Just one day after totally embarrassing Rutgers, 92-31, the Louisville Cardinals (28-5, 15-3) were back in action facing stiffer competition in Houston (17-16, 8-10). Well, actually I should say the Cougars are probably a little bit better of a team than Rutgers but the competition wasn’t really much stiffer as the Cards rolled to a 94-65 win Friday night. Here’s some notes and observations I took from the second straight obliteration.
- Russ Smith was the story of the night, scoring a career-high, 42 points on 14-22 shooting including 5-7 from 3-point range.
- Smith had 27 points at halftime, setting a UofL all-time record for most points in a half.
- Smith’s 42 total points is the 3rd highest in a single game in UofL history. (Wes Unseld’s 45 pts. and Bud Olsen’s 44 pts. are No.1 and No.2)
- Smith has been a scoring machine when it counts the most. In his last 11 tournament games (Big East and NCAA tournaments last season plus two AAC games so far) Russ is averaging 22.7 points, 2.1 rebounds and 3 assists per game.
- Senior forward, Stephan Van Treese hit his first career 3-pointer with 2:40 left in the game on an assist by Chris Jones. He is now 1-2 in his career.
- Van Treese grabbed 10 rebounds, giving him 185 on the season (2nd behind Harrell’s 268) in only 24 minutes of play.
- Van Treese has had three-straight games with double digit rebounds, leading the team in each, and is averaging 7.4 rebounds per game in the last 10 games.
- Mangok Mathiang recorded six rebounds and all three of UofL’s blocks. He now has 46 rejections on the season.
- Mathiang averages one block for every 10.8 minutes he plays or nearly four a game if he played the whole game.
- UofL’s defense has been one of the best nationally in each of the last three seasons. They rank 16th nationally currently in field goal percentage defense, allowing only 39.3%. Houston shot 37.3%
- In the last 10 games, the Cards are allowing 38.3% field goal percentage and have held four opponents to 35% or lower.
- Louisville came into the game No.1 in the NCAA in turnover margin at +6.9. They turned the Cougars over 16 times while only committing six themselves for a +10. They still lead the country in that category, now at +7.2.
- The Cards are getting it done on offense too, averaging 82.1 points per game (8th nationally) and are averaging 89.3 in their last 10 games.
Seeding is always a great debate come Selection Sunday and of course you always want to be seeded as low as possible in hopes of not having to face better teams in early rounds. Currently, the Cards are projected as a four seed by ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s Bracketology. What’s puzzling is that before beating Rutgers and Houston in as impressive fashion as humanly possible, they were projected as a three seed.
Cincinnati and SMU losing to lower seeded teams certainly doesn’t help the Cards resume but it’s hard to fathom that they can be punished an entire seed line after the way they’ve handled business, which leads to my point. I personally don’t think that Louisville will get lower than a three seed, especially if they win the AAC Tournament today but regardless of where they end up, they are definitely playing the kind of ball that could spring them to Dallas and a third straight Final Four appearance.
The improvement in the front court has been instrumental in the Cards success, maybe as much or more than the stellar play from the back court. Van Treese is starting to be a force in the paint, not just a presence while Mathiang keeps improving his defensive game. Mangok still struggles on his offense but the emergence of now superstar, Harrell, gives them enough offensive power to keep teams from focusing on the perimeter.
As for the back court and their terrific play, UofL is 10th in the country in assists/turnover ratio at 1.49, 22nd in assists per game (22) and 2nd in steals per game (10.3). Starting guards, Russ Smith and Chris Jones are currently tied for 27th nationally with 65 steals apiece, making them one of the best duos in the country and a threat to lead the Cards to a deep run.
It would appear that the Cards have all of the ingredients to make a championship stew and they’ve been simmering all season long while really heating up lately. All that is left is for the pot to boil over and the stew to be served. Do you have your bowl ready?