The No. 14 Louisville Cardinals host one of their old Big East rivals in the Pittsburgh Panthers (12-4) tonight at the KFC Yum! Center at 7PM on the ACC Network. Despite the one win/loss differential in the teams’ records (Louisville 13-3, Pittsburgh 12-4), the Cardinals currently stand as 11-point favorites for tonight’s game.
As mentioned before, Pittsburgh has been a Louisville rival since the Big East days. Fans, analysts, and coaches still love to talk about old Big East “smashmouth” style of basketball and whenever these two teams met that style was on full display. While Pittsburgh is anything but an unfamiliar face for the Cardinals, this year the Panthers have a new look. Kevin Stallings is in his first year with the Panthers, the now-Pittsburgh head coach is most well-known for his career as a head coach at Vanderbilt. Coming from the SEC, Stallings brought a new brand of basketball to the once defensive-minded Panthers. Now, Pittsburgh is known for their high-powered offense and for lack of a better or a word, lackluster defense. The Panthers average 81.3 PPG, but give up a high average of 75.9 PPG. The Panthers are led in scoring by senior forward Michael Young at 22.3 PPG and senior guard Jamel Artis at 21.5 PPG, which ranks the Pittsburgh duo first and second in the ACC in scoring, respectively. The Cards will have to slow down at least one of the two seniors tonight.
Pittsburgh is somewhat of an anomaly this year. The Panthers put up an unthinkable 88 points in a 12-point win over defensive juggernaut Virginia, but lost to Duquesne at home 64-55 and allowed Marshall to score 106 points (Pittsburgh still won by 6), and most recently suffered an 11-point loss to Syracuse, a game that had Pittsburgh won, would’ve surely placed them in the top-25.
My point being, if Pitt gets hot, we’re in trouble. However, Louisville’s defense is different than Virginia’s. Virginia makes teams beat them with contested 3-point jumpers and doesn’t necessarily focus on creating turnovers but rather slowing down the play and making the offense work. Pittsburgh was able to beat Virginia by shooting an astounding 13-21 (62%) from 3-point range. Louisville’s defense focuses on making the offense feel comfortable then out of nowhere shuts down seemingly open lanes, overplays passes, and speeds the opponent up then confuses them with their match-up zone.
The defensive style of Rick Pitino has led Louisville to 8-straight wins over their longtime rival. While Pittsburgh may have a high-powered offense, it is not very balanced. 2 players average half of Pittsburgh’s points, if the Cards can shut down one of them and make someone else step up, I think Louisville wins easily tonight. Deng Adel is active and will play, which is great news after that scary concussion-like knee to the head he took on Saturday. All things considered, I think the Cards get a big win over a Pittsburgh tonight by a score of 84-70.