Preview: West Virginia - Louisville

West Virginia gets Louisville in Round 1 of a four game set as the Mountaineers look to at least split decisions over the next two weeks.

Note: The Sirius broadcast channel (127) listed in the BlueGoldNews.com Game Info box is also listed as carrying the Michigan-Purdue game at the same time – obviously not a possibility. The channel is listed as being a West Virginia-based broadcast. Check Sirius.com for more updates as they are available. The Louisville game notes list the Cardinal broadcast as being available on Sirius channel 126. Sirius.com does not list this as a scheduled broadcast.

SCOUTING THE CARDINALS

The Cards No. 7 national rank is no fluke. This is likely head coach Rick Pitino's best team at Louisville, and likely among his better teams of all-time on the collegiate level. UofL has a very set starting five and four other solid reserves for a team that easily goes seven deep and can extend those numbers to nine without a significant drop. The major production comes from the frontcourt and forwards Earl Clark and Terrence Williams. Clark, 6-9, 225 pounds, leads the team with an average of 14 points per game while adding nine boards. Williams, more of a slasher at 6-6, 220 pounds, adds13 points and another nine boards to make the duo the best in the Big East in overall numbers. Clark, a junior, plays 34 minutes per game – the most of any Cardinal – and while not an excellent shooter, has continually extended his range through his collegiate play and is prolific around the rim. Williams, the lone senior starter for Pitino, is more of an outside threat. Both are making between 42 and 44 percent from the floor and 61 and 69 percent from the line. Williams will handle and distribute more, though, and has the better overall game.

Center Samardo Samuels, 6-10, 260 pounds, isn't as beefy as Pitt's DeJuan Blair. But the freshman, a highly-touted recruit out of St. Benedict Prep (NY) is very refined and hits 57 percent of his shots. His game is a mix of finesse and power, and the former USA Today National Player of the Year and McDonald's and Parade All-American should prove a nightmare match-up for West Virginia. No Mountaineer can begin to come close to Samuels' skill level while having the size to cope with the newcomer on the interior. And if WVU head coach Bob Huggins chooses to clamp down, denying passes via fronting the Jamaica native and having offside defense there on the block, it reasons that Clark and Williams will eat up that arrangement. It's simply too much height, skill and scoring ability to contain. The hope is that at least one – if not two – of the trio have an off game or get into foul trouble or that Samuels again experiences a rash of turnovers via quick hands and physical defense.

The guard play isn't as daunting as some other league teams, but it's solid and experienced. Junior point guard Edgar Sosa, a two-year starter, is a rare mix of wokmanlike and flash. He can make spectacular plays, but sometimes is content to settle into the offense and merely run through the sets to get looks inside. That's not a negative, and indeed his assist and turnover numbers are decent. But the 6-2, 175-pounder's 7.6 points and 1.4 rebounds a game don't generate excitement or flair, especially after a freshman year in which he was named to the all-Big East rookie squad. His 37.4 percent from the field, including 28.2 from behind the arc, don't raise alarm. Shooting guard Jerry Smith, 6-2, 205 pounds, has better numbers at 44.6 and 38.3, respectively. The junior hits for 6.5 points and 2.3 rebounds per game and is mainly utilized for his outside ability and clutch scores. The idea is to get the ball into the hands of the big men, with the guards providing only the handling and enough scoring and ability to keep defenses (mostly) honest.

Where Louisville really begins to separate itself is the bench. The first pair off are Preston Knowles and Andre McGee. Knowles, a 6-3, 170 pound guard, has started three games and is shooting better from three-point range than from close. Part of that is his build doesn't allow him to take bumps without altering the shot and part is that, at 40.7 percent, he's encouraged to bomb away rather than further clog the inside with unfinishable drives. McGee, a 5-10, 180-pounder, is used more as a ball handler and pure distributor than a shooter. His scoring and percentages don't match Knowles, and as a senior, he is more adept at setting and settling the team to keep the Cardinals from major breakdowns when he is in the game. Like former WVU point guard Darris Nichols, there isn't much that makes highlight reels. But as steadies UofL, perhaps there should be.

Terrence Jennings, 6-10, 225 pounds, is the main reserve in the backcout. The freshman plays 10 minutes per game on average, and his output is all on the inside. He is excellent from close range and will be a major player given time and the exhausted eligibility of his starting teammates. Fellow frosh Jared Swoopshire, 6-7, 215 pounds, has been used in every game this year. He plays about seven minutes and gives the coaching staff another long, lean body that will develop into a solid force in the Big East.

OUTLOOK

At least one BlueGoldNews.com staff member has tagged the Cards as a legitimate Final Four team. There's depth, talent, coaching, rebounding, skill in the post and outside and the ability to make timely plays anywhere on the floor. It's not an invincible skillset, as Kansas showed Memphis last season. But there are few teams as complete, and few games that will have so many mismatches for the Mountaineers. Add in the road location and crowd size, and perhaps only the tip time is working in WVU's favor.

BlueGoldNews.com
Game Info
Sat. Jan. 31
Noon EST

Freedom Hall
Records
WVU 15-5, 4-3
Louisville 16-3, 7-0
Series
Louisville 5-2
TV
Big East Network
Sirius 127
RPI
WVU - 18
Louisville - 11

Unless Louisville aids WVU, this game could be ugly. The Mountaineers don't have any players to face down UofL's center, and all the Cards have great all-around games. That written, this team lost to UNLV and (somehow) Western Kentucky, so it's possible. But Pitino has the team so focused and intent on securing the Big East Tournament's No. 1 seed that a home loss is nearly unfathomable. It'll take a great outside shooting day and the movement of bodies in the lane on rebound attempts for West Virginia to stay close. Louisville won't simply toss up shots unless it gets hot, and it will work everything inside out to attack the Mountaineer weakness. WVU must get physical with its foe and move people away from the paint while the ball is in the air on rebounds. It can't allow stickbacks, and again it must keep scorers out of foul trouble.

Slowing the pace will also help. Louisville often gets into the high-80s and low-90s in scoring, and prefers to run up and down the floor. West Virginia must keep the game in the 50s or 60s, and not allow five minute bursts of play that mirror what the Cards want to do. Any lapses like those against St. John's will seal the contest, and any thoughts from Truck Bryant that he can take his defender off the bounce consistently will be a killer. The players must operate within the motion sets and take the shots as they come. The offense will generate its own looks. Any forcing, and the outlet pass and dunk will rear its head. WVU doesn't often get rattled by the crowd, so that and the noon tip should help. This is merely the start of a four-game stretch in which the Mountaineers need a split. Problem is, three of four are on the road with the easiest game (Providence) coming inside the Coliseum.

INJURY REPORT

WVU: Joe Mazzulla, out (shoulder).

Louisville: None.

FAST BREAKS

Bob Huggins is 14-12 against Louisville all-time. All but one meeting came while he was at Cincinnati. Huggins has won 11 games against UofL head coach Rick Pitino. Pitino, though, is 4-1 against West Virginia, including a win while he coached Kentucky. Huggins has won six times at Freedom Hall as a head coach.

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West Virginia is second in the nation in three-point field goal percentage defense, holding foes to 26.8 percent. The Mountaineers are in the top 20 in Division I scoring defense.

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WVU is 2-3 all-time at Freedom Hall, including a loss in the 1959 NCAA Tournament championship game. The Mountaineers beat Louisville on its home floor in the Final Four to reach the title game against California, a 71-70 winner over West Virginia.

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And finally, in the totally-unrelated-to-the-game segment: Both Morgantown and Louisville have been hit with a deluge of bad weather, from frigid cold to significant ice storms mixed with freezing rain, snow and sleet over the past month. A 48-hour thaw is expected for the Bluegrass State, allowing the Mountaineers to get in and out of the city without any problems. But because of the severity of weather, the University of Louisville is stationing Dare to Care volunteers outside all entrances to Freedom Hall to collect food items and financial donations. As of Friday morning, more than 547,000 Kentuckians are still without power, with 172,000 in Jefferson County area alone.


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