By Michael McAllister
Syracuse travels to Louisville to play the Cardinals at the Yum Center on Big Monday on ESPN. The Cardinals are riding a six game win-streak, but none have come against ranked opponents. Louisville is 16-1 at home on the season, and welcomes a Syracuse team that has won five in a row.
Louisville utilizes a full-court pressure defense that causes mistakes and turnovers by their opponents. As a result, the Cardinals are averaging nine steals per game. However, this is one of the worst shooting teams Rick Pitino has had at Louisville. They are shooting only 44% from the floor, including 33% from beyond the arc. Typical Pitino teams are dynamic from outside the arc. Louisville also has a propensity for turning the ball over, averaging 15 per game.
The Cardinals are led by senior Kyle Kuric, who has torched the Orange in the past. He’s scoring 13 points per game, and grabbing five rebounds as well. He leads the team in three-pointers made with 135, and is shooting 36% from the outside. Senior guard Chris Smith is the highest percentage shooter from beyond the arc at 43%. Freshman guard Wayne Blackshear made his season debut against West Virginia on Saturday. He played well scoring 13 points on 5-9 shooting (3-5 from three-point range). He had missed their first 24 games due to a torn labrum. Blackshear was a five-star top 30 recruit expected to be a big contributor this year. When he tore his labrum, it was feared he’d be out for the season. But he has returned at a great time for Louisville. Peyton Siva is the point-guard for the Cardinals, who’s been wildly inconsistent. He averages less than nine points per game, but leads the team in assists at nearly six per game. On the downside, he’s committing over three turnovers per game, while only shooting 38% from the floor (18% from beyond the arc). The better he plays, the better the Cardinals play. Consistent, mistake-free play from Siva is critical for Louisville to pull an upset.
Inside, the Cardinals are led by sophomore center Gorgui Dieng. He’s averaging 10 points and nine rebounds per game, while shooting nearly 58% from the floor. He’s also a very good interior defender, with over three blocks and one steal per game. Also on the inside is freshman forward Chane Behanan. He’s averaging nearly eight rebounds and over nine points per game. He’s a little undersized, but is a very good rebounder. The Orange will have to contain these two players on the glass in order to keep the rebounding margin respectable. Four keys to an Orange victory:
1. Limit turnovers:
Louisville will press for most of the game. The Orange’s ability beat the press consistently without committing turnovers will be a big key. Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche have experience playing against their press, and will be counted on to break it.
2. Stay at home on the Cardinal shooters:
Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith, and Wayne Blackshear are all good shooters who can be deadly when left open. The Syracuse zone must stay at home on these shooters to prevent open looks. Joseph and Fair on the wings will be especially important, as Kuric loves the shot from the corner.
3. Force turnovers:
Louisville turns it over 15 times per game. Peyton Siva is the biggest culprit, and is prone to making mistakes. The zone must be aggressive, and force turnovers to allow the Orange to get out in transition.
As we saw in the UConn game, when Syracuse keeps the rebounding margin close, they are very difficult to beat. The Orange must stay focused on the glass as they were in their last game. They don’t have to win the rebounding margin, they just can’t be dominated on the boards. Fab Melo against Dieng will be key. Melo must stay out of foul trouble and block out Dieng to keep him off the offensive glass. C.J. Fair will be expected to keep up his efforts on the boards against UConn.
Syracuse hasn’t won at Louisville since the Cardinals joined the Big East. In fact, since the first season Louisville joined the conference (2005-06), Syracuse is 1-7 against the Cardinals (including the Big East Tournament). The Orange have dropped the last seven as well. Syracuse is looking to move to 26-1 overall, and 13-1 in conference play. The game will be televised on ESPN at 7pm as part of their Big Monday coverage.