Freedom Hall – Louisville, KY
Sunday, 11 a.m. CST
To say that the Big East Conference picture will be a lot clearer after ex-Conference USA foes Marquette and Louisville meet Sunday at Freedom Hall would be a bit of an understatement. Not only will this game serve as a quality win for either team and go a long way toward deciding seedings for the upcoming Big East Tournament, but it will also show how good the Golden Eagles can be without Dominic James.
After Marquette's harrowing loss of James in Wednesday night's game against UConn, much ado has been made about the Golden Eagles chances against upper-echelon teams without him. Maurice Acker saw his playing time skyrocket Wednesday, and he played well in 33 minutes of action – scoring six points to go along with four assists and no turnovers. However, a raucous Freedom Hall will prove to be a slightly more hostile atmosphere than that of the Bradley Center.
The Cardinals are having yet another great year in the Big East under Rick Pitino. After a slow start in their non-conference schedule – losing to Western Kentucky, UNLV, and Minnesota – Louisville appears poised to make a deep run in March.
A big part of their recent success has been the re-birth of Edgar Sosa. After landing in Pitino's doghouse earlier in the season, Sosa has emerged as a solid contributor off of the bench. While he is the highest scoring guard on the team, it is energy on the defensive side that makes him incredibly valuable to the Cardinals.
Strong defense in general continues to be Louisville's calling card under Pitino. The Cardinals love to press teams the length of the floor, and they make use of some of the best on-the-ball pressure in the country. With such great defensive intensity, it should be no surprise that Louisville leads the conference with an average of 8.7 steals per game. The Cardinals will likely be looking to swarm Marquette on Sunday and test the ball-handling abilities of Acker.
Much like Marquette, the Cardinals use their defensive intensity to get their offense going. Louisville loves to get up and down the floor and is a great team in transition, so don't be surprised to see a up-tempo game on Sunday.
Leading the Cardinals offensive charge is Terrence Williams. The senior forward is Louisville's do-everything-man, as he can score, rebound, and distribute the ball. Where Williams is most dangerous, though, is in transition, where he can use his athletic frame to hurt teams in a multitude of ways. He has always been able to get to the basket and finish with authority, but this season in particular Williams has started to become a much better shooter and now that part of his game must be respected as well.
Louisville's other two major threats also come in the form of unique forwards – Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels. Clark is a clear-cut NBA player who has proven to be a match-up nightmare for teams, as his size and athletic ability allow him to play both inside and out. He has put together 11 double-doubles this year and is the type of player who historically gives Marquette fits. Samuels, one of the best freshmen in the country, is also not to be overlooked. With his size and strength, he can bang down low with the best of them and – when given confidence and consistent touches – put up points in bunches.
Almost lost in all the publicity of James' injury heading into the game Sunday is how intense this rivalry has become in the past decade and half. Marquette and Louisville have shared some of the more thrilling college basketball games in recent memory. Who can forget the Diener-Wade led comeback in 2003 at Freedom Hall? The Reece Gaines' shot from just inside half court in 2002? Damien Mason's buzzer beater and free throw on senior day in 2004? Or the most recent, Jerry Smith's buzzer-beating three at the Bradley Center in 2007? After watching so many close games unfold between these two things, it should be clear that one should never count either team out.
Probable Cardinal Starting Line-up
G – Jerry Smith (6'2" 202 lbs.) --- (7.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
G – Andre McGee (5'10" 180 lbs.) --- (4.8 ppg, 1.7 apg)
F – Terrence Williams (6'6" 220 lbs.) --- (12.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.8 apg)
F – Earl Clark (6'9" 225 lbs.) --- (13.3 ppg, 8.7 rpg)
F – Samardo Samuels (6'9" 260 lbs.) --- (12.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg)
G – Edgar Sosa (6'2" 175 lbs.) --- (7.6 ppg, 2.4 apg)
G – Preston Knowles (6'1" 190 lbs.) --- (6.6 ppg, 2.3 rpg)
Head Coach: Rick Pitino (191-72 8th Season at U of L, 543-196 23rd Overall)