A Look Ahead: (4) Louisville Cardinals

A brief look ahead at a potential next round opponent, the 4th-seeded Louisville Cardinals.

We did these posts here last year, and just to bring this up again (since I know someone will come screaming into the comments talking about DISRESPECT and "why are you looking ahead?" etc. etc. As always, let it be known that nothing written here on the Internet (or anywhere) has any effect on anything, let alone the outcome of a basketball game.

With that out of the way, should Michigan advance past Tennessee, it's a good idea to have at least done a little reading on our next opponent, since we've got a few days without basketball upcoming anyway--so, let's take a quick look at a familiar foe, the Louisville Cardinals.

Season So Far

The reigning national champion Cardinals finished 31-5 (15-3) this season, tied with Cincinnati for the AAC's regular season crown then beat UConn in the conference tournament final.

While some knocked Louisville's strength of schedule (No. 96 in the country), they took care of business against slate they had. The Cardinals avoided "bad" losses (16-0 against RPI 150+ squads and 8-0 vs. RPI 50-150).

They dropped games against Memphis (twice), UNC, Kentucky on Dec. 28 and Cincinnati.

Personnel

Senior Russ Smith leads the way for Louisville, averaging 18.1 ppg, 4.7 apg and shooting 40 percent from beyond the arc. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng might be gone, but with Smith at the helm this is still a championship team, no matter what you think about their schedule.

Sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell has taken a big leap this season in his increased role, averaging 14.0 ppg while also pulling down 8.4 boards per game, not to mention 1.4 blocks per game.

Luke Hancock --also known as the guy who ruined the good vibes of Spikemania during last year's title game-- is back, taking a lot of three and making them not nearly as frequently as he did last year. Hancock is shooting 34 percent this season, down from last year's 40 percent.

Miscellaneous Stats

  • As always, the three-pointer is of major importance for Pitino's squad: the Cardinals are in the top 35 nationally in three-point field goal attempts, makes, and percentage.
  • Of course, the Cardinals force tons of mistakes with their defensive pressure. During conference play this year, Louisville forced 17.1 turnovers per game.
  • Pitino's squad is pretty good on the offensive boards, where they were 3rd in the AAC (62nd nationally) in offensive rebounding percentage at 35 percent. On the defensive board, however, they were 6th in the conference, 281st nationally, in defensive rebounding percentage.

Rough Assessment

If Michigan and Louisville do meet, it would be a slightly lesser version of last year's title game, as far as I can tell. Although Michigan technically had a better season this season, losing Burke, Hardaway and McGary while Louisville lost Siva and Dieng, and it's tough to see these teams as better than their 2012-13 iterations.

With that said, despite Michigan's recent sloppiness, the Wolverines have always done well against teams that try to create offense with their defense (with VCU last year being the quintessential example). With Spike Albrecht, Derrick Walton Jr., Nik Stauskas and Caris LeVert, Michigan has enough ball-handling to beat the Cardinals' pressure.

This would come down to pace. Louisville wants to run, Michigan wants to slow it down. Preventing the press from getting set up starts with defense, which in this one will mean guarding the 3-point line and checking Harrell on the inside.

Either way, if this rematch does happen, this should be another very well-played tournament game.

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