Just a few weeks ago a lot of Cardinal fans as well as the talking heads were wondering if Louisville would make it past the first round game of the NCAA Tournament. Now here they are in the Sweet 16 and just two wins away from another Final Four. The Cardinals overcame a “Big” obstacle in their first round game against UC Irvine and then just completely overwhelmed a UNI team that most were saying had a legit chance to make it to a Final Four themselves. Now awaiting the Cardinals is conference foe NC State.
The Wolfpack has made a great run through the tournament after having a bi-polar type of season. Guard play is critical in the NCAA Tournament and there hasn’t been a better trio during March Madness than that of Ralston Turner (13.4 PPG, 3.3 RPG), Trevor Lacey (16.1 PPG, 4.5 PPG) and Anthony Barber (11.8 PPG, 3.8 APG). Mark Gottfried runs his offense strictly through these three guards. Lacey is the dynamic scorer, Turner is a sharp shooter and Cat Barber is a lane slashing assist machine. These three guys complement each other very nicely. They are a big reason why NC State is in the Sweet 16.
The rest of their team hasn’t been too shabby either. The Wolfpack is averaging 70 points a game shooting 43.7% from the field, and 35.4% from the three. As I mentioned above the guards make this team go but this NC State team is well balanced. They have shooters and big men who can finish around the rim. Every player has a defined role on this team. Turner, Lacey and Barber lead in scoring but they are followed by Lennard Freeman (3.2 PPG, 5.6 RPG), Abdul-Malik Abu (5.9 PPG, 4.7 RPG), C BeeJay Anya (4.5 PPG, 4.2 RPG), Kyle Washington (7.1 PPG, 4.6 RPG), and Caleb Martin (5.2 PPG, 2.9 RPG). On the offensive end of the floor all these guys can handle the ball and each of them are capable of creating their own scoring opportunities. They are a very tough group to guard when they have their mojo going. Their offense is the reason they have won five of their last six games.
The Wolfpack defense is also very adequate. They play an aggressive man-to-man with a very fast Barber hounding the back-court and bigs Anya and Abu banging in the front-court. They are allowing 65.5 points a game, allowing 40% shooting from the field and 33.1% from the three. They have given up 68 or less points in seven of their last 10 games.
NC State’s NATIONAL RANKS
Offensive efficiency, 34th (111.4)
Defensive efficiency, 76th (97.3)
3-point percentage, 82nd (36.3)
3-point percentage D, 96th (32.9)
Free throw rate, 203rd (36.0)
Free throw rate D, 112th (34.0)
TO percentage, 34th (16.4)
TO percentage D, 336th (15.7)
NC State’s 2014-15 Kenpom Rankings
Defense Adjustment Efficiency
-97.7 ranks 81st
Offense Adjustment Efficiency
-111.6 ranks 27th
-Per Kenpom’s game prediction he has Louisville winning the game 66-63 based on his indexes.
Here we are Cardinal fans again just two games away from another Final Four. This group has bonded together through much adversity and find themselves on the cusp of adding their own lore to a great Cardinal tradition. At the beginning of March Madness I wrote an article listing my 5 keys to winning a NCAA Title. When I wrote it there were doubts about this group of Cardinals possessing those keys, but as we have progressed over the last couple of weeks I am seeing some of these things.
A Cause: I don’t know if they have one common cause but this group wants to win for one another now. I have seen a very cohesive group over the last couple of weeks.
A Great Leader: Wayne Blackshear has taken on this role. He has taken this team on his shoulders and it was his will to win that helped them get past UC Irvine. Wayne wants to keep adding to his legacy as a Cardinal and he’s not ready for it to end. Terry Rozier has also taken his game to another level.
The Freshman or Player that comes out of nowhere: Quentin Snider has come out of nowhere. This kid has the moxie of a grizzled vet and he hasn’t even seen a full season of playing time. Those free-throws he hit in that first game were huge and he keeps getting better every time out.
A Bench: This has been the biggest question mark all season but even this has started to evolve over the last couple of weeks. Onuaku, Johnson, Anas, Aaron, Gill and Levitch were able to come in against UNI to give the starters a breather and they provided solid minutes. Still a long way to go but it’s coming around.
A Coach: Other than a potential match-up in the Elite Eight with Tom Izzo we will have an advantage the rest of the way if we kept winning. Nobody does March better and nobody gets their team ready faster in these quick turnaround games than Coach Pitino. He’ll have the game plan. His team will just have to execute it.
I’m not saying this team is going to win a championship, but we are closer to looking like a team that could. And this group has come a long way especially over the last couple of weeks. A very tough game waits on Friday night. To beat the Wolfpack they have to stop Lacey. That is the top priority. Doing that forces Turner and Barber to shoulder more of the load than they would normally feel comfortable doing. This is an average team if their guards aren’t controlling the game. And this team will get flustered quickly if the Cards come out and lock them down right from the start.
I think this group has their eye on the prize. They are focused on the task at hand.
The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 68 NC State 64