Rebounding, or a lack thereof, has been a contributing factor in most of Louisville's nine losses. In fact, the fourth-seeded Cardinals were out-rebounded in seven of their nine losses this season.
Louisville's opening round NCAA Tournament opponent Thursday – Morehead State – features 6-8 power forward Kenneth Faried, a rebounding machine and possible first round NBA Draft selection who ranks as the all-time leading rebounder in NCAA history.
"Our Achilles heel has been rebounding and now we have the best rebounder in the history of the game to go against," Rick Pitino said.
Faried, who averages 17.6 points and 14.5 rebounds, led Morehead State to the OVC tournament title and second NCAA Tournament appearance in the last three seasons. Two years ago, Faried had 14 points and 11 rebounds in a first round NCAA loss to Louisville.
"We played Morehead State two years ago and some of their better players are now seniors," Pitino said. "They're as good a basketball team as there is in the country. They have Big East-type players at certain positions, and they have transfers that are Big East type players. They're a senior team with a lot of experience. They play extremely hard with energy and passion."
"It's not often you go against one of the leading rebounders in the country, but the leading rebounder in the history of the game," added Pitino. "Besides him they have a well-rounded team. Hill is lightning quick and a great shooter. [Sam] Goodman plays as hard as Faried does. Profitt is a great transfer – a typical Notre Dame player. Harper would be an All-Big East player if he was in our league. They've got great talent and great experience. So we've got ourselves one tough ballgame. I watched the Florida game at Florida – and so did our players – and came away extremely impressed."
Louisville likely will try to wear down Donnie Tyndall's squad – a team that rarely goes more than seven deep – with unrelenting defensive pressure in Denver's high altitude. Still, the key for the Cardinals will be blocking out Faried, particularly on the offensive board.
"He's a Dennis Rodman," Pitino said. "He has passion for rebounding. Technique-wise he's a great rebounder. He knows how to get position and he's relentless. He's a great low-post defensive player." Against SEC East champion Florida in November, Faried had 20 points and 18 rebounds in a 61-55 loss. In Morehead State's next game against Ohio State, Faried went for 15 points and 12 rebounds.
"If you guys (media) have a way to keep Faried off the backboard let me know, because [Jared] Sullinger couldn't do it," Pitino said. "He rebounds more than our two centers and power forward combined. It's a difficult assignment."
Thursday contest will be the third meeting between the two programs in the past three years. Louisville beat Morehead twice in 2008-09 on their way to the NCAA Elite Eight. The two programs know each other well, and Tyndall has adopted Louisville's defensive approach.
"One of our assistants [Matt Grady] went up there and they know our system very well," said Pitino. "Their defensive system is as close to ours as any basketball team, it's almost twins because our assistant is there. They'll 2-2-1 press, fall back to a zone the same way…Their offense is a lot different than ours, but their defense is a twin."
Louisville will travel to Denver on Tuesday. Though Pitino admits Denver's high altitude will be a factor Thursday for his team, he's more worried about Faried and Morehead State.
"It does affect athletes, but it's the same for every team," Pitino said. "You worry about the opponent you're playing. You've got one of the hardest working teams in the country that we're facing with maybe the highest draft choice we will face this year. You worry about the team you're playing, not the seeds or where you're playing."
On the injury front, Pitino said that Peyton Siva, who sprained an ankle in Saturday's Big East title game against UConn, didn't practice Monday, but will be "okay by game time." Pitino also said that Preston Knowles, who injured his hand against UConn, is okay.
"We've got to be careful in the way we prepare and we will be," Pitino said.