SCOUTING THE CARDINALS
Louisville has been hot at home but struggled in the road in dropping four of five, including a contest at Seton Hall. The Cardinals have threats inside and out and are outshooting and outrebounding foes overall, but have struggled with making enough threes to force teams away from packing the zone and trying to hinder the good forward play of Terrence Jennings (6-10, 240 lbs.) and Reginald Delk (6-5, 200 lbs.). Jennings, who mans the power slot, is averaging 5.6 points and 3.7 rebounds and his shooting, rebounding and assist-to-turnover numbers are all well above average. He is playing heady, intelligent basketball, but has been keyed upon by other teams. That has dropped his average points, but opened the game up a bit, especially for center Samardo Samuels (6-9, 260 lbs.). The fellow sophomore is hitting for 16 points and 7.6 rebounds per game while leading the team in minutes and nailing 53 percent from the floor. One of the premiere centers in the Big East, Samuels is a monster on the offensive glass with 73 rebounds this season. He has 79 defensive, and those close numbers at both ends indicate an excellent ability to get second chance points and opportunities for Louisville. He also has 24 blocks, and while he isn't the most intimidating defensive player, he is athletic and moves well in the lane. His quickness allows for recovery, and his overall talent will provide a great battle throughout the game with West Virginia's Devin Ebanks and Kevin Jones. Delk, the most underrated of the three, is also the most able to take his game inside and out. He has made 25 of 56 three-pointers and is shooting almost 50 percent overall. He senior also has 23 assist against nine turnovers – a team best – while averaging 6.5 points and 3.3 rebounds. This is a very good trio overall for head coach Rick Pitino, though there has been some continuity issues – surprising considering the three played together last year. The talent and ability is certainly present, it simply needs to come together more consistently, much like that of the Mountaineers.
Guards Edgar Sosa (6-2, 175 lbs.) and Jerry Smith (6-2, 190 lbs.) are the most experienced backcourt in the Big East. Both seniors, the two have combined to start in well over 150 games after having played together for three years. Sosa, the point player, sees about 28 minutes per game, virtually tied with Samuels for the most on the squad. The Dominican Republican's shooting has been steady at 46 percent overall, 39 from three, and he leads the team in assists with 75. A scorer via his natural style, Sosa isn't physical, but will get into the lane for kickouts or challenges to the rim, and is solid at finishing plays in transition. Averaging a team second-best 14 points, Sosa is much more and offensive threat than Smith. The shooting guard hits for 8.7 points and 3.4 rebounds on average and though he mans the two slot he doesn't get nearly as many looks as Sosa. Smith is a bit bulkier and puts pressure on the rim better via drives and within the rebounding game. His numbers would be much better if he could improve his 24.4 percent from three-point range. He is also among the worst on the team from the line at 68 percent. His shooting has been a shock to Louisville, as Smith was second on the team with 54 threes last year and ranked sixth in the conference in three-point percentage at 41.2 percent. Entering the year, he was third in three-point percentage in school history, and the lack of the trey dropping this year has hurt UofL in multiple phases. He scored 20 points in a late January against West Virginia last year, making four of five threes. The Mountaineers must be aware of his potential and challenge all shots. Once he heats up, it's very difficult to stop him.
|Sat. Jan. 30
WVU 16-3, 5-2
UofL 13-7, 4-3
WVU - 7
UofL - 47
The reserves show much promise with a significant amount of youth. Guards Preston Knowles (6-1, 190 lbs.) and Peyton Siva (6-0, 175 lbs.) are a junior-freshman combo playing about 21 and 11 minutes, respectively. Knowles, who has started six games this year, is averaging nine points and four rebounds but like Smith is struggling from outside at 29 percent. Pitino doesn't have other options at the shooting guard slot, and thus that position's point totals simply aren't what they were last season. Siva, a McDonald's All-American out of Seattle's Franklin High, averages four points and has done exactly what the staff wishes in maintaining a positive assist-to-turnover ratio and playing quality, if not flashy, minutes. Siva isn't purely a player to utilize in stealing some bench time, as he does shoot adequately and has proven adept at handling even against quality Big East guards, but there is a significant dropoff from Sosa. Still, this is a backup who will see major time for the Cards over his career. Freshman Rakeem Buckles (6-8, 215 lbs.) and sophomore Jared Swopshire (6-8, 220 lbs.) provide some frontcourt depth, albeit (again) a bit young. Buckles is a sizeable newcomer out of Miami whose game is all inside now, though he is trying to add some touch from deep. He is making 45 percent from the floor while displaying very good offensive rebounding ability for a newcomer. He isn't afraid of contact, and his 3.8 boards and, to a lesser extent, his 3.6 points are a nice addition. His also has some length, but isn't a collegiate level defender of yet. Swopshire, who started 16 of 20 games thus far, plays about 25 minutes and is Pitino's most trusted reserve. He isn't a shooter or scorer (eight points per game on average with mediocre shooting numbers for an interior player), but will fight you on the glass. He has 34 offensive and 79 defensive rebounds and at time seems itching to get physical underneath. He has gotten plenty of chances from the line as a result, and he leads the team at 82.8 percent from there. WVU must get a body on this kid, and not allow his penchant for attacking the rim for rebounds cause frustration issues.
This team had, and still has, the potential to be very good for Pitino. It doesn't have the depth of some of year's past, but if the shooting from the two guard spot begins to fall and a couple forwards that are injured reemerge to help Swopshire with depth, this team could make a run at a top five to six finish in the Big East. West Virginia needs to contain Samuels some on putbacks and keep Jennings from putting up the numbers he is capable of. Look for Joe Mazzulla to draw Sosa when Huggins goes to the Truck Bryant-Mazzulla-Da'Sean Butler-Ebanks-Jones look that seems the Mountaineers best fit at this point. With Smith struggling, that seems a given. Louisville will certainly pressure WVU, and thus far the Mountaineers have been average to below at handling it. Louisville doesn't have the abilities of most of the teams that have hurt West Virginia this year – namely a pair of exceptional outside shooters with a very good interior presence or a 2-3 packed zone that forces everything outside. But the Cards can score in bunches, and because the team's seniors have never beaten UofL, this game has been marked for awhile now. There need not be any more motivation; execution and fundamentals are what is key now. Take care of the ball, challenge for rebounds, and don't settle on offense. If WVU can do that, Huggins will likely be able to figure out a way to score, even if it comes after half as it often has of late. Again: this one is most about execution and intelligent hustle.
West Virginia is 14-0 when holding foes to fewer than 70 points this season and 54-8 under Huggins when outrebounding opponents. It has won 28 of its last 29 games in which it scored more than 69 points.
* * *
With 10 points, Da'Sean Butler will break the West Virginia school record for double-figure scoring games with 93. He is currently tied with Chris Brooks for first place on the list.
* * *
The Mountaineers rank eighth in NCAA Division I in rebounding margin, 12th in assist-to-turnover ratio and 13th in assists per game.
* * *
Louisville has lost three of its last four games, and is just 1-4 in true road games this season with two of the losses coming to Pittsburgh and Seton Hall. The Cardinals are 4-1 against WVU since joining the Big East in 2005. UofL won both games last season. Pitino is 6-1 all-time against the Mountaineers. Huggins is 14-14 against Louisville all-time.