Louisville (3-0) will battle the Tennessee Volunteers (3-0) Wednesday night at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to open the 2018 NIT Season Tip Off.
The Cards enter tonight’s matchup unbeaten after a close but controlling 8-point win over Vermont at the Yum Center Friday night. Tennessee will be Louisville’s toughest opponent so far in the young season, and this game will be the first test away from home for both programs.
Tennessee comes into tonight with three wins, the most recent against Georgia Tech at home last week. The Vols are a balanced team on both ends of the court, but the one to look out for is still Junior forward Grant Williams. The reigning and preseason SEC player of the year has gotten off to a fast start with 22.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game. His ability to not only score inside but also get to the foul line makes this an important game for Louisville’s big men.
Williams along with Admiral Schofield and Kyle Alexander are one of the best rebounding frontcourts in America. Overall, this is a team that can be as aggravating to play against as anyone, and Louisville will have to be focused both ends for a full 40 minutes if they plan on having an opportunity to pull off the upset. Tennessee uses their tight defense to create fast break opportunities, so limiting turnovers and forcing the Vols to execute in the half court offensively will be crucial in this matchup for Chris Mack’s team.
For the Cards, I see this game being won or lost in the frontcourt. If Steven Enoch can stay out of foul trouble while holding his own defensively, Louisville will have their chance to keep up with Tennessee. If Enoch can’t stay on the floor, this game could easily get away from the Cards early.
Given the matchup, it wouldn’t surprise me to see the same starting five from Friday’s game with Jordan Nwora coming off the bench. Nwora is the leading scorer at 18.0 points per game, but there are still plenty of questions about him defensively. I’ll trust Coach Mack with his lineups tonight. He has made it clear that this is the most physical team Louisville has seen all year, and that it will take a complete team effort defensively to get a result tonight.
With a win, Louisville would face the winner of Kansas-Marquette on Friday night.
The Cardinals are 8.5-point underdogs. The game tips off at 5:00 ET and will be broadcast live on ESPN2.
Ben’s Prediction: Tennessee 75 – Louisville 66
Mitch’s Prediction: Tennessee 78 – Louisville 74