Preview: Louisville at Virginia

Sutton/Cunningham-Virginia

Coming off a Senior Day win over Notre Dame, the Louisville Cardinals (19-11) travel to John Paul Jones Arena to attempt to spoil No. 2 Virginia’s (27-2) own Senior Day. The two teams have already met once this season, the result was a 64-52 win for Virginia. The game tips off at 4pm and will be televised on ESPN.

The first time the Cardinals played the Cavaliers, it wasn’t Kyle Guy or Ty Jerome who killed Louisville. In fact, the guard duo combined to shoot 4-20 from the field (0-11 from 3). Rather, it was De’Andre Hunter who controlled the game. Hunter sat most of the first half with foul trouble, but wasted no time getting going in the 2nd half. The 6’7″ sophomore finished with a game-high 26 points (9-11 FG) in just 27 minutes. Mamadi Diakite and Jay Huff also had big days off the bench for Virginia, finishing with 14 and 12 points, respectively, and combined for 5 blocks.

Louisville led by 10 points at halftime of the first game, but relied far too heavily on the 3-point line throughout the game. Louisville shot just 5-22 from inside the arc, while Virginia was 24-39. Virginia made more 2-point shots than Louisville attempted, which fed right into Virginia’s defensive game plan of forcing contested shots and keeping the ball out of the lane. Today, Louisville will have to establish an inside game early then allow their outside shooting to reap the benefits of a packed-in defense. Virginia also showed no worry with Louisville’s bigs in the first game. Tony Bennett elected not to double the post and force Steven Enoch and Malik Williams to beat the Cavalier big men one-on-one. This proved to be a brilliant game plan, because Williams and Enoch combined to go 2-16 from the field. If the Cards want to have a chance today, they will have to get one (if not both) of their two big men going early.

Today’s game will be a tough task for Louisville. The Cardinals have presumably punched their ticket to the NCAA tournament, unlike when the two teams played last year, this game should only impact seeding. Louisville currently sits as a 7-seed in most predicted brackets. A win today should move the Cards up a seed line or two. ACC seeding is also implicated in today’s game. Right now, the Cards are 7th in the ACC. A win today could move them up to 5th/6th place depending on other results in the league and success in the ACC tournament would certainly prove beneficial for Louisville’s NCAA tournament seeding.

We know, we know, playing Virginia is the proverbial thorn in Louisville’s side every year. Tony Bennett’s code to beating the Cardinals has only been cracked once and Mangok Mathiang won’t be there to hit an unsuspecting last second shot. Louisville isn’t playing for their NCAA tournament life today, and I almost wish they were because maybe that would force them to come out with a sense of urgency to pull off the upset. Chris Mack did a good job of taking the Virginia guard-duo out of the first contest, but the adjustment today has to be an increased emphasis on controlling Hunter and the bigs. I want to be optimistic and say Louisville will walk out of the arena victorious, but I think Virginia at home on Senior Day will be too much to handle. I hope I’m wrong.

Prediction:

Louisville 56 – Virginia 65

Go Cards!

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