I’m going to give you 4 ‘things’ to watch during the game, be it a player match-up, style of play comparison, strengths/weaknesses, etc., so you’ll have a sense of what to watch for as the game plays out. You probably know me as a stat guy, so I assure you I’m still going to be analyzing the numbers for you and the patterns I find in the stat analysis will give us our 4 keys to the game, so to speak. I’ll then give you 2 predictions based on those things we’ll be watching for throughout the game that I’m confident will play a large role in the eventual outcome of the game. Ergo, you have “what 2 watch 4”.
One down. It went about how I expected it to go. A high-potential Irvine team hung with Louisville and Louisville grabbed a 2 point win to start the tourney. On to the next one. Northern Iowa is a tough opponent, though really, it’s the tournament – there are no easy opponents any more. What needs to happen for Louisville to win?
Force bad shots.
Northern Iowa makes 48.2% of their shot attempts, which ranks 16th in the country. They also make over 40% of their 3-point attempts, which ranks 9th in the country. You might find yourself concerned that UNI will end up raining jumpers over us all night. Don’t lose faith just yet. Louisville ranks 25th and 9th nationally in those respective statistical categories on the defensive end. Louisville can defend good shooting teams as well as anybody. If Louisville can force UNI to take bad shots, the way the Cards have done all season to multiple other opponents, that can negate UNI’s strongest advantage.
Do not let them shoot from 3.
I did not say “defend the 3-point line”. I said what I said intentionally. This UNI team is an unbelievable shooting team. As mentioned above, they make over 40% of their 3-point attempts. If you let them get a shot off, it’s going to snap the net. That said, the recipe for beating UNI is stopping their perimeter shooting. Evansville managed to shut down Northern Iowa for a 52-49 win, and the Purple Aces did so by forcing UNI to shoot just 27.8%.
Get into the paint, then get to the rim and/or get to the free throw line.
High percentage shots are what Louisville needs to win this game. If we make it a battle from the perimeter, we’re going to lose the battle. It’s been said about a thousand times this season that this Louisville team doesn’t shoot the ball very well. While that may be true, there are a number of players on this team that can get to the rim and score or draw fouls. That they do that is absolutely vital in this game. UNI’s opponents this season have gotten less than a fifth of their points at the free throw line (17.1%, 23rd). In two of UNI’s 3 losses, though, they gave up 16 and 19 made free throws. They’ve also not really faced athletes the caliber of Montrezl Harrell & Co., so the likelihood of fouls is going to be high. We can win the game in the paint and at the line, if we’re smart with our offense.
Win the turnover battle.
UNI doesn’t force many turnovers – they rank 197th in steals and 287th in blocks per game. They don’t force a ton of turnovers either, ranking 333rd in that category. They don’t turn the ball over a lot either, but then again, they’ve not faced the type of defense they’ll face in this game. You know all about Louisville and how they approach turnovers on both ends of the floor. That has to continue tonight.
Prediction 1: Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier won’t have another “off”(ish) night.
The UC Irvine game wasn’t the best showing offensively for either of these guys. Mind you, they didn’t play poorly, but they weren’t really relied on like they’ve been this season. For once, the pressure to score was taken from them by Wayne & Q, who more than delivered. This just might be the game when we find a new “core 4” and get the offense going again. I’m looking for around 30 between the two of them.
Prediction 2: Wayne Blackshear will lead the way again, and will ink his name in Louisville’s 1,000 point scorers list.
Wayne needs just 2 points to become the 64th 1,000 point scorer in Louisville basketball history. He led the way for the Cards against UC Irvine with 19 points and 7 rebounds, repeatedly getting into the paint and getting buckets. This game is made for a strong, slashing wing like Wayne and I expect him to take the opportunity to put his name and picture in the Louisville record books, and put his team in the Sweet 16.
I honestly think Louisville can win this game & get to the Sweet 16. I do see the potential match-up nightmare if we give them open looks, but anybody who gives an opponent open looks is probably going to pay for it. There’s every chance we’ll lose this game, but I think there’s ever chance we’ll win it as well. We can’t afford to not play our A game, but I think our A game is good enough to get the job done.
Score prediction: Louisville 62 – UNI 58
Andy Knabel joined on as a contributing writer for The Cardinal Connect in August of 2013. You can follow Andy on Twitter @knabelism.