Pregame Breakdown: Louisville at Virginia

The 10th ranked Louisville Cardinals wrap up their regular season on Saturday with an afternoon matchup with the Virginia Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Louisville enters the day at 24-6 overall and 15-4 in the ACC. The Cards most recently beat Virginia Tech at home on Sunday. Virginia comes in at 22-7 and 14-5 with a slim chance of grabbing the number one seed in the ACC Tournament.

Virginia leads the all time series 15-5. Louisville is only 1-7 in Charlottesville. Last month, the Cards ended a five year drought by beating UVA 80-73 at home. The Cavs had won nine straight in the series prior to that game.

(full box score)

That was a game full of outliers. Virginia is the nation’s best scoring defense who also hadn’t scored 65 points themselves all season. Tomas Woldetensae and Kihei Clark each posted their career high in points for UVA. It was a fun game to watch, but it was nothing but ordinary considering some of the games these two have played in recent years. Realistically we should expect fewer points the second time around.

Since losing to Louisville on February 8th, UVA has pulled off seven straight wins and are among the hottest teams in the country. A squad that was once on the wrong side of the bubble has played itself comfortably back into the field and has another chance to improve its seed on Saturday.

The big question mark for Louisville entering Saturday is the status of Malik Williams. The junior big man was in the midst of his best stretch as a Cardinal before suffering an ankle injury just a few minutes into the game at Florida State last Monday. Williams sat out against Va. Tech and is considered a game time decision on Saturday. In the five games prior to the injury, Malik was averaging 13.8 points and 8.0 rebounds per game. His presence on the defensive end and his vocal leadership stood out as he was developing into one of the most important contributors on the team.

Even if Williams does suit up, it is unclear how much playing time he will get. Steven Enoch will likely be playing the majority of the minutes at the center position. It will be a difficult matchup trying to keep up with Jay Huff. In Virginia’s seven game streak, Huff has anchored the defense while putting up some big scoring games as well. Last month it was Woldetensae and Clark who led the Cavaliers resurgence, but Huff has been the guy over the past couple weeks.

At this point, we know what to expect against Tony Bennett’s Virginia team. They are going to try and keep it as slow as possible. They will refuse to shoot early in the shot clock and they will get back on defense hoping to force you into mistakes. Louisville played about as well as anyone had against that defense last time around, but they shot 11-22 from three-point range. UVA rarely gives up even 70 points, much less 80.

Ultimately, this is a Louisville team that’s not 100 percent running up against a Virginia team that is firing on all cylinders at the moment. This is a quad-1 opportunity for Louisville and would help out the resume in a big way. This is also Virginia, though. They’ve absolutely dominated the Cards, especially at John Paul Jones Arena. Louisville seemingly got over a mental hump last month by finally breaking through against UVA. Make no mistake, though, it is going to take another special performance if this Louisville team wants to leave Charlottesville with a win on Saturday.

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

Prediction:

Louisville 63  Virginia 62

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