The Cardinals are in a very difficult chunk of their schedule and it has shown. UofL has dropped three of its last five games, which includes an upset over second-ranked UNC. Otherwise, Louisville has lost to Virginia at home, and Duke and Notre Dame on the road. The Orange, on the other hand, defeated Duke at Cameron Indoor and Notre Dame in the Carrier Dome earlier this season. There is no question that the team’s postseason ban has had a very emotionally draining effect and its showing on the court.
On the ACC coaches’ conference call that takes place weekly, Pitino said that, “The guys played really hard the last two games, but you can see it weighing on them a little bit emotionally that they’re not going to be in the tournament. So we’re just trying to keep our perspective, keep working hard.”
Syracuse gets to face the Cardinals at a very lucky time in the schedule, as the team is coming off of two straight road losses and will face Duke, Pittsburgh, and Miami in the coming week. This game seems to set up perfectly for Syracuse, as they get to face the still-ranked number 18 team in the country that is falling fast. SU is a seven-point underdog.
If all of this wasn’t enough to fuel an Orange victory, Louisville standout center Mangok Mathiang has been out since December 19, while center Anas Mahmoud was recently ruled out for the season. Although Mathiang only played in ten games this season, the 6-foot-10 center was averaging 7.1 points and 5.7 boards per game.
Depth certainly isn’t a problem for Pitino, though, as eight players besides Mathiang are averaging at least 13 minutes per game. Although only two guys (Damion Lee and Trey Lewis) are averaging double-digit scoring, there is balance up and down the lineup. The key to beating the Cardinals, though, is stopping Lee and Lewis, clearly the best two players on UofL’s roster. The two fifth-year transfers are being celebrated due to the NCAA ban, but stopping them will lead to a win for SU. Both are shooting roughly 37 percent from three and shoot an impressive 44 percent from the floor. Aside from these two, guarding Quentin Snider (41 percent from three) and boxing out Chinanu Onuaku (leading rebounder at 8.4 rebounds per game) will be key.
The Cardinals’ last three losses have come from a variety of reasons. Virginia used great shooting, but more importantly, great defense to hand Louisville a 16-point loss. Lee and Lewis were held to a combined ten points on just 3-of-13 shooting. Versus Duke, Lee and Lewis combined for 21 points on 8-of-25 shooting. Duke, who the Orange beat on the boards (49-42) was able to hang with Louisville on the boards, which is key. The Cardinals have the 8th-best rebounding margin in the nation. The Irish used strong backcourt play to win the game as Vasturia and Jackson combined for 47 of the team’s 71 points.
So how does the Orange win? Being strong on the glass, containing Lee and Lewis, and having strong play from its guards. Lee and Lewis can and will take plenty of shots, but limiting the quality looks is the most important thing. Trevor Cooney needs to break out of his slump in a big way tonight, Mike Gbinije needs to be himself, and the Orange can pull off an upset that could result in reentering the AP Poll.