Pregame Breakdown: Louisville v. Florida State

The Louisville men’s basketball team will look to bounce back as the Cards play host to no. 18 Florida State on Saturday at 2:00 ET at the KFC Yum! Center.

The Cardinals enter the new year at 11-2 overall and 2-0 in the ACC. Louisville dropped down to number 7 in the AP poll after last weekend’s loss at Kentucky. Florida State is currently 12-2 and 2-1 in conference play.

The Seminoles came into the season unranked after losing its top two scorers off of last year’s team that earned a 4-seed in the NCAA tournament and reached the Sweet 16. Insert two transfers along with two JUCO recruits and Leonard Hamilton has himself another competitive ACC team in 2019-20.

This season’s FSU team is another typical Leonard Hamilton squad similar to those we’ve seen since Louisville joined the ACC. They’re a big, physical team whose roster has no one under 6-foot-4. They are tenacious on defense while forcing turnovers and blocking shots at a rate among the highest in the nation. Offensively, the Noles execute at a high rate around the rim and go to the free throw line often.

Sophomore Devin Vassell leads the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game along with 4.6 rebounds, 1.6 steals, and 1.1 blocks per contest. Trent Forrest is the leading returning scorer from last season and is up to 11.5 ppg this year with 3.5 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.4 steals as well. MJ Walker (10.1) and Patrick Williams (9.4) are the other leading scorers. Florida State has four players averaging 6.0 and 6.6 points per game.

The Seminoles enter Saturday’s matchup as winners of five straight, the last defeat coming at Indiana during the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. The only other loss on the season came by two points at Pittsburgh in the opening game on the season. The two most notable wins are a 12-point win at Florida in November and a 2-point OT win over Purdue on a neutral.

Louisville is looking for its second win over a ranked opponent and its first since beating Michigan at home on Dec. 3. Leading scorer Jordan Nwora is coming off of his worst game of the season at Kentucky. His 8 points were the lowest scoring total for him on the year and it was only his fourth time scoring in single digits since the start of last season. At 20.2 ppg, Nwora has only scored fewer than 18 points on two occasions through 13 games this year.

It will be interesting to see the lineup that Chris Mack goes with. He has used the same lineup to start every game this season, but Fresh Kimble made his case for more minutes last weekend. His stat line of 12 points and 4 assists does not jump out all that much, but he did not turn the ball over in 29 minutes and provided that reliable presence on the ball that has been lacking in big games so far this season for Louisville. It’s worth noting that Darius Perry did not turn it over either at Kentucky, but he was able to play alongside Kimble for stretches while Fresh took on the primary ball handling duties.

In last season’s only game against Florida State, the Noles forced 23 turnovers after implementing a full court press in the second half of a 5-point overtime win over the Cards. It was the game before the epic Duke collapse and really foreshadowed what was to come in the remaining month of the season. This is obviously a different season with two different rosters, but FSU exploited Louisville’s inability to execute in the half court consistently and forced its guards to make plays while taking Jordan Nwora out of the game for the most part.

Louisville is 3-3 against Florida State since joining the ACC, but has lost three out of four. It’ consistently a tough matchup for the Cards. In order to win on Saturday, Louisville will have to limit turnovers, hit some timely threes and get to the free throw line.

Much has been made about Louisville’s performance in its two losses this season. While this is not a powerhouse Florida State team, its a ranked opponent who has a chance to finish top-4 in the ACC and make another run in the NCAA tournament. This would pretty clearly be one of Louisville’s two best wins on the season if the Cards can take care of business at home.

Prediction:

Louisville 68  Florida State 63

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