Cards ready for youthful Orange

No. 23 Louisville (20-6, 10-3) returns home for a Big Monday matchup against young and improving Syracuse (17-9, 7-6).

No. 23 Louisville (20-6, 10-3) returns home for a Big Monday matchup against young and improving Syracuse (17-9, 7-6).

The Cardinals won their fifth straight game with an 80-72 victory at Providence on Saturday.

"We played very well with the exception of defensive rebounding," said Pitino. "We moved the ball well, passed well and got the outlets out. We did a good job because that was one of Providence's best games and efforts."

Earl Clark had a big performance
against Providence.

With only five regular-season games left on the schedule, the Cardinals are tied with Georgetown for first place in the Big East standings. But Louisville faces an extremely difficult stretch to end the season that begins tonight against Syracuse. Besides the Orange, who beat Georgetown on Saturday 77-70, the Cardinals end the season against three Top 25 opponents.

At the beginning of the month, Pitino's goal for Louisville was to win 8 of 10 games in February. So far, the Cardinals are 5-0, having won three of those five by double digits.

"We have played a very difficult non-conference and conference schedule that has prepared us for this," Pitino said. "You make your run in February and become a tournament team in February. In the month of February that's where you've got to make your greatest strides for the tournament and that's what we want to do. Now it's three out of five. So we're getting closer to our goal."

While Louisville is riding a hot-streak, Syracuse is trying to play their way into the NCAA Tournament. Though they start two freshmen, the Orange are a dangerous opponent. Syracuse ranks eighth nationally in field goal percentage (.489 percent), 11th in blocked shots (6.1), 19th in rebound margin and 23rd in scoring (79 ppg.).

"With Syracuse you know what you're going to get," Pitino said. "Syracuse was extremely impressive playing against Georgetown and they're probably the only team in the conference longer than us because of their guards. They have great length up front - great length in the backcourt."

Freshman forward Donte Green and freshman guard Jonny Flynn lead Syracuse in scoring at 17.9 and 15.5, respectively. Green also averages 7.2 rebounds. 6'5 sophomore guard Paul Harris averages 14.2 points.

"They're young players are as good as it gets," Pitino said. "They've got a lot of talent – it's young talent. Sometimes young talent can be inconsistent but they're very talented."

"They take a lot of difficult shots and still shoot 49 percent," Pitino added. "That tells you that they're getting a lot of dunks and inside play and a lot around the basket because they shoot a lot of jump shots that don't necessarily go down."

The Cardinals are clearly on the move nationally and in the Big East. Louisville enters tonight's game rated No. 15 in the RPI; ESPN's Joe Lunardi currently has Louisville as a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The Cards have also moved into's Power 16 at No. 16.

Pitino, however, isn't ready to proclaim greatness for his rising team.

"I don't see any greatness yet. The next step is greatness," Pitino said. "The one thing we've got to do is stay away from challenged shots. We're (shooting) 14 percent this year on challenged shots. That tells you that we have to stay away from challenged shots."

Pitino believes there's a clear formula that his team must follow to take the next step toward greatness.

"Our forte is ball movement, getting open shots and driving and dishing," he said. "When we take under nine challenged shots we're undefeated. We're a good shooting team when we take open shots. So we just continue to work on it and get better at it. When we get better at defensive rebounding and get better at keeping our challenged shots under nine then greatness could be in our grasp."

Tip-off is slated for 7 pm and the game will be televised on ESPN.

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