Louisville's reshuffled lineup puts a smaller, but quicker, team on the floor – one that poses defensive problems on the perimeter for the Mountaineers.
Led by scorer Taquan Dean, the Cardinals are expected to field a three-guard lineup that puts perimeter pressure on foes at both ends of the court. Dean (Sr., 6-3, 185 lbs.) is a three-point threat that leads the Cardinals in scoring, and with David Padgett sidelined, rebounding as well. He scores from both inside and out, and is unquestionably the Cards' leader on the court. Guard Brandon Jenkins (Jr., 6-3, 185 lbs.) is likewise a skilled all-around performer. He is second on the team at 12 points per game, and leads UL in steals with 46. Although he doesn't shoot nearly as much as Dean, he is more efficient, making 42.9% of his threes and 47.4% of all his attempts. Third guard Andre McGee (Fr., 5-11, 185 lbs.) is a cut below his backcourt mates in terms of production and efficiency, and might be better served by concentrating on getting the ball to the better scoring threats on the team. He is shooting just 34% from the field.
Forward Juan Palacios (So., 6-8, 255 lbs.) is the strength of the front line since Padgett's departure. The strong South American averages 9.9 points and 5.7 rebounds per game, but tends to wander out to the perimeter on occasion, perhaps more than head coach Rick Pitino would like. Center Brian Johnson, who entered the starting lineup in place of Padgett, scored five points and snared seven rebounds in his first start against DePaul, and figures to be an adequate, if not complete, replacement for him.
Backup center Terrance Farley (So., 6-10, 250 lbs.) is teaming with Johnson at center, and his 13 points and 10 rebounds in the two games since Padgett went down suggest he is filling that role well. Forward Chad Millard (Fr., 6-8, 220 lbs.), a onetime WVU recruiting target, has seen action in all but one game, and is averaging 2.5 points and 1.2 rebounds per game. The Cardinals typically go 10-11 players deep on their bench, and and have 12 players averaging seven or more minutes per game.
Another game, another foe on the bubble. Despite their dismissal in some quarters, Louisville, by closing out its season with three wins, could make a statement for an NCAA berth. A 20-9 regular season record, with an 8-8 league mark, would put the Cardinals in consideration for an at-large berth.
|Sat Feb. 25|
WVU 18-8, 9-4
UL 17-9, 5-8
WVU - 33
UL - 63
In some ways, Padgett's loss gives UL a bit of an advantage, as it gives WVU less game film to study and analyze. While Louisville hasn't installed an entirely new offensive and defensive scheme following Padgett's loss, it has modified it some, using more three-guard looks and inside out tactics. The Mountaineers will likely have to adjust to Pitino's changes on the fly during the game, so don't be surprised to see a number of different defensive looks again from the Mountaineers early in the game. West Virginia typically plays man-to-man to open the game until it makes a basket, then switches to the 1-3-1, but with UL's offensive strategies something of a mystery, WVU might change that pattern up as well.
While many are trying to make this game out as something of a revenge contest for West Virginia, the fact is that these are two very different teams from those that squared off in the Elite Eight last March. Grudge matches may be fun for the fans to talk about and square off on message boards with, but it's not likely that the players on either team will think back much to last year's contest. Playing with that sort of chip on the shoulder often leads to more bad performances than good, and no doubt head coach John Beilein has been de-emphasizing that angle all week.
UL: David Padgett (Knee) Out
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Trivia Question: West Virginia has featured the same starting lineup in every game this year. When was the last time WVU started the same lineup for the entire season? Email your answers to Trivia@BlueGoldNews.com.
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One team will enjoy an atypical afternoon when it wins the rebounding battle. West Virginia's difficulty in corralling caroms is well-documented, but the cardinals have had their struggles as well. Louisville has been outrebounded in 11 of its 13 Big East games, and that stat is a great indicator overall of UL's chances of winning this year. The Cardinals have ben outrebounded in all of its nine losses, but sports an 11-0 mark when outrebounding its opponent.
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The Cardinals' NCAA chances are being hurt by its record against Top 25 teams. Louisville is 0-5 this year against ranked teams, with losses to Connecticut, Kentucky, Villanova (twice) and Pittsburgh. The Cards have two more chances to dent the win column in this category with games against West Virginia and a rematch with UConn.