including a career-high 31 points against UC-Davis. However, he missed three months of 2006, when he broke his right leg and suffered a high ankle sprain while playing a pickup game on August 18 – he wouldn’t return till November. As a result, Jenkins has started only 16 of the 22 games this season, and his low numbers across the board reflect that absence. The 11.2 pts/game he averaged last season is more reflective of his offensive talent. He shot 39% from three-point range last season, but his FG% and 3FG% are remarkably low.
Worth noting – in the game against Villanova at Freedom Hall last season, Jenkins set a career-high for FTA, taking a dozen shots from the line (a clear indication that he was penetrating the defense effectively).
Philadelphia connection: Cousin of NBA journeyman Jermaine Jackson, who played not just for the 76ers but for Detroit, Toronto, Atlanta, and New York.
#1 Terrence Williams - 6/6 - Forward - Sophomore – 13.1 points/7.7 rebounds/3.6 assists in 33.0 minutes (Seattle, Wash.)
Williams (a/k/a “T-Will”) is Louisville’s go-to player, the team leader in scoring, rebounding, assists, and minutes. The only Cardinal to start all 22 games this season, he has five double-doubles and reached double figures 15 times heading into Cincy. (As a freshman, he moved into the starting lineup quickly, starting 21 of 33 games in 2005-06). Worth noting – he’s a poor three-point shooter, but that doesn’t inhibit him from trying a lot of three-point shots. Williams was 40-129 (31%) from three-point range last season, and has actually declined this year to 32-127 (25%) entering the Cincinnati game. Not only is he less accurate as a sophomore, he’s taken more attempts this year, than he did during all of last season. Tempting Williams with open looks on the perimeter would be a wise move for Villanova. On the whole, Louisville ranks poorly in accuracy from beyond the arc: in conference play, they are ranked 13th of the 16 schools in that category.
#3 Juan Palacios - 6/8 – Power Forward - Junior - 10.1 points/6.3 rebounds in 25.0 minutes (Medellin, Colombia)
Palacios played on the Colombian national under-18 basketball squad, before moving to New York in 2001. A remarkable athlete, he played soccer – by far the most popular sport in Colombia – and didn’t even begin playing basketball until he was 12.
As with Jenkins, Palacios suffered an injury earlier this season and his averages are lower than his talents would indicate. He became a fixture in the starting lineup as a freshman, starting 30 of the 38 games, averaging 9.7 points/6.5 rebounds in 27 minutes/game. As a sophomore last season, he started all 34 games, finishing with 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds per game (ironically, virtually the same as those for his junior year this season). On December 27, he strained his neck and the injury nagged him for half a dozen games; he has only 15 starts. Palacios is Louisville’s second-leading rebounder, while ranking third in scoring and steals. Of some concern to Villanova, his scoring and field-goal accuracy have spiked over the four games leading into Cincinnati.
#4 David Padgett - 6/11 – Forward/Center - Junior - 9.7 points/5.8 rebounds in 24.6 minutes (Reno, Nevada, via University of Kansas)
A McDonald’s All-American in high school, Padgett originally enrolled at the University of Kansas to play for Roy Williams. In 2003-04, as a freshman at KU, he started 19 games as a Jayhawk, averaging 6.5 points and 4.5 rebounds, and leading the team in blocked shots with 43. I speculate that Williams’ decision to return to his alma mater of North Carolina, was the catalyst for Padgett’s decision to leave Lawrence and transfer to Louisville. He sat out 2004-05, although he was permitted to practice with the Cardinals, and then became newly eligible in 2005-06 as a sophomore.
Padgett is also plagued with injuries. He played 24 games last season, before a knee injury took him out of action. He also had bursts of power, scoring a career-high 27 points to go with eight rebounds against Connecticut on January 21, 2006: he also reached double figures in 16 games last year. Padgett had successful knee surgery on March 6, 2006, and his recovery has been faster than anticipated. But he has not yet returned to 100% capacity this year: it is anticipated that he won’t be recovered fully, until the summer of 2007. Nonetheless, Padgett’s numbers have been trending upward. Entering the Cincy game, he had reached double figures in seven of Louisville’s last ten games.
He is an outstanding free throw shooter, for a post player – his career percentage is a stellar 81% (132-163). However, Pitino would undoubtedly like Padgett to get to the line more often, to take advantage of this strength: for his career, Padgett has averaged less than four FTA per contest.
Padgett has great basketball bloodlines: his grandfather, father, uncle, and sister all played Division I basketball.
Off the Bench
#34 Jerry Smith - 6/1 - Guard - Freshman - 8.8 points/4.3 rebounds/2.7 assists in 22.7 minutes/game (Wauwatosa, Wisc.)
The Wisconsin state player of the year during his senior year in high school, Smith is clearly the sixth man for Louisville, with his 22+ minutes – his minutes are comparable to four of the starters. Thus, Smith plays significantly more than any of the other bench players. Smith is an outstanding three-point marksman, especially for a freshman: he shoots often and with high accuracy – 34/76 (45%). He’s begun finding his shot – heading into UC, he had reached double figures in six of the last 11 games. He’s also a good defensive player, collecting four steals against Providence. As is typical for small guards, he is a fine foul shooter: 79%.
#33 Andre McGee - 5/10 – Point Guard - Sophomore - 4.2 points/2.5 rebounds in 15.6 minutes/game (Moreno Valley, Calif.)
This season, McGee’s two significant injuries have been a blow to Louisville’s rotation: heading into the game with UC, he had participated in just eight games and logged only 116 minutes.
McGee started a dozen games last year as a freshman, but required surgery on November 21, 2006, to repair cartilage in his right knee, and was replaced in the starting lineup this year by Sosa. McGee, shortly after returning to action, was injured once more, with a strained quadriceps tendon in the same leg on January 5, 2007. As a result, McGee missed eight additional games, and didn’t return until the game against DePaul on January 20.
Probably due to the injuries, McGee’s numbers are not good – very low shooting percentages.
#5 Earl Clark - 6/8 – Guard/Forward - Freshman - 4.1 points/2.7 rebounds in 11.8 minutes/game (Plainfield, NJ)
We can expect to see Clark for about 15 minutes or so on Saturday. Clark was a McDonald’s All-American selection, playing for Rahway High School in northern New Jersey (metropolitan New York City), where he averaged 25 points, 13 rebounds and five assists as a senior in leading Rahway to a conference championship. Clark will undoubtedly have a lot of people cheering for him at the Wachovia Center; it’s only a 1 hour, 20 minute/81-mile trip down the New Jersey Turnpike and I-95, to South Philadelphia. Clark is a tremendous all-around athlete, with loads of potential, as evidenced by the fact that he put up great numbers in Louisville’s less-intense December schedule. His minutes have increased steadily as Big East play has progressed.
#20 Will Scott - 6/3 - Guard - Sophomore – 4.5 points/1.2 rebounds in 9.9 minutes/game (New York, NY)
Scott is an interesting player, with a circuitous route to Louisville. He played as a freshman at Cornell during the 2004-05 season, where he put up stellar numbers from beyond the arc in Ivy League play, connecting on 48% of his three-point attempts. Scott then transferred to Louisville, and made the team as a walk-on. After sitting out last season as a transfer, he is now a perimeter-shooting specialist on a Big East squad. His specialty has helped Louisville this year: in 20 games/197 minutes this season, he has gone 19/49 from three-point range (38.9%). Philadelphia connection: his sister Kelly plays for the University of Pennsylvania.
Overall Analysis of the Cardinals
In Wednesday’s victory @ Cincinnati, Padgett dominated play with 18 points, a dozen rebounds, and three assists, while Williams had 13 points, 10 rebounds and four assists. Both are heating up at the right time, as the calendar turns to February. In fairness to Pitino, Louisville has had its share of injuries and still won a lot of games. They could lose their final eight BE games, in spite of which they’d still probably finish in the top 12 with a 6-10 record (after all, 6-10 last season got them the 11th seed), lose in the opening round in NY – and still finish 16-15 overall and receive a second straight NIT bid. So it’s been a successful season, already.
Louisville is undefeated when any of the following has occurred (they aren’t mutually exclusive, by any means):
a) the Cardinals scored 70+ points (11 times);
b) makes 8+ three-pointers (10 times);
c) leads at halftime (11 times).
Also worth noting: there have been 17 out of 22 games, in which U of L shot better in the second half than in the first. So a halftime lead might not be safe. In addition, Louisville scores far more points off turnovers than their opponents: a very lopsided 411 points off turnovers entering the Cincinnati game, compared to 250 for their opponents (although this number may be inflated by the weak nonconference opponents turning the ball over a lot.)
Villanova/Louisville Series History
Saturday’s winner will take a 6-5 edge in the all-time series. Their history is a brief one, since Louisville is just in their second year as a member of the Big East. Louisville does hold a small spot in the Villanova list of villains, ousting the 1995-96 Wildcats (a #3 seed) in the second round of the NCAA tournament, as a #6 seed. Prior to Louisville’s entry into the conference, the Cardinals owned a 5-3 lead in the series.
In Big East play, the schools met twice last season, with Villanova capturing both games. The first took place at Freedom Hall, where Villanova triumphed 76-67, on January 5, 2006. The second took place on January 30, 2006, at the Wachovia Center, with the Wildcats winning 79-73. So it is now even at 5-5.
The Wildcats are coming off two difficult, tight losses to ranked Big East opponents, in South Bend against Notre Dame on Saturday, and at the Wachovia Center against Pittsburgh on Monday. However, one reason for optimism is the continued healing of fifth-year senior Curtis Sumpter, who is still on the mend from a deep bone bruise in his shin. The other is the emergence of freshman point guard Scottie Reynolds as another scoring option. "
Underneath, it will be up to Will Sheridan, Dante Cunningham and Shane Clark to control Padgett. It seems likely that ‘Nova will collapse around Padgett, helping to disguise the team’s lack of a true center, and challenge Louisville to win the game on the perimeter. Villanova is used to playing undersized, using its smaller, nimbler players to create matchup nightmares for opponents. Villanova tried pressing and trapping against Pittsburgh, a team with a star point guard that leads the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio. Accordingly, Jay Wright will likely do some of the same against Louisville, with a freshman point guard whose ability to secure the ball is less certain.
It’s February, and in February, "must-win" games start to come into the picture. Reaching at least .500 in Big East play will likely be necessary, for Villanova to assure itself of an at-large bid, given the conference’s struggles this season. A loss to Louisville would drop the Wildcats to 3-6, and would be a very deep hole out of which to climb. With a loud, full Wachovia Center, against a team which has struggled away from its home floor, this is a contest which Villanova probably needs to win.
I'll have a full recap after the game.
Questions? Comments? Information? You can contact Craig Dimitri at firstname.lastname@example.org.