SCOUTING THE CARDINALS
Rick Pitino's latest Louisville squad is showing very good scoring balance in the front and backcourts. Shooting guard Preston Knowles (6-1, 195 lbs.) is among the better scorers in the Big East and leads the team at 15.4 points per game with about four rebounds and a couple assists. The senior is shooting well at 42 percent overall, 41 from three and having made 37 of 42 free throws. He can get into the lane, draw contact, finish around the rim and in transition and spot up from anywhere. Knowles has good quickness and lateral movement, but will likely be dogged by Joe Mazzulla for most of the game is the WVU senior can stay out of foul trouble. Among the better Mountaineer defensive players, Mazzulla's ability to play physically and limit Knowles chances will be a huge key for a team now down to eight scholarship players with the recent dismissal of Dan Jennings and suspension of Casey Mitchell.
Point guard Peyton Silva (5-11, 175 lbs.) hits for 10 points per game. The sophomore gets to the line well and is nearing doubling his assists against turnovers. This isn't a pass-first player, but Silva can get into the lane and then kick outside. He'll try to pressure the rim as much as possible, and likes to get out in transition for potentially easy buckets. WVU must rotate back effectively or the Cards' running game could prove too much to overcome. Watch to see if Silva tries to get Truck Bryant (or Mazzulla, pending how West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins wants to match-up) in quick foul trouble, especially with a short opposing bench and no other solid ballhandlers. Silva and Knowles should be fresher than Mazzulla and Bryant, as both play about 25 to 27 minutes. WVU's guards are likely to see mid to upper 30s in playing time barring foul issues. Late game attrition looms for West Virginia here.
Pitino's squad is also mixing in solid size. Center Gorgui Dieng (6-10, 225 lbs.) and power forward Stephen Van Treese (6-9, 235 lbs.) both have excellent length, but not a ton of bulk. Dieng, a freshman, is still honing his skills on both ends but is contributing 6.5 points and 4.7 rebounds per game. He's only seeing 16 minutes, benefitting from a lengthy bench and good supporting help. The Senegal native doesn't take many shots, but is incredibly accurate from close range (66.2 percent from the floor). His free throw shooting percentage isn't much better, and he can get banged around by beefier Big East players. If Kevin Jones can get a body on him, he can move the taller player out away from the hoop. And the Mountaineer forward won't have to worry about extended jumpers or three-point shots and should handle the face-to-the-bucket tasks. The issue will be when Pitno continually goes to his bench for a couple reserves 6-8 to 6-10 and stronger. Van Treese, four points, four rebounds per game, is also making the vast majority of his shots because they come from inside eight feet or on putbacks. The sophomore struggles at the line and is a role player. He won't take elongated shots and looks to teammates to carry the scoring load. Inserted for stretches – he plays 15 minutes per game – for his size, this isn't a scoring threat anywhere outside the paint.
Swingman Chris Smith (6-2, 200 lbs.) adds 10 points and four rebounds in playing larger than his size. The junior is tied for the second-most in total shots on the team this season at 132, and he had made 53 percent, 48.8 from three. WVU must guard Smith far beyond the arc and give help on the drive. This could be the most difficult man-to-man match-up in the game as John Flowers draws a very good overall player. Smith's quickness, shot and rebounding ability on both ends is quite good. He struggles at the line, though how much West Virginia can take advantage of that is difficult to note because of the lack of depth. Flowers has a nice size edge here, and he'll need that to guard beyond the arc and still be able to recover for interior defense as needed. Smith could have a big game against the Mountaineers; the walk-on transfer from Manhattan College is still a bit under the radar for most fans.
|Wed. Jan. 26
7:00 p.m. EST
KFC Yum! Center
WVU 13-5, 4-2
UofL 15-4, 4-2
WVU - 14
UofL - 39
The Cards had very good depth at forward and center with Rakeeem Buckles (6-8, 210 lbs.) and Terrence Jennings (6-10, 230 lbs.). The two average eight points each in about 20 minutes of play, though Buckles is unlikely to go because of a finger injury. That leaves Jennings, who won't threaten from the outside like Buckles but has taken 70-plus more shots than Buckles this season. Jennings has nine starts this year and is very good around the rim. His rebounds well on both ends and, in what is a pattern with UofL's players, isn't good at the line. His 38 offensive rebounds are a team high, and his 35 blocks are second only to Dieng's 44. This is a very nice backup forward for Pitino, and one that adds a better defensive and physical presence when inserted. Reserve guards Kyle Kuric (6-4, 185 lbs.) and Mike Marra (6-5, 200 lbs.) stat lines are almost identical at about eight points and two to three rebounds a game. Marra is a better passer and distributor, while Kuric's three-point percentage is considerably higher (41.4) than his counterpart's (27.4). Neither are great defenders, but their size could cause some issues.
Louisville's size, better bench, superior athletes and home court make this as tough of a game as West Virginia has played this season. The Cardinals are a solid top 25 team, but don't shoot well enough at the line and from a variety of positions to be a serious threat to win the Big East. The Mountaineers could have trouble matching size on the inside and depth all over the floor. It remains to be seen where WVU will get its points with Casey Mitchell out of the line-up. John Flowers will loom large during this road trip, and Huggins must get a bit more out of Jones and Deniz Kilicli inside. UofL will continually press in transition, and should put pressure on the rim in hopes of creating foul trouble for the Mountaineers. If WVU can limit easy points, back Louisville's taller players away from the rim and guard its shooters decently, it has a chance to stay close and try to steal one. As the game heads into the final 10 minutes, though, the depth, bench play and sheer attrition could see this one slipping away. Winning the turnover and free throw shooting is a must here. Any freebies and the tough sledding gets nearly impossible.
WVU: F Kevin Noreen (Knee), Out for Season; G Casey Mitchell (Suspended), Out.
West Virginia is 2-0 against Top 25 teams this season. Eight of the Mountaineers' 12 remaining games are against ranked teams.
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Kevin Jones needs 19 points to become West Virginia's 47th 1,000-point scorer. John Flowers leads the team with a plus-181 point ratio when he is on the floor.
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The Mountaineers are trying to avoid their 300th all-time January loss against 474 wins. WVU is 15-12 all-time on Jan. 26.
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Louisville is 4-2 against West Virginia in Big East play. West Virginia won the only game among the two last season, 77-74.
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Huggins is 15-14 all-time versus Louisville. Pitino is 6-2 against West Virginia, with a win while he was at Kentucky.
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The Cardinals are 13-2 at home this season and 3-0 at home in the Big East.