On Wednesday night at 7:15, the Louisville Cardinals (5-0) will face their toughest opponent of the young 2015-16 season when they take on Michigan State (7-0) in a true road game, which is somewhat rare for big-time non-conference games.
Big Ten/ACC Challenge
Time: 7:15 pm ET
Site: Breslin Center, East Lansing, Mich. (14,797)
Television: ESPN Mike Tirico, play-by-play; Dan Dakich, analyst; Allison Williams, reporter.
Radio: WHAS (840 AM) Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Bob Valvano, analyst (Sirius/XM channel 84/MSU broadcast)
Series History: Louisville leads 5-4 (2-0 in Louisville, 1-2 in East Lansing, 2-2 neutral)
Last Meeting: MSU 76, UofL 70 (OT) (March 29, 2015 in Syracuse, N.Y., NCAA East Region Championship)
Probable Starting Lineups
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Top 25 Polls
AP Poll: Michigan State #3, Louisville #24
USA Today Coaches Poll: Michigan State #3, Louisville #22
Team Stats Per Game
UofL: 84.8 34th
MSU: 85.0 T-31st
UofL: 46.0 8th
MSU: 43.9 30th
UofL: 15.2 T-101st
MSU: 23.7 1st
UofL: 51.2 2nd
MSU: 62.6 26th
Field Goal %
UofL: 52.3% T-9th
MSU: 51% T-18th
Free Throw %
UofL: 64.9% T-271st
MSU: 72.3% T-83rd
Three Point %
UofL: 36.4% T-114th
MSU: 41.1% 29th
Players to Watch
Denzel Valentine – Michigan State
6’5 senior Denzel Valentine has been the show thus far for the Spartans. He is nearly averaging a triple-double with 19.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, and 8.6 assists per game. He has record two triple-doubles so far this season. Against Kansas, he had 29 points, 12 rebounds, and 12 assists. Against Boston College, he finished with 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists.
Against Louisville last season in the Elite 8, Valentine scored 15 points on 7-15 shooting. He also had 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He can score inside or outside. He finds open teammates. He hits the glass hard. And he is also a leader. As I said, he has been the show for Michigan State. They go as he goes. Can Louisville slow him down enough?
Damion Lee & Trey Lewis – Louisville
That’s right, I am going with two players for Louisville. The reason being that the more games they get under their belt, the bigger factors that Damion Lee and Trey Lewis are becoming. We know they are talented, that isn’t an issue. But the only way to build team chemistry on the court is with experience. Every game seems to look a little better than the last one, and this will be a big step up for the graduate transfers.
The duo plays the most minutes on the team other than sophomore Quentin Snider. Lee is averaging 17.4 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. Lewis is averaging 12.4 points, 4.8 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game. Damion Lee fouled out and only scored 10 points in the last game against St. Louis, but he had been steadily improving up until that point. Lewis made up for Lee missing time, as he scored 22 points and grabbed 7 rebounds. How these veterans keep their poise and help the younger guys stay under control will be a big factor in what is sure to be a crazy environment.
If you look at the probable starting lineups for these teams, it appears that Louisville has a significant advantage in height. Already having success on the glass so far this season, winning the rebounding battle tonight could be key against an experienced team that advanced to the Final Four last season, especially on their home court. Here is how each team measures up with their probable starters…
UofL: 6’10, 6’10, 6’6, 6’2, 6’2
MSU: 6’9, 6’5, 6’5, 6’3, 5’10
Anytime you can watch a game with the caliber of coaches that you will have tonight, it is a treat. Rick Pitino vs Tom Izzo. Two of the best to ever coach in the sport. I don’t think that is stretching it by any means. These coaches will have their teams prepared as much as possible, so it will come down to who can execute their game plans and also make in-game adjustments. I can go on and on about their numbers and coaching accomplishments, but I won’t. I do have to give a couple of those stats, however. That’s just what I do.
Pitino has won 2 National Championships, and Izzo has 1. Both coaches have been to 7 Final Fours, tied for fourth all time. Pitino has 53 NCAA Tournament wins, and Izzo has 46, putting them 4th and 8th all time, respectively. And as far as active coaches and their NCAA Tournament win percentage (minimum 10 games), Pitino is at .746 (53-18), good for 2nd all time behind Coach K at Duke. Izzo is at .738 (45-16), good for 6th all time.
Bottom line: enjoy the coaching you will see tonight from both sides. This doesn’t happen often.
I think Louisville goes on the road in a hostile environment and puts on a good showing. Regardless of outcome, this experience will pay dividends as the season progresses when the Cards get into ACC play and into March. It has taken a few games for Louisville to hit the national scene, but they will catch people’s attention tonight by keeping this one close. They will slow down Denzel Valentine a little bit, but just not enough. The experience of Michigan State plus the home court gives them the edge in this one. Spartans improve to 8-0 with the 72-66 win over the Cards. Louisville gains national respect and the game helps them out, regardless of outcome.
Obviously, I hope I am wrong. Go Cards!