The Cardinals have won two big games in row – an 89-74 victory over rival Kentucky last weekend and an important 63-54 league win over West Virginia last Thursday. There's no doubt that 6-foot-11 senior David Padgett's return earlier this month from injury has made a big impact for the rapidly improving Cardinals.
"Everything has changed since David came back to the team," Rick Pitino said.
Though Rutgers (8-8, 0-3) is struggling this season and still looking for its first league win, Pitino isn't expecting a picnic for his team in New Jersey this afternoon.
"The thing about the Big East is you can't blow out the bottom (teams) and you can never embrace a lead," Pitino said. "So every game is going to be the same. (Rutgers) has very good guard play and they have a very strong home-court advantage. It's one of the tougher places to play."
JR Inman, a 6'9 junior forward, leads Rutgers in scoring (14.9) and rebounds (8.3). 6'11 Hamady Ndiaye has blocked 55 shots in 15 games this season and is second in the Big East in blocked shots. Freshman guard Anthony Farmer averages 11.2 points.
"They play a slow tempo – they try to milk the clock," Pitino said. "They play a little faster at home than they do on the road. They'll play some junk defenses."
Louisville is 2-0 away from home this season heading into their first Big East road contest. The Cardinals have won at UNLV and Kentucky.
"Generally good defensive teams win on the road," Pitino said. "If you're a good defensive team you have a chance to win on the road."
Fortunately, Pitino's Cardinals can play some tough defense. The Cardinals rank 18th nationally in field goal defense (37 percent) and 28th in scoring defense (59 points per game) and held high-scoring West Virginia to just 36 percent shooting and a season-low 54 points Thursday, 29 points below their season average.
Using a combination of 2-3 zone and man-to-man, and a healthy dose of the 2-2-1 fullcourt press after made baskets, Louisville has held seven opponents under 60 points this season and has made 10 steals in three of their past five games. Sophomore guard Jerry Smith has been the chief culprit, recording four steals in two of those games.
"I think we're good. I don't think we're great," said Pitino. "You're not going to see greatness from this basketball team until we cohesively practice will all of our healthy bodies again. Now I think we're a good team and we're striving to become a much better than good team."
Tip-off is scheduled at noon.
NOTE: Senior Juan Palacios needs just two points against Rutgers to become the 58th player in Louisville history to score 1,000 career points.