Pregame Breakdown: Can Louisville Finally Break Through Against Virginia?

It has been five long years since the Louisville Men’s Basketball team won a game over the University of Virginia. Having played at least twice every season, that’s nine straight losses. Louisville’s only win since joining the ACC came at home in 2015 in what is now known as the Mangok Mathiang game.

Since then, UVA has dominated Louisville consistently in a way that you just don’t see a perennial ranked program dominate another. Virginia finally got its national championship last year. Right now, it’s in the midst of its worst season since Tony Bennett’s first two in Charlottesville all the way back in 2010 and 2011. The Cavaliers come to town for an afternoon matchup on Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center.

Forty years since the school’s first National Championship season, Louisville will be honoring the 1980 team on Saturday.

Virginia enters with a 15-6 overall record and a 7-4 record in the ACC. They own one really good win over Florida State at home, but have lost to struggling teams like South Carolina and Boston College. Virginia still has the best defense in the country based on any way you choose to evaluate it.

UVA leads the nation in scoring defense at 50.4 points allowed per game. They allow the 3rd lowest effective field goal percentage, the 4th lowest two-point percentage, and the 16th lowest three-point percentage in college basketball. The obvious way that Louisville can be successful on Saturday is to shoot and make threes. Virginia gives up 38.8 percent of its points from long range. That’s the 10th most in all of the country. They do that, however, while holding opponents to 29.0 percent on those shots. Louisville shoots 40.3 percent from three as a team, good for 4th best in the nation.

For all that defensive success, Virginia is among the worst offensive teams in the nation. KenPom ranks UVA’s offense 276th in the country. Only one other power conference team is even outside of the top-200. Besides taking care of the basketball, Virginia does almost nothing well on the offensive end.

Given the offensive struggles, UVA is only going to be even more disciplined on sticking to its style of play against Louisville. They are going to slow it down and refuse to take shots early in the possession. They’re going to get back on defense and eliminate any easy scoring chances for their opponent. There is absolutely a scenario where Louisville comes out, shares the basketball, and shoots the lights out from three in a convincing win. There’s also a chance that the Cards come out, force shots in the half court, and find themselves struggling to score like we seen them do for five years now.

If there was ever a year that Louisville looked poised to get over the hump and beat Virginia, this would be the year. Louisville is a top five team. Virginia is not a top 50 team and squarely on the NCAA tournament bubble. This is clearly a style of play that has tortured Louisville since they joined the ACC. In most of those years, though, UVA has either been the clearly better team or at least a comparable opponent. Louisville has not been favored like they are this season.

If the Cards win, it will not be some resume-defining victory. There is a lot of history between these two though, and not one player on this Louisville team has beaten UVA. This matchup, if anything, will be the biggest mental challenge of the season. Will Louisville finally break through and beat Virginia, or will the Cavaliers prove that they are the Cards’ kryptonite regardless of the year?

The game tips at 4:00 p.m. ET and will be televised live on ESPN.

Prediction:

Louisville 61  Virginia 56

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