(Photo – Jamie Rhodes – USA Today)
With the ACC Regular Season title still up for grabs, Louisville and Virginia collide for the second time this season today at four. These two teams, along with Florida State, and Duke all have a shot at the title, with the Seminoles and Cardinals each controlling their own destiny.
At 24-6, Louisville is projected to be a three seed in the NCAA tournament. Their impressive resume includes wins over Duke, Michigan, and a ten-game win streak through the month of January. But after clawing out a victory at home against the Wahoos on February eighth, the Cardinals are 3-3 in their last six games, including fifteen-point losses to Clemson and Florida State.
The Cardinals are led by ACC Preseason Player of the Year Jordan Nwora who scores eighteen points per contest on 40% shooting from deep. Diakite will likely get the job of guarding Nwora, with Key also matching up on him at times. Last time these two teams met, Nwora went for twenty-two points and eight rebounds. Outside of Nwora, the Cardinals boast a stable of players that can all step up. Namely, Steven Enoch, Dwayne Sutton, Malik Williams, and Ryan McMahon all average between 8.7 and 9.4 points per game. McMahon is a deadly three-point shooter, at 43.1% on 5.1 attempts per contest.
As a team, the Cardinals shoot 37.6% from deep, good for 15th in the country, and are 13th in offensive rating at 114.4. They’re dynamic, and can score at every level with Enoch in the post, shooters on the outside, and drivers in Nwora and Sutton. The Cards also look to crash the offensive boards, particularly Sutton and Enoch who post offensive rebounding rates of 9.5% and 8.6%. Along with McMahon and Nwora, Darius Perry and Dwayne Sutton can heat up from behind the arc, as they’ve shot 39.1% and 35.8% on the year.
Defensively, the Cards also utilize packline principles, and are lengthy enough that they can force teams to hit outside shots. Their defensive rating stands at 93.0, good for thirtieth nationwide. While Louisville can be disruptive, they don’t force that many turnovers, nor block many shots. But they stay in front and extend out to shooters.
Virginia will win if: They can hit some shots – Woldetensae needs to find his stroke again – and can penetrate the Cardinal defense. Clark, per usual, will dictate how this game goes for the Virginia offense. Defensively, they can’t afford to allow Nwora to get hot again, so look for closeouts to be immediate and for the help defense to come a bit later.
Louisville will win if: They force Virginia to make outside shots, and then run their offense effectively. They’re the better team, have legitimate offensive talent, and will be motivated to leave Charlotessvile with (at least) a share of the ACC Regular Season title.
Score prediction: Virginia 63 – Louisville 58
This winning streak started after the Cavs lost a heart breaker in Louisville; I expect them to get their revenge and send Diakite and Key off the right way.