NCAA Tournament Preview
2nd Round Edition
#3 Texas A&M vs. #6 Louisville
Saturday, March 17th
Rupp Arena - Lexington, Kentucky
Line: Texas A&M -1.5
OK – I will have a full recap of the Aggies’ 68-52 win over Penn out shortly, but here is a first look at the Aggies’ next opponent, the Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville advanced by defeating trouncing Stanford on Thursday afternoon by a final score of 78-58. Louisville dished out a heavy dose of full-court pressure man-to-man defense to control this game from the opening tip.
Louisville had 5 guys score in double digits on Thursday and they shot the ball very well in making 25-of-51 (49%) from the field.
The Aggies are going to have their hands full on Saturday, but I doubt you will find too many people that will not agree that the Aggies are a better team than Louisville.
Getting to know Louisville
Louisville is the 37th overall rated team according to InsideRPI on ESPN.com, and their schedule is rated as the 38th toughest in the nation. In the latest AP poll, Louisville is ranked #16 in the nation.
Louisville finished tied for 2nd in the Big East this year with a 12-4 league record, and they finished the season 23-9 overall. They are 7-9 against the RPI top 100 which included wins over top 25 RPI teams Pittsburgh and Marquette.
After getting off to a slow start in losing 4 of their first 9 games, the Cardinals have been playing their best basketball over the last two months. Even into mid-January, the team was floundering in mediocrity at 12-6 while still searching for their identity.
After losing a home game to Marquette (65-74) on January 15th, the Cardinals kicked it into high gear and won 11 of their next 13 games before falling to Pittsburgh (59-65) in the 2nd round of the Big East Tournament last week.
Notable games this season:
- at Dayton Loss 64-68 Nov. 24
- vs Arizona (#15) Loss 65-72 Dec. 5
- vs UMass Loss 68-72 Dec. 13
- vs Kentucky Loss 49-61 Dec. 16
- at Notre Dame (#22) Loss 62-78 Jan. 3
- vs Marquette Loss 65-74 Jan. 15
- vs Syracuse Win 76-71 Jan. 27
- vs Georgetown (#23) Loss 65-73 Feb. 2
- at Pittsburgh (#5) Win 66-53 Feb. 12
- at Marquette (#13) Win 61-59 Feb. 17
- vs Pittsburgh (#11) Loss 59-65 Mar. 9
Louisville plays a steady rotation of 9 guys, all of whom average 14+ minutes per game. One of their primary strengths is Rick Pitino’s ability to go deep into his bench and get a contribution from so many guys.
One area of concern on the Cardinals’ roster is their youth. The last part of the season they have been starting two freshmen, a sophomore, a junior and a senior. Rounding out their rotation off the bench are two more freshmen plus one additional sophomore and one more junior.
With 6 of their 9 regulars being underclassmen, they are subject to some inconsistent play at times during the course of most games.
The Cardinals are led by 6’6” sophomore forward Terrence Williams. Williams averages 12.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game and is the only Cardinal to start every game this season. Williams is a very average shooter who only averages 36.5% from the field. Williams’ best game of the year came on January 13th when he posted 23 points and 12 rebounds in a win over Providence.
Leading the on-ball attack for Pitino’s group is 6’1” freshman point-guard Edgar Sosa. Sosa averages 10.7 points and 2.7 assists per game. Sosa does not turn the ball over very often (2 per game), but he only shoots 41% from the field. Sosa’s highlight game of the season came in a win over San Francisco when he scored 18 points and had 8 assists.
Louisville also has one of the few true centers in the game in 6’11” junior David Padgett. Padgett is the Cardinals’ most consistent shooter in averaging 59% from the floor. On the season, the big guy is averaging 9.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. His best game of the year was on January 31st in a win over Cincinnati where he put up 18 points and pulled down 12 rebounds.
Joining Sosa in the backcourt is 6’3” senior Brandon Jenkins. Everything I have researched on Louisville says that Jenkins’ best attribute is his leadership over the young roster. Jenkins is a terrible shooter (35% overall and 27% 3-point), but he is a valuable member of Pitino’s group.
Rounding out the starting line up is 6’8” forward Earl Clark who only began starting the last month or so due to an injury to Juan Palacios. Clark had 17 points and 9 rebounds in a win over West Virginia in the opening round of the Big East Tournament last week. He is averaging 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds per game on the season.
Coming off the bench for Louisville are:
- 6’9” Derrick Caracter (8.1 points, 4.3 rebounds), a guy who got kicked off the team mid-year only to be welcomed back 5 games later.
- Juan Palacios (9.4 points, 6.7 rebounds), a 6’8” junior combo guard/forward who started most of the season for the Cardinals before coming down with a bad back. Palacios has not played in 5 games, and his status for the tournament is unknown.
- Backup point guard Andre McGee, a 5’10” sophomore who is nothing more than a stop-gap guy off the bench.
- Finally, Jerry Smith, a 6’1” freshman who is one of Louisville’s best perimeter shooters and a guy who averages 46.8% from behind-the-arc.
Simply put, Rick Pitino is a legend of the game. Pitino is the only coach to have ever led three different schools (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville) to the Final Four, and he won the 1996 national championship with Kentucky.
Pitino has also spent time coaching in the NBA with the Boston Celtics and New York Knicks.
In his collegiate coaching career he has amassed a record of 493-181, a 73.1% winning percentage.
Pitino is one of those guys that you do not want to see on your side of the bracket in March. He has a career record of 31-10 (75.6%) while coaching in the NCAA tournament.
In his 6th season at Louisville, he has lead the Cardinals to their 4th NCAA tournament appearance (final four in 2004-2005), and they are playing in their 6th straight post-season.
I am not quite sure where to start when breaking down this game.
On the surface, I know the Aggies are a better basketball team than Louisville; very few people would debate that point.
What frightens me most about this group from Louisville is Rick Pitino and his ability to motivate his guys and get them all on the same page at the right time of the season.
Defensively the two teams are very similar. Both coaches play >90% man-to-man defense, but neither coach is afraid to junk-it-up and throw in a zone set from time-to-time. I think the Aggies’ style of man-to-man defense is a little more intense and aggressive, but Louisville will likely press a little more than the Aggies will.
Offensively I think the Aggie guards will be able to have some success against the Cardinals backcourt guys, but they will certainly not be able to take possessions for granted and if the guys from A&M are as loose with the ball as they were against Penn, it could be bad news.
Overall, I will take Law, Kirk and Carter over Williams, Sosa and Jenkins, but then again, I can not be objective about it.
I think Terrence Williams, the scoring leader for Louisville and a guy who only shoots 36.5% from the field anyway, will really struggle against the Aggies’ suffocating man-to-man defensive sets.
I also do not think that Sosa or Jenkins have the firepower to make up for a lack of production from any other guy on the floor.
The interior match-up may be where this game is won or lost.
Watching Jones, Kavaliauskas, Pompey and Davis go to work inside against Padgett, Clark and Caracter is going to be a lot of fun.
As we have talked about numerous times, how the officials call this game will have a great influence over how the Aggies will handle the interior battle.
If the officials are letting the big guys bang on each other and be aggressive, I think the Aggies will be able to do a lot of damage.
If the officials tighten it up and any one (or more) of the big guys from A&M get in foul trouble, then it could swing momentum back to Louisville.
One final thing to think about is that Louisville is one of the worst shooting teams in the nation. They only make 43.2% of their shots overall which ranks 207th in the country.
They are even worse from behind the arc where they only make 33.2% which is good enough for only 227th in the nation.
Finally the Cardinals only make 67.1% from the free-throw line which is 219th overall.
The Aggies held Penn, one of the nation’s best shooting teams, to only 36.2% shooting on 21-of 58 from the field on Thursday. I doubt that a team that shoots the ball as poorly as Louisville is going to have very much fun against a heavy dose of pressure defense from the Aggies.
Alright – Let’s hope the good guys can get one more win!!!!
The Aggie Hoops Report’s Game Outcome Prediction -
Louisville Cardinals - 71
Texas A&M Aggies – 78