The two most recent National Champions will square off in Lucas Oil Stadium on Friday night for the right to play for the Midwest Regional Final. In-state rivals, differing philosophies, bragging rights, everything will be on the line. But once the ball goes up all of the discussion, hyperbole, posturing, and conjecture just goes out the window. At that moment, it’s just basketball.
Louisville lost to the Cats in Rupp Arena in December. What does that mean for Friday’s match-up? Not a lot. A 7-point road loss in a hostile environment 3 months ago isn’t going to beat much insight into what the future holds. In that game, Julius Randle was dominant in the 1st half and struggled with cramps during the 2nd. Wayne Blackshear was limited due to fouls and was disqualified after just 12 minutes of court. Chane Behanan knew that the Kentucky game would be his last in a Cardinal uniform.
Kentucky struggled with its season. The Cats looked great against the Cards, but sputtered through the SEC until UK began playing its best stretch of basketball starting with the SEC Tournament. Kentucky currently sits 26-10 and has played 7 games (5 teams) against teams currently in the Sweet 16. The Cats were 2-5 in those games.
Louisville on the other hand handled the teams they were supposed to and currently sit at 31-5. But the Cards came up short in 3 late game situations where UofL could have (and probably should have) pulled out the victory. Louisville has played 4 games (2 teams) against teams currently in the Sweet 16, 3-1 in those games (UCONN 3-0, UK 0-1).
The first thing that jumps out here is the size advantage the Harrison twins have over Russ Smith and Chris Jones. It’s also very important to note the significant number of minutes UK’s backcourt players see over the Louisville’s.
We will watch the defensive assignments, but my best guess would be that Russ Smith will get Andrew Harrison as Russ did a fantastic job against Shabazz Napier & Sean Kilpatrick (All-Americans) throughout the season and Andrew really creates the offense for UK. Both Aaron & Andrew drive the lane often and do a great job of getting the whistle and going to the line. Once there the twins are very good free throw shooters. But it really is the frequency that Andrew & Aaron get to the line, combined 324 trips over the course of the season compared to Russ Smith & Chris Jones 284.
Andrew is foul prone with the most fouls of both teams in this game. Last time out, Russ & Chris were fairly comfortable statistically. But in truth, Rick Pitino was very frustrated with Russ Smith early in the contest. In all Russ & Chris combined for 61 minutes, 14 of 33, 37 points, & 6 assists. Russ was NOT himself however, shooting 0 for 5 from 3-point range and just 5-10 from the foul line.
Russ has been HOT from 3-point land lately, hitting 46.15% from beyond the arc in his last 10 games and 42.1% over the past 5 games. Also, Russ is typically a much better Free Throw shooter than this season’s average, but has been below his norm throughout 2013-14. Still 5-10 from the foul line is far less than expectations. For Chris Jones, he had one of his best games prior to his injury and has been playing at a similar level for the past 4 weeks.
The Harrison Twins, however, really would need a reversal after 64 minutes, 11 of 28, and 7 turnovers to get the best of Louisville’s starting backcourt. Lately, both Andrew & Aaron have been playing much better, starting particularly with the SEC Tournament. Russ & Chris will apply pressure defensively to the Twins in a way that really doesn’t happen anywhere else. But the Twins will certainly be more prepared now than in December. So this is worth watching.
At the 3 spot, Luke Hancock is going to need to deal with James Young. Young is UK’s 2nd leading scorer & has played more minutes than any other Wildcat. Young likes to shoot the 3…. A LOT. But Young likes to shoot PERIOD. James has taken more shots than any other UK player. When driving to the basket, the Cards will probably live with that as Young is not the finisher that the Harrision twins are. Still, Young will go to the basket and is often bailed out with the whistle despite a solid intent. The Cards need to force Young to finish at the basket and not allow him to get cheap whistles and go to the line.
Hancock doesn’t play as many minutes as Young and that may help later in the game but really both of these guys are statistically the same player. Luke is more foul prone, but Luke also creates more turnovers and hits at the line more frequently. Lately, Luke has hit timely shots, but a lot of wide open looks haven’t been falling which is atypical of Hancock’s game. Luke is the reigning MOP of the NCAA Tournament, Young is a freshman with loads of potential. Interesting match-up.
|Chris Jones||Andrew Harrison|
|5-10,175 Jr.||6-6, 215, Fr.|
|Field Goal %||39.50%||37.70%|
|Russ Smith||Aaron Harrison|
|6-0, 165, Sr.||6-6, 218, Fr.|
|Field Goal %||46.90%||42.90%|
|Luke Hancock||James Young|
|6-6, 200, Sr.||6-6, 215, Fr.|
|Field Goal %||40.00%||40.10%|
Again big size advantage for Kentucky. This is a little strange at the 5 spot for both teams, but Julius Randle and Montrezl Harrell are constants for UofL & UK. The first time out, Randle was dominant until his legs betrayed him with cramps. Randle is an incredible force inside. Denying him the ball is a defense’s best bet. But once Randle has it on the block, it is unlikely to come out and he is turnover prone. But the more likely scenario is Randle gets a shot up and either makes it, gets fouled, or grabs the rebound for another shot. Randle is a BEAST down low, and the best thing UofL can do is limit Randle to one shot and not foul him or attempt to deny him the ball underneath entirely. Randle has attempted an obscene 268 foul shots on the season and hits 70.5% once there. UK goes to the free throw line……A LOT as a team. On the season the Cats have 1063 Free Throw Attempts. Louisville has made just 897 trips by comparison. It is a calculated effort to attack the basket, under control or not, to get the official’s whistle…..and it works.
Also personally I think Montrezl plays too many minutes, but Randle actually is on the court more than Trez, so we’ll be watching late game fatigue from both. Neither team can afford to be without the other for long.
Montrezl Harrell has really grown as a player since the UK game where he attempted just two shots and grabbed 4 rebounds. Harrell’s progression was dramatic this off-season, and that continued with another tremendous leap around mid-February. Harrell has really asserted himself in all areas of basketball and has emerged as a leader on this Louisville basketball team. That wasn’t the case in December.
Since December, Trezl has continued his improvement on defense and there are fewer off the ball mistakes. Also Harrell’s offensive game has developed more than just a forward going to the basket. Montrezl has been showcasing offense with his back to the basket and also a nice mid-range jumper that has been hitting with surprising frequency. In the last match-up Harrell was a victim of UK’s defensive tactics and the Cats really disallowed a lot of activity from Montrezl with their ball denial.
Stephan Van Treese certainly has his hands full size wise. But Dakari Johson, like SVT, isn’t a huge scoring threat. Johnson fouls at a high rate, but does own a pretty significant height advantage over the Janitor. VT has been on fire rebounding the basketball and playing solid defense lately. More than likely Stephan will have to help on Randle often, and his now patented “Steve” (rebound assist) will need to be HUGE as the Cats are devastating on the offensive glass. Dakari has seen increasing minutes lately and has been outstanding defensively, but Calipari still rotates in off the bench quite a bit with Dakari.
|Montrezl Harrell||Julius Randle|
|6-8, 235, Soph.||6-9, 250, Fr.|
|Field Goal %||60.50%||50.30%|
|Stephan Van Treese||Dakari Johnson|
|6-9, 245, Sr.||7-0, 265, Fr.|
|Field Goal %||63.80%||55.10%|
UK’s starting group plays A LOT. Other than Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress there really is no guarantee that any of UK’s other players off the bench will get much time if at all. Louisville’s Terry Rozier is not your typical freshman. Terry hits at a high rate beyond the arc and refuses to turn the ball over. Rozier also rebounds abnormally for a freshman guard. Additionally Rozier is a bigger option than Chris Jones and could help on the boards if needed. Terry played very little in the first match-up and has grown quite a bit as a player since.
Jarrod Polson has improved and has in the past been a big liability handling the ball against the Cards. Calipari elected to go with Dominique Hawkins in the last match-up instead. Hawkins hauled in 3 rebs and had 4 fouls in just 15 minutes.
Mangok Mathiang has come a long way…………but he also still has quite a way to go to match-up with Willie Cauley Stein. WCS really plays starters minutes, but has been coming off the bench lately. Mathiang and Cauley-Stein block shots at about the same rate per minute but clearly Willie is a much more prepared player than Mangok at this point. Mangok has looked incredible at times, but he has not done it consistently. Meanwhile Cauley-Stein was defensively out front frustrating Louisville’s smaller guards in Russ Smith and Chris Jones. Willie displayed excellent quickness and body control containing Russ & Chris which allowed the Harrison twins to play off the ball and eventually trap the possession.
If Louisville hopes to beat UK they must be able to attack around Willie Cauley-Stein. John Calipari employed the same tactic against the Cards with his 2012 Championship team and it worked again this December. To make UK pay Russ Smith must maximize their quickness and make plays via passing the ball underneath, or by getting fouled to discourage this type of defense. If they don’t, UofL’s offense will be disrupted and will be limited to contested jump shots all evening. That is a recipe for a loss. Louisville simply has to be able to find a way around Willie Cauley-Stein when this defense presents itself.
Wayne Blackshear didn’t get to play much in the last meeting. Wayne’s game has been up & down all season, but against the Cats Blackshear picked up 2 fouls in the first 2:17 of play and eventually would foul out. Wayne’s ability to stay on the floor will be instrumental to Louisville’s success as the Cards had to go deep into their bench playing Akoy Agau in the 1st half. Blackshear for about 7-8 games has been really steady and reliable and he & Luke will tag team to cover James Young.
Alex Poythress was a starter for last year’s UK club. This year he is a very consistent big body that has a lot of speed and a good attitude. Poythress will help the Cats crash the boards, but in regards to UK’s bench they clearly have plenty of big bodies…..but they lack a depth at Guards.
|Terry Rozier||Jarrod Polson|
|6-1, 170, Fr.||6-2, 182, Sr.|
|Field Goal %||40.60%||31.40%|
|Mangok Mathiang||Willie Cauley-Stein|
|6-10, 200, Fr.||7-0, 244, Soph.|
|Field Goal %||53.50%||59.60%|
|Wayne Blackshear||Alex Poythress|
|6-5, 230, Jr.||6-8, 239, Soph|
|Field Goal %||43.60%||47.20%|
|Tim Henderson||Dominique Hawkins|
|6-2, 195, Sr.||6-0, 193, Fr.|
|Field Goal %||43.10%||26.70%|
|Akoy Agau||Marcus Lee|
|6-8, 235, Fr.||6-9, 215, Fr.|
|Field Goal %||77.80%||59.40%|
|Anton Gill||Jon Hood|
|6-4, 180, Fr.||6-7, 215, Sr.|
|Field Goal %||32.40%||30.80%|
|Points Per Game||81.4 (10th)||75.3 (53rd)|
|Avg Scoring Margin||20.6 (1st)||9.2 (29th)|
|Field Goal %||47.0% (29th)||45.0% (112th)|
|Rebound Rate||52.4% (52nd)||56.6% (2nd)|
|Blocks Per Game||4.7 (52nd)||6.3 (6th)|
|Steals Per Game||10.1 (2nd)||4.7 (311th)|
|Assists Per Game||15.5 (18th)||11.4 (253rd)|
|Turnovers Per Game||10.6 (40th)||12.3 (169th)|
|Opponent Turnovers Per Game||17.4 (2nd)||11.0 (279th)|
|Team Fouls Per Game||19.4 (193rd)||18.6 (127th)|
|2-point FG%||52.5% (31st)||49.9% (107th)|
|3-point FG%||37.0% (66th)||32.4% (261st)|
|Free Throw %||66.3% (289th)||68.3% (230th)|
|Opponent Shooting %||39.5% (16th)||40.2% (24th)|
|Opponent 2-point FG%||44.2% (38th)||43.9% (29th)|
|Opponent 3-point FG%||28.6% (2nd)||31.4% (39th)|
|Opponent Block Per Game||2.8 (35th)||3.1 (70th)|
|Opponent Steals Per Game||4.6 (11th)||5.8 (122nd)|