SCOUTING THE CARDINALS
In Louisville, the Mountaineers will be facing a deep and talented group of Cardinals, albeit a team that has been riddled by injuries throughout its roster since before the season even began. If you're looking for balance, there is plenty to be found on Rick Pitino's team. Seven players average at least seven points per game for U of L, led by junior forward Terrence Williams's average of 12.6. Williams is arguably Louisville's most dangerous player with his ability not only to get to the rim in a hurry, but also drain the outside shot at a clip of better than 40 percent from three-point land. A member of watch lists for the Wooden Award and Naismith Trophy, Williams is also averaging 7.8 rebounds per game.
Of course no team coached by Rick Pitino has ever been a one-man show, and these Cardinals are no different. Louisville's backcourt features the lightning-quick Edgar Sosa, and veterans Andre McGee and Jerry Smith. Sosa, notorious in the Mountain State for his full-court sprint and buzzer beating antics in Madison Square Garden during last year's Big East Tournament, has the ability to fill it up from anywhere on the court, but has yet to have a breakout performance this season. Smith has scored in double figures eight times through fourteen games, with his season-high of 17 points most recently matched this past Saturday in a blowout win over instate rival Kentucky. Smith has made 25 3s on the season, which ties him with Williams for the team lead. McGee splits time with Sosa at the point, and is a solid presence on both ends of the court. Like Smith, McGee had an outstanding game against the Wildcats this past weekend with 11 points and four assists on the afternoon.
As good as the Cardinals backcourt is, the frontcourt is just as deep. Sophomore forward Derrick Caracter is showing flashes of the player many thought he could be coming out of high school, averaging 11.5 points and 7.5 rebounds while having played in 13 of Louisville's 14 games, missing one due to a team suspension. Caracter turned in a monster effort in a November loss to BYU finishing with career-highs of 24 points and 11 rebounds. The problem for Caracter, as it is with many young players, has been consistency. The big man has shown a propensity for turning the ball over from time to time, and has also been plagued by foul trouble throughout the young season, reaching the maximum of five personals on three occasions so far.
Senior forward Juan Palacios has recently returned to the court after missing the first part of the season while recovering from a torn MCL in his right knee which occurred on the second day of preseason practice. The injury did not require surgery, and Palacios returned to the lineup against New Mexico State three days before Christmas. Unfortunately for West Virginia, Palacios looks to be rounding into fine form just in time for tonight's game. Palacios had his best outing of the season on Saturday against UK, scoring 17 points, grabbing six rebounds and dishing out four assists to lead the way for U of L. Palacios is the lone remaining U of L link to the 2005 Elite Eight game between WVU and Louisville in which the Cardinals overcame a sizeable deficit to defeat John Beilein's Mountaineers and earn a trip to the Final Four. In that game, Palacios started, scored 13 points and grabbed six rebounds.
Another senior big man, center David Padgett, has overcome a knee injury to return to the team in recent weeks. Padgett fractured his right kneecap on Nov. 18 against Jackson State, but returned to the lineup in time for the Big East opener against Cincinnati on New Year's Day. In four games this season, the Cardinals' captain has averaged 10.3 points. Sophomore guard/forward Earl Clark looks to be a budding star, averaging a double-double of 11.8 points and 10 rebounds this season, though he missed the Kentucky game for undisclosed reasons. Clark, a former McDonald's All-American, is also an exceptional shot blocker and a tough match-up due to his combination of size (6-9) and perimeter skills.
Pitino normally uses a 10-man rotation, with freshman Preston Knowles also seeing spot duty in addition to the top ten players in Pitino's ranks.
Louisville literally presents the biggest challenge to date of the Big East schedule as Pitino has plenty of size at his disposal both in the starting lineup and coming off the bench.
|Thurs Jan 10
WVU 11-3, 1-1
U of L 10-4, 0-1
U of L 4-2
|Sirius Channel: 127|
WVU - 31
U of L - 84
Head coach Bob Huggins has preached the importance of rebounding all season, and that battle will be especially important against U of L. The Mountaineers may not be able to match-up physically with U of L's big bodies, but getting beaten on the glass by a hefty margin is something West Virginia must avoid at all costs in Freedom Hall. Keep an eye on second chance points for Louisville. If the Cards lead that category by a significant margin, chances are the scoreboard will show the same.
Offensively, the Mountaineers must not be intimidated or confused by the myriad of defensive looks thrown their way by Pitino. The Cardinals will play plenty of zone, some man-to-man, and even show a 2-2-1 full court look from time to time. How West Virginia attacks each of these will be key. Generally speaking, the Mountaineers have not been bothered by pressure defense all season. And with their ability to shoot the trey, the visitors may have the home standing Cards regretting the zone look on this night.
Creating turnovers is also key for WVU. The Mountaineers can make up for some of the points in the paint by getting points off of turnovers. The Cardinals average nearly 14 miscues a game, which means West Virginia should have plenty of opportunities to make them pay for those mistakes.
U of L's versatility is perhaps its greatest weapon, with multi-dimensional players such as Williams and Clark servings as great complements to the big bodies inside. Though the rebounding and interior play will certainly be a factor, this game could come down to how well the Mountaineers defend the likes of Williams and Clark. The last time these teams met, the aforementioned duo combined for 31 points and 18 rebounds.
If West Virginia can defend that duo and hold it's own on the boards, it has a chance to leave the Bluegrass State with an impressive road victory. If it cannot, a third loss in four games might be in the fold.
WVU: Joe Mazzulla (Thigh) Probable
U of L: Earl Clark (Undisclosed) Probable
Louisville forward Juan Palacios needs just eight points to become the latest Cardinal standout to reach 1,000 career points. Palacios would be the 58th Louisville player to reach that milestone, which would put the Cardinals in a tie with North Carolina for the most 1,000-point scorers in Division I.
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Forbes Magazine recently pegged the Cardinals as the third most valuable men's basketball program in the country behind North Carolina and Kentucky. Louisville's program was valued at $24.4 million using criteria that included money generated for the institution, conference and in incremental spending by visitors within the community.
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Seldom-used forward Josh Chichester is also a member of the Louisville football team. The 6-8 forward plays wide receiver for Steve Kragthorpe's Cardinals, and was ranked as the nation's 14th-best receiver by Scout.com as a high school senior.
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The Cardinals have used seven different starting lineups this season, with Williams and guard Jerry Smith being the only players to start every game. Eight different players have at least one start this season for Louisville.