For the second straight week, the ESPN crew will be in town for “Big Monday”. Last week, the 24/23 ranked Cards beat a talented, but struggling, UConn team 80-59. Tonight, the #2 team in the country rolls into town as the Louisville Cardinals (20-5, 8-4) will battle the Syracuse Orange (25-1, 12-1). Louisville is playing its best basketball of the season right now, winning 6 games in a row. Obviously, Syracuse is playing great too, as their record clearly shows.
The only loss for Syracuse this season was on the road at Notre Dame 67-58. So far this season, it has looked like in the Big East that it is Syracuse and then a bunch of other teams. They have established themselves as a Final Four contender and will be a true test for the Cardinals tonight. Although they are usually one of the top teams in the country every year, UofL has had their number, winning the last 7 meetings between the two teams. UofL leads the overall series 13-4, and Syracuse has only beaten UofL one time since the Cards joined the Big East, and that was in 2006.
Kris Joseph, who is listed on the Wooden Award midseason Top 25, leads the Orange in scoring at 14.3 points per game. The 6’7 senior from Montreal has also made 9-15 three-point attempts in his last 2 games. Against Georgetown, he made 6 three pointers and scored 29 out of 64 points for the Orange. The big man in the middle for Syracuse could cause problems if he gets going. Fab Melo is 7’0 and 255 lbs. He is averaging 7.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Where he can make the biggest difference is blocking shots, where he averages 3.1 per game. Against Seton Hall this season, Melo recorded 10 blocks to go along with 12 points and 7 rebounds.
What will not be a mystery tonight is what kind of defense Syracuse will play. They are famous for their 2-3 zone, and play it better than anyone in the country. It will be very important for Louisville to be able to knock down the 3 point shot. We know Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith can do that, and now with the addition of Wayne Blackshear, the Cards could have 3 players that can beat the zone with the jump shot. Against West Virginia, Kuric shot 4-8 from behind the arc, Chris Smith was 3-5, and Blackshear was also 3-5. That is a combined 10-18 from three-point land. If they can shoot like that tonight, it will expand the defense, allowing Peyton Siva to get into the lane and get layups, dump it down to Behanan or Dieng, or kick it out to the shooters. In the last 2 games, the Cards have made 21 total 3 pointers.
With Wayne Blackshear scoring 13 points in his debut, the Cards now have 5 players averaging double figures in scoring. Kyle Kuric leads the way at 13.2 ppg, then you have Blackshear (13), Russ Smith (12.3), Chris Smith (10.5), and Gorgui Dieng (10.1). Not far behind are Chane Behanan (9.4) and Peyton Siva (8.5).
Syracuse only has 2 players averaging double figures, but they have 7 guys that average at least 7 points per game, so they are balanced as well. Of course you have Kris Joseph at 14.3 ppg, Dion Waiters (12.4), Brandon Triche (9.7), Scoop Jardine (8.7), C.J. Fair (8.6), Fab Melo (7.7), and James Southerland (7.2).
Tonight’s game tips off at 7:00 and will be a “white-out” at the KFC Yum! Center. All fans are encouraged to wear white to the game. It will be shown on ESPN and can be heard on WHAS 840 AM radio.
Syracuse U of L
Record ………………….. 25-1 20-5
Scoring Average …….. 77.8 71.8
Points Allowed ……….. 61.0 62.3
Scoring Margin ……… +16.8 +9.6
FG Percentage ……….. .481 .438
Opp. FG Percentage .. .385 .372
3-Pt. Percentage …….. .352 .328
FT Percentage ……….. .698 .686
Rebound Margin …….. .-0.4 +2.9
Turnover Margin ……… +6.8 +1.2