The 50th Meeting Between the Cards & Cats


We are just a few weeks removed from the Cats and Cards doing battle on the gridiron to end the regular season of college football. On Wednesday night they will take the battle to the basketball court. This week we have flown our flags a little higher and wore our gear with that little extra boost of pride. This is the Cards and the Cats and it just doesn’t get any bigger in college basketball.

“Two elite teams meet once again, eternal bragging rights (at least for another year) Hall of Fame coaches who can’t stand each other. It’s not always a pretty watch, but it’s compelling TV and the best soap opera in the sport at the moment.” -Sports Illustrated

It is the eve of one of the best rivalries in college sports… If you grew up in the state of Kentucky then you chose your side very early in your life. I was singing the Louisville fight song to my son on the night he was born. I picked a side 30 years ago and have never regretted my decision. I love my Cardinals and I love this rivalry. Rivalries are what define sports and every competition needs a great rivalry. We have one of the best rivalries in all of sports and it deserves the credit. The Rivalry has given us many enjoyable moments and now it’s time to have another.

This will again be a highly anticipated Battle of the Bluegrass with both teams ranked within the top 10. It has been the Cats who have won the last 8 out of 10 in this battle head-to-head including 4 straight, but when looking at their entire body of work these teams have had similar success in the last 30 years. A series that started in 1913 these old rivals will meet for the 50th time on Wednesday night. Kentucky holds the all-time lead in this series 34-15.

NCAA Final Fours

Kentucky – 17 (Tied 2nd all-time)

Louisville – 10 (Tied 6th all-time)

NCAA Tournament Championships

Kentucky – 8 (2nd all-time)

Louisville – 3 (Tied 7th all-time)

NCAA Tournament Appearances

Kentucky – 54 (1st all-time)

Louisville – 41 (5th all-time)

Kentucky beat North Carolina 103-100 in Las Vegas in its last game as Malik Monk scored a UK freshman record 47 points and De’Andre Fox totaled 24 points and 10 assists. The Wildcats are among the top five nationally in scoring (3rd in the nation, 95.2 ppg), assists (4th, 19.9 apg), scoring margin (4th, +23.5), offensive rebounds (5th, 15.7 per game), and blocked shots (5th, 7.1 bpg). Fox is eighth in the nation averaging 7.2 assists. Fox and Bam Adebayo were preseason All-SEC first team selections, while Monk and Isaiah Briscoe were second team All-SEC preseason picks. Kentucky is No. 9 in the RPI, No. 4 in the Sagaring Ratings and No. 4 by Ken Pomeroy through Dec. 18.

Louisville leads the nation in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency through Dec. 18. The Cardinals are fifth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.359), 11th in scoring defense (59.4 ppg), fourth in blocked shots (7.2 per game), 22nd in three-point field goal defense (.287), 24th in turnover margin (+4.6), 11th in rebound margin (+9.3), fifth in rebounds per game (45.0), third in offensive rebounds per game (16.1) and 15th in scoring margin (+19.1). Six of the Cardinals 11 opponents this season have scored under 60 points. Eight of Louisville’s 11 opponents this season have shot below 36 percent from the field and four have shot below 32 percent. Eastern Kentucky shot 35.6 percent in UofL’s last game when the Cardinals limited the Colonels to 16 first-half points. It was the third time UofL has held a team under 20 points in a half this season.

This game as most of them have in the Pitino/Calipari era will come down to good offense vs good defense… The best way to beat Kentucky this season is to play great lock-down defense against their back-court and not let Fox have his way in the lane and not let Monk have many open looks from deep. The Louisville guards also need to brace up in the face of the Wildcats’ defensive harassment. Kentucky still has a lot of length and talent in their front-court but unlike previous seasons this Louisville team has plenty of talent and height of their own to challenge them here. According to Kenpom’s advance analytics the Cards are #9 in effective height and #19 in average height. The cats are #16 in effective height and #59 in average height.

The Cardinals X-factors on Wednesday night will be the front-court players. If Anas, Mango, Johnson and Spalding can play great defense and grab those offensive/defensive rebounds I really like our chances. They have to neutralize the Kentucky bigs. I also think our bench scoring will come into play in this one. There are always a lot of fouls called in these games. The Cardinals have 327 bench points already this season. Per Kenpom Louisville is ranked 54th in bench minutes. I’ve heard them mock David Levitch and Ryan McMahon… but so did the experts before Tim “Wichita” Henderson led the Cardinals to the Championship game in 2013.

This will be one of the biggest tests of the year for both of these teams. Each has to play to their strengths and attack the others weakness, but as I mentioned above with the player always coming out of nowhere there will be a scenario play out that nobody expected. These rivalry games are packed with emotion and that along with the home crowd will also factor in. I’m looking forward to a great game and an opportunity to knock off this Kentucky group. It has been too long. Should be another great one in the series… Go Cards!

Here we go again… Cards vs. Cats

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We are just a few weeks removed from the Cats and Cards doing battle on the gridiron to end the regular season of college football. On Saturday they will take the battle to the basketball court. This week we have flown our flags a little higher and wore our gear with that little extra boost of pride. This is the Cards and the Cats and it just doesn’t get any bigger in college basketball.

If you have grown up in the state of Kentucky and you are a sports fan this rivalry has been a part of your life. I can’t say that for the last 29 years I have enjoyed all the constant back and forth between me and my friends that cheer for Kentucky. But rivalries are what define sports and every competition needs a great rivalry. We have one of the best rivalries in all of sports and it deserves the credit. The Rivalry has given us many enjoyable moments and now it’s time to have another.

“Two elite teams meet once again, eternal bragging rights (at least for another year), HoF coaches who can’t stand each other. It’s not always a pretty watch, but it’s compelling TV and the best soap opera in the sport at the moment.” -Sports Illustrated

This will again be a highly anticipated Battle of the Bluegrass with both teams ranked within the top 25. It has been the Cats who have won the last 10 out of 12 in this battle head-to-head, but when looking at their entire body of work these teams have had similar success in the last 30 years. A series that started in 1913 these old rivals will meet for the 49th time on Saturday afternoon. Kentucky holds the all-time lead in this series 33-15.

STARTING LINE-UP
Skal Labissiere (9.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
Tyler Ulis (12 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
Isaiah Briscoe (11.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG)
Alex Poythress (9.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG)
Jamal Murray (17.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

KEY RESERVES
Marcus Lee (8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
Derek Willis (5.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
Charles Matthews (3.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG)

KENPOM ANALYSIS
#12 Overall
Offense Adjustment efficiency 112.0 24th
Defense Adjustment efficiency 92.7 13th
Kenpom has Kentucky winning this game 71-70

The Wildcats are are shooting 47.1% from the field, 29.7% from beyond the arc, 67.4% from the free throw line and average 78.4 points a game. They are aggressive attacking the basket with their dribble-drive motion offense and rank among the top 25 in the nation in offensive rebound percentage. Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray are their most important players on the offensive side of floor.

Ulis is one of the more crafty guards that has ever played for Coach Calipari and that is saying a lot. He can create his own shots and is a very efficient offensive threat, but where he really excels is getting his teammates involved. He is so quick and getting into the lane that when defense comes help side he will dish to another player in scoring position. He has 53 assist on the season and averages 5.3 a game. Murray is their deadliest offensive threat and there isn’t a spot on the court where he can’t score. He is shooting 42% from the floor and almost 40% from beyond the arc. He has range for days. A guy who could be a big X-Factor for them Saturday is Alex Poythress. When engaged, he can affect the game on either end of the floor. He leads Kentucky in rebounding and, at times, displays a much-improved offensive game. He’s also effective in transition because he can gallop down the floor and is a target for lobs.

Kentucky plays man-to-man but haven’t done so aggressively enough during the first part of this season to suit Calipari. The Wildcats are dangerous on this end of the floor if amped up getting into passing lanes and harassing ball handlers. I suspect they’ll be amped up for their home crowd Saturday. They are allowing 65.6 points on 39.9 percent shooting from the field allowing 30.4 percent shooting from deep and forcing 13.8 turnovers per game.

The best way to beat Kentucky this season is to play great lock-down defense against their back-court and not let Ulis have his way in the lane and not let Murray have many open looks from deep. The Louisville guards also need to brace up in the face of the Wildcats’ defensive harassment. Kentucky still has a lot of length and talent in their front-court but unlike previous seasons this Louisville team has plenty of talent and height of their own to challenge them here. The Cardinals are allowing 55.9 points on 35.2 percent shooting from the field, allowing 29 percent shooting from deep and is forcing 15 turnovers per game. They are ranked 2nd in the nation in scoring defense.

Anytime you play Kentucky there is always talk about the one and done players and how they’ve had such an impact on this rivalry over the last 5 years. That won’t be the case on Saturday. It will be the done and one players Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Lee is averaging 17.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while Lewis is averaging 14.7 points and 2.8 assists. These guys have meant everything for Louisville this season and are a big reason why they are ranked 11th in the nation in scoring offense. It’s been a long time since Louisville fans have witnessed offensive output like this. The Cardinals X-factors on Saturday will be the front-court players. If Anas, Onuaku and Spalding can play great defense and grab those defensive rebounds I really like our chances. They have to neutralize the Kentucky bigs. I do think our bench scoring will come into play in this one. There are always a lot of fouls called in these games. The Cardinals have 353 bench points already this season.

This will be one of the biggest test of the year for both of these teams. Each has to play to their strengths and attack the others weakness, but as I mentioned above with the player always coming out of nowhere there will be a scenario play out that nobody expected. These rivalry games are packed with emotion and that along with the home crowd will also factor in. I’m looking forward to a great game and a opportunity to knock off this Kentucky group. It has been too long. Should be another great one in the series… Go Cards!

The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 80 Kentucky 72

The Rivalry before The Rivalry

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This time next week we’ll be staring down another Louisville vs UK basketball game. But every season for the past eight years we’ve had a very good rivalry game with another in-state basketball power. As a matter of fact we’ve played Western Kentucky a lot longer than we have the Wildcats. Western is Louisville Basketball’s third longest opponent in the history of the program. The series that started back in 1926 is tied at 39-39 with the Cardinals taking the last six straight.

What started as a somewhat friendly foe has also changed over the years and there are no more smiles in this one. Ray Harper likes his team’s to play an aggressive style of basketball and he will attempt to dirty things up if he can. The Cardinals found that out last year when tensions ran high in Diddle arena. This should be another good one Saturday and after the Cardinals stroll through cupcake city this should be a step up in competition.

The Louisville program and the Western program share a common thread. In 1944 Bernard “Peck” Hickman was hired as the Cardinals head coach. Hickman was a star guard for WKU and Coach Ed Diddle during his college playing days. He was the first coach to lead our Cardinals to a championship on a national level winning the NAIB Championship in 1948. He never had a losing season in his 23 years as the Cardinals head man.

“We play them because of the amount of respect we have for their tradition and their basketball abilities. Why start a series with say a Memphis or Cincinnati when you’ve got a great school right down the road in state with unbelievable tradition. Why not do that? That is what I have always believed in and Western Kentucky is one of the great traditions in college basketball.”-Coach Pitino

STARTING LINE-UP
F 14 Ben LAWSON (4 PPG, 4.1 RPG)
F 23 Justin JOHNSON (17.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
G 1 Chris McNEAL (5.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG)
G 2 Aaron COSBY (10.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
G 25 Fredrick EDMOND (10.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG)

KEY BENCH PLAYERS
G 51 Chris Harrison-Docks (10.7 PPG, 1.1 RPG)
F 21 Nigel Snipes (12.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
G 1 Chris McNeal (5.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG)

Kenpom Rankings
Overall Rank 164th
Offense Adjustment Efficiency 105.0 ranked 110th
Defensive Adjustment Efficiency 104.6 ranked 240th
Kenpom predicts Louisville 79 Western Kentucky 69

Ray Harper’s teams are known for their blue collar work ethic. And the best player on this Western Kentucky team epitomizes that. Justin Johnson has already turned in a game this season where he had 16 points, 15 rebounds and 4 assist. He is a player that will find all kinds of ways to hurt you. He can create his own shot and can find his open teammates. He had a game this season where he was 10-11 shooting for 90.9%. He’s ranked 14th in the nation in field goal percentage. This kid has a lot of moxie and he will want to have a big day against the Cards.

Western Kentucky relies on Edmond, Cosby and Johnson to generate offense. Both Edmond and Cosby are dribble-drive demons, while Johnson can score anywhere on the floor. Harper has three scoring threats off his bench in Harrison-Docks (10.7 PPG), Snipes (12.7 PPG) and McNeal (5.4 PPG). The Hilltoppers will score in transition if it’s there, but it’s primarily a medium-tempo team that beats opponents with guard play and the low-post/wing scoring of Snipes and Johnson. If the score is in the 60s rather than the 70s or 80s, then the Hilltoppers are happy.

On the defensive side of the ball Western Kentucky’s primary defense is man-to-man, but the Hilltoppers sprinkle in some 2-3 zone and some full-court pressure, too. The Hilltoppers can aggressively attack opposing jump-shooters, secure in the knowledge that they have two good shot-blockers in Lawson and Johnson.

The Cardinals are on pace to have a historical season on the offensive side of the floor. Damion Lee and Trey Lewis have provided instant offense and both are doing it at a rabid pace. The Cardinals lead the nation in scoring margin at 31 points, and fifth in the nation in field goal percentage at 53% and have shot above that in eight of nine games this season. But I think the key to this game will be on the defensive side of the ball. Full-court pressure bothers this Western Kentucky team because it falls into the trap of playing faster than they should, resulting in turnovers. They average 17.6 turnovers a game 117th in the nation.

Like I mentioned above I look for Ray Harper to bring his team into the KFC Yum center on Saturday and make it an ugly game. Nothing will come easy especially around the basket and when there is a foul it will be a hard one. The Cardinals need a good hardnosed game like this because after this week they will be heading into the very challenging part of their schedule. I think the Cardinals win big in this one but think they’ll have to earn it.

Louisville 80 Western Kentucky 65

Elite Eight Re-Match Tonight in ACC/Big 10 Challenge

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Two legendary coaches in Rick Pitino and Tom Izzo along with two elite college basketball teams in Louisville and Michigan State we’ve seen some great battles between these coaches and teams in the NCAA Tourney in recent years. With the latest coming a few months ago in the Elite 8 when Michigan State evened up the tourney series to 2-2 when they beat our Cards in overtime to advance to the Final Four. We have grown accustomed to the possibility of these teams facing off in the NCAA Tournament every year, but now these teams are headed for an early match-up in the Big 10/ACC challenge tonight at 7:15pm on ESPN.

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The Louisville vs Michigan State head to head record stands at 5-4. These teams first met in 1959 in the Mideast Regional final with the Cards winning that game 88-81 with the most recent game back on March 29th in the Regional Finals where Michigan State prevailed in Overtime 76-70 against the Cards.

It has become a staple of Izzo and Michigan State to play these early tough non-conference games and by seasons end, this bunch is toughened up and ready to make a deep run in the win-or-go-home Big Dance. The names change, but the recipe for success remains the same for the Spartans excellent coaching, balanced scoring, relentless rebounding and very solid defense. They usually do a pretty good job at guarding the 3 point line and that will be a factor in tonight’s game. Izzo’s offense features three starters who average in double figures (Valentine, Forbes and Davis) and another who is close to doing so (Bess). If they miss their first shooting try, everyone pounds the glass for the Spartans. Michigan State teams are always very strong and physical and this allows them to implement the two annual tenets of Izzo Ball: intense man-to-man defense and relentless rebounding. The 2015 Spartans are stout defenders (39% field goal percentage allowed) and great glass-eaters (44 per game).

STARTING LINE-UP
Denzel Valentine (19.9 PPG, 8.9 RPG)
Bryn Forbes (11.4 PPG, 1.6 RPG)
Deyonta Davis (10.6 PPG, 5.4 RPG)
Javon Bess (8.0 PPG, 4.3 RPG)
Matt Costello (7.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG)

KEY RESERVES
Eron Harris (6.6 PPG, 2.6 RPG)
Lourawls Nairn Jr.(4.7 PPG, 1.3 RPG)

KENPOM RANKS
Offensive Adjustment Efficiency 115.1 ranked #6
Defensive Adjustment Efficiency 93.7 ranked #20
Kenpom Game Prediction: Louisville 65 Mich St. 70

Louisville currently has the 3rd ranked team in field goal defense and the 1st ranked team in scoring defense. I think these will play a big part in this game tonight along with offensive and defensive rebounding. They hit the broads hard and if we could neutralize that strength its half the battle. And if the Cardinals can get some of the key MSU starters into foul difficulty the odds of beating them improve because their bench is not that great.

We are going to need a big night out of our perimeter players and need Quentin, Damion, and Trey to hit some shots. I think Mango and Nanu will also need to have very solid nights and need to really hit the boards and play good defense inside the post. Nanu had foul problems the last time out and that would be a killer if he has to sit for a long period of time tonight. Mango was the MVP Saturday night and I hope some of the inspiring play can work its way into the game tonight. I know he is thinking about that game back in March and wants a little payback.

The way our offense has been trending upward lately is a very positive sign heading into this tough early season game. For the first time in a long time this Louisville team can score in a variety of ways and from every position on the court. Their 33.6 point average margin of victory is the largest through the first 5 games of any season in school history. And as usual the defense is legit. Folks taking into account all these factors I like the Cardinals chances tonight.

The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 80 Mich St. 75

North Florida Looking to be Birds of Prey on Saturday

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We all know how most of these early games go during the first stretch of the basketball season. These smaller schools are going on the road to play in big venues to get a hefty paycheck, take a loss and go home. That’s not going to be the case when North Florida comes to the Yum Center on Saturday. The Cardinals play the North Florida Ospreys in the Cards’ second game of the Brooklyn Hoops Holiday Invitational, a five-team, round-robin event. Louisville beat Hartford in the first round 87-52 on Tuesday. The Cardinals are 2-0 on the early season while North Florida is 3-0 with a big in over Illinois already on the resume.

North Florida will bring one of the most high powered offenses in the country to Louisville this weekend. They lead the nation in three-pointers per game (16.0), are seventh in assists-to-turnovers ratio (2.35) and ranks eighth in three-point percentage (.480). The Ospreys are a talented and dangerous team thanks to a balanced offensive attack and a roster full of shooters. The Ospreys can shoot the basketball from all over the floor. Their system allows for anyone to pull the trigger when open, and with five players shooting over 40 percent from deep, everyone must be accounted for. They live and die by the 3-point shot and so far this season they’ve lived pretty well.

STARTING LINEUP
Dallas Moore (24.3 PPG, 3.0 RPG)
Trent Mackey (18.7 PPG, 1.7 RPG)
Chris Davenport (15.0 PPG, 9.7 RPG)
Beau Beech (14.0 PPG, 5.7 RPG)
Nick Malonga (6.3 PPG, 2.7 RPG)

Key Bench Players
Demarcus Daniels (13.3 PPG, 8.3 RPG)
Aaron Bodager (4.3 PPG, 4.0 RPG)
Osborn Blount (2.5 PPG, 1.0 RPG)

Kenpom Ranks
Overall Rank 95th
ADJ Offense Efficiency 108.7 ranked 36th
ADJ Defensive Efficiency 103.1 ranked 224th
Game Prediction: Louisville 82 North Florida 70, He gives them a 13% chance to win

Their best player is Dallas Moore. The 6-foot-1 guard can shoot it from deep (55.6 percent) or in close (56 percent). The lefty is very quick with the ball in his hands and gets to the rim with relative ease. He’s also very good in transition. Another guy who could be big for them on Saturday is Demarcus Daniels. He’s scored a combined 40 points leading up to this game on Saturday and grabbed 27 rebounds. Daniels is long, athletic and can score on the block as well as stroke it from deep (50 percent). If North Florida gets a great effort out of this guy on Saturday their chances for an upset improve drastically.

As mentioned above the Ospreys have a well balanced offensive attack, as five players average more than 13 points per game and shoot at least 50 percent from the field. North Florida plays at a quicker tempo than most (61st nationally) and will shoot early in the shot clock. The Ospreys have an equal opportunity offense that can be very hard to defend. On defense North Florida plays a traditional man-to-man defense and will switch on ball screens. Their guards play decent perimeter defense (44 percent shooting). They don’t force many turnovers, relying instead on fundamental defensive principles.

In order for Louisville to keep the upset minded Ospreys from achieving their goal they must limit them to one-and-done possessions and extend their defense. Giving a great shooting team extra possessions is alwyas a bad idea, so owning the defensive glass is the first step. Playing a traditional zone likely would be a poor decision, but a team like Louisville that plays that tough match-up zone defense and has length could pose issues for the Ospreys.

Our Cardinals have won 36 consecutive home games in November spanning the last 24 years, including a perfect 23-0 record in the KFC Yum Center and I am confident they’ll make that 37 straight on Saturday. The Ospreys who are a bird of prey will be a great challenge to this group and one they need this early to gauge just how well they are coming along. The Cardinals rank fifth nationally in field goal percentage defense (.257). We’ll see how that holds up. I just think the Cardinals have too many offensive weapons themselves and are too tall and talented to lose this one. Chinanu Onuaku scored a career-high 18 points against Hartford, adding nine rebounds and two blocked shots. Jaylen Johnson also set career bests in points (nine) and rebounds (eight) vs. Hartford. I look for these guys to be big again on Saturday. Quentin Snider has also been great. His 10 assists with just one turnover this season ranks him fourth in the nation in assists-to-turnover ratio. He matched a career-high with six assists against Hartford. He will also be big on Saturday. For as good as they are on offense the Ospreys aren’t really great defensively and that will be their down fall in this one.

The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 80 North Florida 69

The Beak Basketball Breakdown: The Spartans

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There are just two spots left in the Final Four in Indy next weekend. Our Cardinals have defied all odds and will be playing for one of those spots. They will be playing against a team that has traveled a similar path and defied their own odds. The Cards and Michigan State will play for the ninth time in their history. The Cards lead the series 5-3. Ironically the last time these teams played back in 2012 the narrative was similar. The Cardinals were on an improbable run in the NCAA and beat 1 seed Michigan State 57-44 in the Sweet 16 to advance to the Elite Eight and ultimately the Final Four.

This group isn’t as good as that 2012 Michigan State team but even though the names have change, their recipe for success remains the same. They have a great coach, a balanced scoring attack, and relentless team rebounding and intense man-to-man defense. They are also really good at defending the perimeter.

The Spartans have won seven of their last eight games. On the season they are averaging 71.2 points on 46.8% shooting from the field and 38.6% from the three. Izzo has a seasoned rotation led by two seniors Branden Dawson (11.6 PPG, 9.3 RPG), and Travis Trice (14.8 PPG, 5.4 APG). They are followed by three solid juniors in Denzel Valentine (14.5 PPG, 6.1 RPG), Bryn Forbes (9.0 PPG, 1.5 RPG), and Matt Costello (7.4 PPG, 5.5 RPG). Dawson is a beast and just may be the best player on the team. Forbes shooting 42.8%, Valentine shooting 41.6% and Trice shooting 37.4% are all very big threats from deep, and all have been hot during their tournament run. The Spartans have four players averaging at least 8.6 points.

As I mentioned above Izzo’s teams play a sticky man-to-man defense that has given up 63 or fewer points in four of its last five games. They are allowing teams to shoot 39.4% from the field and 31.5% from the three-point line. They will crash the defensive boards hard and are ranked in the top 20 in the nation.

Michigan State’s NATIONAL RANKS

Offensive efficiency, 13th (114.9)
Defensive efficiency, 47th (95.5)
3-point percentage, 26th (39.0)
3-point percentage D, 38th (31.1)
Free throw rate, 297th (32.2)
Free throw rate D, 204th (38.1)
TO percentage, 91st (18.0)
TO percentage D, 295th (17.0)

Michigan State’s 2014-15 Kenpom Rankings
Overall- #15
Defense Adjustment Efficiency
-95.5 ranks 47th
Offense Adjustment Efficiency
-114.9 ranks 13th
-Per Kenpom’s game prediction he has Michigan State winning the game 65-64 based on his indexes.

There may not be a player left in the tournament that has had a bigger come up, or that has been bigger for his team than Terry Rozier. This kid had 17 points and 14 rebounds against NC State. His ability to take over on the offensive end and ability to rebound will be huge against the Spartans.

And you won’t find a player that works harder than Montrezl Harrell has during this tournament. He has played 114 minutes, scored 46 points, and grabbed 17 rebounds. There’s not a player on the other side that will get after it like Montrezl will on Sunday afternoon.

What about that senior Wayne Blackshear who has now played in more NCAA games than any other player in Louisville’s history. His team has followed his lead and his determination and will to win has rubbed off. He is the guy that got his teammates to believe.

Or the local kid Quentin Snider who dreamed of playing for the hometown Cards as a kid and now has become a big reason they are in the Elite Eight. He hit clutch free-throws in his first NCAA game and played 37 minutes without a turnover in his first Sweet 16 game. He is a stone cold basketball player and doesn’t flinch under pressure. He is unreal.

Guys like Mango whose defense has been unreal, and Gill who comes off the bench to take over the game…

To beat this Michigan State team the Cards need to continue to attack the paint. Hopefully that will lead to some foul trouble on their end. They have a very thin bench. Get into it early would really help our cause. But even more important than that is for the guys I mentioned above to continue doing what they have been doing. They got this.

I believe in our guys. They are on a mission and that along with our match-up zone will be too much for Michigan State to overcome.

The Beak Prediction:

Louisville 70 Michigan State 63

The Beak Basketball Breakdown: The Wolfpack

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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
Overall- #31
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

The Beak Basketball Breakdown: Northern Iowa

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Unfortunately I remember it like it was yesterday sitting in my living room in a state of shock after the 4 seed Cardinals had just lost to in-state 13 seed Morehead State in the first round of the NCAA Tourney. They had the Rodmanesque future pro in Kenneth Faried who scored 12 points and grabbed 17 rebounds. It wasn’t one of the better sports moments for Louisville fans.

On Friday I had flashbacks of that unpleasant moment when the 4 seed Cardinals were in a dog fight with 13 seed UC Irvine in their first round game in the NCAA Tourney. The Anteaters had the Manute Boesque future pro in Mamadou NDiaye who bullied the Cardinals around in the post and scored 12 points.

Friday things could have been very reminiscent of that game back in 2011, but instead the Cardinals pulled this one out thanks to the Game day heroics of freshman Quentin Snider and senior Wayne Blackshear and now they move on to the third round on Sunday to face the University of Northern Iowa.

The University of Northern Iowa is one of those teams that any college basketball fan loves to cheer for unless they are playing against your school. I cheered for them on their run in 2010 when they upset Kansas. And this team is very reminiscent of that group. They have a group of assassins when it comes to the three point shot and they bring four guys off their bench that shoot 40% from deep. They aren’t going to come at you with one or two guys. They come at you with 10. They play true team ball.

They are averaging 66 points a game shooting 48.2% from the field and 40% from the three. They are led by their do everything star Seth Tuttle who averages 15.3 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. The Wooden Award finalist leads the Panthers in points, rebounds, assists and blocks. The rest of their starting line-ups are as follows. Marvin Singleton (5.0 PPG, 5.1 RPG), Jeremy Morgan (5.9 PPG, 3.2 RPG), Matt Bohannon (5.6 PPG, 1.5 RPG), and Deon Mitchell (7.3 PPG, 2.4 APG). They also have three other players averaging between 5.0 and 7.8 PPG. This group is very deliberate and they’ll milk the shot clock on every possession waiting for a moment to take the best shot.

On the defensive end of the floor they aren’t going to wow you with their athleticism or their speed, but they will impress you with their attention to detail and fundamentals. They do a great job of keeping a body between the ball and the basket. They finished the season ranked 4th in the country in points allowed giving up only 54.3 points a game. Having that deep bench works more towards an advantage on this end of the floor and they keep fresh bodies coming at you in waves.

NATIONAL RANKS

Offensive efficiency, 15th (113.9)
Defensive efficiency, 20th (93.1)
3-point percentage, 11th (39.7)
3-point percentage D, 54th (31.6)
Free throw rate, 92nd (40.2)
Free throw rate D, 10th (26.7)
TO percentage, 92nd (18.0)
TO percentage D, 158th (19.3)

Northern Iowa’s 2014-15 Kenpom Rankings
Overall- #9
Defense Adjustment Efficiency
-93.3 ranks 19th
Offense Adjustment Efficiency
-114.6 ranks 13th
-Per Kenpom’s game prediction he has Northern Iowa winning the game 59-57 based on his indexes.

I wouldn’t necessarily call them an unlikely cast of big performers for Louisville but I think it was surprising to some that Quentin and Wayne stepped up on the offensive end and that Mango stepped up on the defensive end on Friday. It is going to take that and then some on Sunday night for the Cardinals to advance to the Sweet 16 for the 21st time (4th straight). To win a game like this it’s also going to take a big effort from guys like Montrezl and Terry. They can’t have a sub-par performance in this one. They will have an athletic advantage and they’ll need to utilize it on both ends of the floor. The bench guys will also need to produce some solid minutes to try and keep up with their depth advantage.

My keys to this game are for Louisville to dominate the boards and to utilize the press effectively. UNI doesn’t have many weaknesses but they are ranked 322nd out of 350 Division I teams in rebounding. When they have struggled this season they have gotten killed on the glass. Rebounding has been Louisville’s strength this season and has been the one constant. I also think the Cards will have to be effective in both their full and half court press. If they can get into the legs of their shooters it will hurt their accuracy.

This is going to be a very tough game, but the Cards hold one distinct advantage. Having a Hall of Fame coach who has seen it all is huge in these quick turnaround games of the tourney. He will have a blueprint to solve the UNI riddle. He will just need his team to follow that blueprint. The Cardinals are going to have to beat the Panthers because UNI is a team that isn’t going to beat themselves.

The Beak Prediction:

Louisville 60 UNI 51

The Beak Basketball Breakdown: The Anteaters

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It was an exciting first day of the NCAA Tournament and some teams extended the dance while some took their final bow. The wait is over and we’ll get to watch our Cardinals take to the floor for their first game in the Tourney against the UC Irvine Anteaters. These teams have never met on the hardwood. Our Cardinals will make their 41st appearance in the Tourney which ranks 5th nationally and it will be their 9th straight trip. The Anteaters will be making their very first appearance in the big dance.

UC Irvine head coach Russell Turner is a young coach who is just starting to create his legacy in the college basketball ranks. He like a lot of young coaches has to be very innovative and creative to be competitive in this challenging landscape. Struggling to get recruits over some of the other West Coast schools Tuner got creative in his approach and started reaching out internationally. As a result he has himself a pretty scrappy basketball team led by Will Nelson from England and Mamadou Ndiaye from Senegal.

Captured in the March Madness I found myself up late last week watching the Big West Conference Tournament. I even found myself cheering for the Anteaters to win. Watching them in the semi-finals and finals I learned a few things about this team. They play hard for their coach, they don’t quit and they’ll play defense on every trip on that end of the floor.

Using their size and that solid defense UC Irvine is 21-12 this season and won the Big West Conference Tournament. They were rewarded a 13th seed for their efforts. They are averaging 67.9 points a game shooting 46.1% from the field and 39% from the three. Will Davis II leads the Anteaters averaging 12.9 points, 7.2 rebounds per game and he had a double-double in all of the conference tourney games. Luke Nelson is averaging 10.5 points. Mamadou Ndiaye is averaging 10.4 points, 5.1 rebounds, and has had as many as 6 blocks in a game this season. Alex Young is averaging 9.6 points. Travis Souza is an excellent three point shooter and he is 47.4% from long range this season. UC Irvine shares the ball very well. All five starters’ average between 12.9 and 7.4 points per game, and the team finished the season 65th nationally in assists per game.

Defensively their perimeter defenders can be very aggressive, they really protect the rim and they make it really hard for opponents to score in the paint. They finished the season ranked 25th in the country in blocks per game. They are allowing 62.3 points and their opponents are shooting 39.3% from the field.

UC Irvine National Ranks:

Offensive efficiency, 134th (103.6)
Defensive efficiency, 102nd (99.0)
3-point percentage, 27th (38.9)
3-point percentage D, 210th (36.0)
Free throw rate, 337th (29.3)
Free throw rate D, 190th (37.3)
TO percentage, 120th (18.4)
TO percentage D, 263rd (17.7)

UC Irvine’s 2014-15 Kenpom Rankings
Overall- #98
Defense Adjustment Efficiency
-98.4 ranks 92nd
Offense Adjustment Efficiency
-134.7 ranks 135th
-Per Kenpom’s game prediction he has Louisville winning the game 65-59 based on his indexes.

Our Cardinals have been led by the same cast of players this season. The team goes as Terry, Montrezl and Wayne go. Here towards the end of the season we have started to see a supporting cast emerge in Quentin, Chinanu, and Mango. Word is that Jaylen Johnson has been really solid in practice over the last couple of weeks and that the coaching staff expect a big tournament from him. As I said when the ACC Tourney started it’s going to take more scoring from the bench guys to make a run and the time is now for it to happen.

I think creating turnovers and attacking the basket are going to be the keys in getting the victory in the first round. And with the way Irvine plays defense on the interior our guys are going to have to hit some jump shots.

Folks this Irvine team played Arizona tough this season and took Oregon to OT. Any team that plays inspired basketball during this time of the year is a dangerous opponent. The Anteaters are playing inspired and they are out to make good in their first tourney appearance. I think this is going to be a hard fought game with Louisville’s athleticism taking over late. I think our guys match the intensity and will outlast the Anteaters. Should be fun!

The Beak Prediction:

Louisville 69 UC Irvine 57

The Beak Basketball Breakdown: The Cavaliers (Senior Day)

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Saturday is set up to be a very special day in the KFC Yum Center. Not only are we celebrating the efforts of two great players in Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear, but there is also a pretty good team in #2 Virginia coming to town. This will be another opportunity to get a great quality win before the selection and seeding process next weekend. Our Cardinals will also ultimately be playing for a double bye in next week’s ACC Tournament. Louisville trails Virginia 3-6 in this series, but has won two of the last three meetings. Virginia prevailed 52-47 in Charlottesville earlier this season.

Video | Rick Pitino previews Virginia game

The Cavaliers will be looking to extend their nine-game winning streak. Virginia is averaging 65.8 points on 46.3% shooting from the field, and 36% shooting from the three. They are being led this season by Malcolm Brogdon (13.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.6 apg), Anthony Gill (11.7 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 0.9 apg), Darion Atkins (7.6 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.7 apg), Darion Atkins (7.5 ppg, 5.9 rpg, 0.7 apg), and London Perrantes (6.3 ppg, 2.4 rpg, 4.7 apg). The Cavaliers are 13-0 on the road this season.

Defensively, Virginia is allowing 50 points a game, 35.5% shooting from the field and 30.2% shooting from the three. They have given up 60 or less points in eight straight games. They have held six teams under 40 points this season.

Virginia’s 2014-15 OVERALL Rankings Offense | Defense

OFFENSE
-POINTS PER GAME
65.8
214th
OVERALL
-REBOUNDS PER GAME
37.1
54th
OVERALL
-ASSISTS PER GAME
13.1
135th
OVERALL
-FIELD GOAL PCT
.463
61st
OVERALL

DEFENSE
-POINTS ALLOWED
50.0
1st
OVERALL
-REBOUNDS PER GAME
26.5
14th
OVERALL
-BLOCKS PER GAME
4.4
66th
OVERALL
-STEALS PER GAME
5.4
273rd
OVERALL

Virginia’s 2014-15 Kenpom Rankings
Overall- #3
Defense Adjustment Efficiency
-84.2 ranks 1st
Offense Adjustment Efficiency
-112.4 ranks 28th
-Per Kenpom’s game prediction he has Virginia winning the game 56-53 based on his indexes.

Our Cardinals need a big win after splitting their last eight games. They are averaging 69.9 points on 43% shooting from the field, and 30.7% from the three. Terry Rozier is averaging 17.2 points and 2.8 assists; Montrezl Harrell is averaging 15.6 points and 9.3 rebounds. Wayne Blackshear is the third double-digit scorer averaging 10.7 points and 4.6 rebounds. Chinanu Onuaku has been gradually improving all season and is grabbing five rebounds a game. Despite an encouraging effort in the FSU game the Louisville bench was held scoreless against Notre Dame. The 5 spot combined for 8 points, 2 rebounds, 3 turnovers and 11 fouls vs. Notre Dame.

Mango, Shaqquan, Anas, Jaylen and Anton have to become a bigger part of the Louisville team over the next couple of weeks. It’s imperative to this team’s tournament success in my opinion. We may see these guys play more due to the recent news that Coach Pitino plans on changing his system especially on the defensive end. The main reason some of the younger guys haven’t seen the floor was due to their defensive execution. One would think a simplified defense would mean more playing time. Currently the Louisville defense is allowing 59.3 points a game, 38.5% shooting from the field and 28.5% shooting from the three. They have given up 59 or less points in six of their last 10 games.

It’s always a good thing when you can get a game like this to end a regular season. A quality opponent can get a team prepared for the tough weeks ahead as tournament play starts. This Virginia team is a very good opponent to close the season with and they do a lot of things well. They will challenge our Cardinals in every facet of the game on Saturday and we’ll see if the Cards can start trending upward.

I do think our guys answer the call on Senior Day as they will be riding a wave of emotions from the festivities. I also think these guys will respond to the “system change” that Coach Pitino has made. I think they will play a little looser and will play harder not having to worry about making mistakes on the defensive end of the floor. I’m looking forward to being right in the middle of it all. Going to be a great day! Go Cards!

The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 60 Virginia 53