By Justin Renck:
Louisville vs Duke. Pitino vs Krzykewski. A Final Four berth on the line. It doesn’t get much better than this! On Sunday around 5:05 pm, the Cards and Blue Devils will tip-off in Indianapolis, with the winner moving on to Atlanta in the Final Four. Back on November 21 of this season, these teams met in the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas, with Duke winning 76-71. Duke pretty much has the same team and plays the same way. The Cards are certainly a different team.
First of all, and the most obvious thing, Gorgui Dieng did not play in that game because of a broken wrist suffered the previous night against Missouri. So who started for him? Zach Price, and he played 19 minutes. He did ok with 4 points and 3 rebounds. But I will say there is no chance that Price gets 19 minutes tomorrow. It is a long shot to say that, I know. Stephan Van Treese played a great 21 minutes also, with 8 points and 8 rebounds. So the difference tomorrow will be that we will have a healthy Gorgui Dieng. If he goes out, Van Treese will play, and he has been solid. That center position will be completely different from the last meeting.
Another difference is the emergence of our bench. Kevin Ware, Luke Hancock, and Montrezl Harrell all played in that last game, but they are playing on a much different level right now. Ware could be the X-factor for the Cards in this tournament run. In the last game against Duke, he played 16 minutes and had 4 points, 3 turnovers, 0 assists, and 0 steals. He has become a major factor in our guard rotation. If Peyton Siva or Russ Smith go out (fouls or a break), we now have complete confidence that Kevin Ware can come in and harass someone on defense, run the point, and use his athleticism to score some points. Although he played 16 minutes in the last meeting, I would say that we have now added Kevin Ware for this game, and he did not play last time.
It took about half the season for Luke Hancock to get his confidence going with his shoulder issues, and now he is a different player too. In the last meeting, he played 19 minutes and only took 1 shot. He had 0 points, 0 assists, 0 steals, and only 1 rebound. I highly doubt we will see him have that kind of stat line on Sunday. So you can also argue that we have added Luke Hancock for this game, and he did not play last time.
Montrezl Harrell actually had a good game off the bench last time against Duke. In his 20 minutes, he had 10 points on 5-7 shooting, and 5 rebounds. But Harrell has been solid all season in the time that he gets. His motor is always running, and he only has that 1 gear, so we can always count on him to bring the energy and intensity.
Also in that last game, Peyton Siva was our leading scorer with 19 points. He had 4 assists and 6 steals, but also 6 turnovers. With Gorgui out, Siva had to score more to keep us in the game. While he certainly can score like that at times, we are much better with him as a point guard and getting to the lane and dishing, unless they leave him open in the lane of course. He just has to control the game and get the ball to Russ Smith or now get it down to Gorgui. So while he can score 19, I don’t think that is our recipe for victory in this one.
So to me, I feel like we are adding more than just Gorgui for this game. I think we are going to show them a different Kevin Ware and Luke Hancock as well. It should be a great one in Indy!