The No.11 Louisville Cardinals (24-5, 13-3) will take to the road again Wednesday after suffering their second loss in as many games to rival Memphis on Saturday. Louisville appeared to be in the drivers seat and on their way to their 25th win of the season until the hated Tigers closed the game on a 15-1 run over the last 4:41 at the FedEx Forum and completed the season sweep over the Cards.
The Cards got a career game from sophomore forward, Montrezl Harrell who finished with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 3 steals but the ever-improving dunk machine did not get a single touch of the ball near the basket in the last four minutes. The Cardinals will be looking for another big game from Harrell and company in hopes of rebounding from the Memphis loss and winning a pivotal conference game at Moody Coliseum against the surging SMU Mustangs (23-6, 12-4).
The Cards may notice a bit of deja vu when they take on the Mustangs and for good reason. Louisville lost to Memphis, 73-67, back on January 9 and then turned around three days later to take on the Mustangs. Luke Hancock and Russ Smith each scored 23 points to pace the Cards in a 71-63 win that went down to the wire. Louisville led by only four with :49 left before Hancock hit two free throws and Harrell got a dunk to seal the win.
Fast forward nearly two months. Four days after losing to those pesky Tigers, the Cards are staring at a Mustang team hungry for redemption. A win by No.18 SMU would put them in a tie for second place in the AAC with Louisville, and a half game behind Cincinnati while a Louisville win would keep the Cards a half game up on the Bearcats who play Thursday at home against those Tigers of Memphis State.
Coach Rick Pitino is well aware of how much fellow Hall of Famer, Larry Brown’s, team has improved and how tough the environment in Moody Coliseum is. Pitino talked about the challenge ahead at his press conference Tuesday afternoon.
“Mick (Cronin) told me how it’s one of the most difficult places to play. He said it’s bedlam.”
Pitino also touched on what he thinks of Brown and the job he’s done.
“I just think he’s a teacher and he doesn’t care where he teaches, he’s such a great teacher.”
Pitino is right, as he usually is when it comes to basketball. Brown has taught a group of guys, who were not expected to be very successful, how to win and how to win against good competition. Last time the two teams met, the Mustangs were led by forward, Markus Kennedy (6-foot-9, 245 lbs. So.) who had 12 points and eight rebounds before fouling out. On the season he is averaging 11.9 points and seven rebounds per game.
Sophomore guard, Nic Brown (5-foot-9, 170 lbs.) leads the team in scoring at 14.1 points per contest and also grabs 2.2 rebounds while dishing out 4.7 assists. Senior guard, Nick Russell (6-foot-4, 200 lbs.) is also playing really well as of late, scoring 15 points in each of the last two games.
Currently, Louisville is ranked 32nd in the RPI and 6th in ESPN’s BPI while SMU is 36th in the RPI and 25th in the BPI. There is not a lot of difference when it comes to season averages and rankings between the two teams except in the scoring department.
Points – 72.1 (150) 81.7 (14)
Rebounds – 36.8 (83) 37.7 (49)
Assists – 15.2 (42) 15.4 (29)
Field Goal % – .492 (9) .477 (29)
The Cards have excelled in a few categories and rank in the top 15 nationally in scoring margin (No.1, +19.8), steals (No. 3, 9.7), turnover margin (No.2, +6.7), total steals (No.4, 280) and assists-turnover ratio (No.11, 1.5). SMU, like the Cards, have built a reputation for tough, stingy defense and ranks second nationally in field-goal percentage defense (36.9) and as mentioned above, ninth in field-goal percentage (49.2).
Prediction: I agree with Pitino in thinking that Brown (who was also named a National Coach of the Year finalist by the U.S. Basketball Writers Association on Feb. 27) is one of the best teachers in basketball and he has proven to be a winner at every stop in his career. Brown has the people of Dallas believing in the Mustangs again and the atmosphere at their home games is very loud and disruptive to visitors.
The Cards will get back on track after the upsetting loss to Memphis and Harrell will continue his dominating play. Harell had a double-double in the first meeting with 12 points and 13 rebounds and I think he will have another game similar to that. Hancock will find his stroke from 3-point range and bury five of them in route to 19 points and I think Stephan Van Treese and Mangok Mathiang hold their own and have a solid game, combining for around 10 points and 10 rebounds. The game will be close all the way through but Louisville pulls it out in the end by a score of 79-72.