If the Cardinals shoot anywhere close to the way they did against Western Kentucky and Morgan State, Louisville will coast to victory over the Wildcats. In the last two games, Louisville had 50 assists and made 62.3 percent of its three-point shots (33-53), and the 218 combined points Louisville scored against WKU and Morgan State is the fifth highest total for consecutive games in UofL history. Kentucky's length on the perimeter will test Louisville's outside shooting as the Wildcats have held foes to 29 percent three-point shooting this season.
Louisville wants to play fast, get up and down the court, and wear on opposing teams with a deep bench. John Calpari typically prefers that style, too, but doesn't have a bench near as deep as Louisville's. That's why the Wildcats played some zone in their last game against Coppin State hinting that Calipari might take a page from the Drexel playbook, the only team to beat Louisville this season. Still, the way Louisville has been shooting from the outside recently, a zone might not be the best strategy of defense against the Cardinals.
Can Kentucky freshman PG Brandon Knight handle Louisville's relentless pressure?
Louisville made 14 steals against Morgan State and rank sixth nationally with nearly 11 steals per game. The Cardinals have produced double digit steals in 7 of 12 games this season and rank 14th nationally in turnover margin. That might be bad news for Kentucky freshman point guard Brandon Knight, who has only three more assists than turnovers this season. Every Louisville opponent this season has at least two more turnovers than assists. If Knight can't handle Louisville's pressure, Kentucky won't be able to control the tempo.
Can Louisville hold their own against Kentucky on the boards?
Rebounding has been Louisville's biggest shortcoming this season. In their lone loss, Drexel out-muscled Louisville on the boards, out-rebounding the Cardinals by 20. That allowed Bruiser Flint's team to control the pace by slowing Louisville's fast break and not allowing the Cardinals to set up their full court pressure. Kentucky has out-rebounded its opponents by 6 per game and 6-9 freshman forward Terrence Jones is a deluxe glass-cleaner, averaging 9.6 boards per game, while center Josh Harrellson averages 9.4 rebounds. Louisville needs to step up its effort on the boards against a Kentucky lineup with height advantages at most positions.
Kentucky had no answer for UNC center Tyler Zeller, who had 27 points and 11 rebounds in a win over the Wildcats this month. Kentucky also couldn't handle UConn center Alex Oriaki, who dropped 18 and 11 on Calipari's team. Can Louisville center's Terrence Jennings and Gorgui Dieng take advantage of the Wildcats in the post? Defensively, Jennings and Dieng rank among the best shot blockers nationally, but neither has shown an ability to dominate a game scoring or rebounding. Jennings scored 15 points against Morgan State, but had only two rebounds. Dieng scored 8 points in two of the last three games, and averaged 7 rebounds in those contests. Jennings and Dieng have a chance to deliver big performances for Louisville. Will they seize the opportunity?
Will Kentucky's freshmen be up to the challenge against Louisville?
Kentucky's three best players – Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb – happen to be freshmen. Jones, Knight and Lamb are Kentucky's top three scorers and the Wildcats rely heavily on them for offensive production. What remains seen is whether Calipari's freshmen can handle Louisville's pressure in a hostile environment at the KFC Yum! Center. In their two biggest tests this season against UConn and North Carolina, those three couldn't deliver a win. Against UConn, Knight had nearly as many turnovers (5) as points (6), while Lamb was a virtual no-show against the Huskies. Though Lamb came up big at UNC with 24 points, Knight had six turnovers and Jones fouled out with just 9 points and 6 rebounds.
Which team will maintain composure and execute better?
Let's face it. These two teams – and coaches – hate each other. There is no love lost between these two rivals. That was evident in last year's slug-fest that featured 51 personal fouls and five technical fouls. Kentucky won that game because they simply had greater talent. That gap isn't as wide this time, though Jones and Knight will be the best NBA prospects on the court Friday. Still, Calipari's freshmen don't strike fear the way John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and Eric Bledsoe did. Louisville has the deeper, more experienced team this season, and the Cardinals arguably have played better team ball than the Wildcats this season. Louisville's experience and home court advantage could give them the edge.