Louisville Cardinals (13-5, 8-4) vs. Virginia Cavaliers (16-6, 12-4)
Game Time: 4:05 p.m.
Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.
Favorite: Virginia by 2.5
Officials: Ted Valentine, A.J. Desai, Tony Henderson
Series: Virginia leads, 16-5
Last Meeting: Virginia won 57-54 on March 7, 2020 in Charlottesville
Possible Starting Lineups:
It’s rare to have a March where we’re talking about an underachieving Tony Bennett Virginia team, but that’s the position the Cavaliers currently find themselves in. UVA has had a fine season — they’re nationally ranked and have already locked up the No. 2 seed for next week’s ACC tournament — but they don’t appear to be the serious national title threat they seemed destined to be when they began the year ranked No. 4 in the country.
Virginia also enters Saturday’s regular season finale not exactly hitting its full stride. On Monday, the Cavaliers snapped a three-game losing streak — Florida State, Duke and NC State — with a less than aesthetically pleasing 62-51 triumph over ACC cellar dweller Miami.
The most noticeable difference between this Virginia teams and the Cavaliers of recent past is the lack of defensive dominance. While UVA is still one of the top defensive teams in the country (No. 15 in adjusted defensive efficiency), they’re not in the top 7 like they have been in every season since 2012-13. During their three game losing streak last month, the Hoos allowed at least 1.08 points per possession in all three games. They allowed that number just four times all of last season.
Offensively, Virginia has plenty of nice weapons in the form of familiar names like Jay Huff and Tomas Woldetensae, as well as transfers Sam Hauser (Marquette) and Trey Murphy (Rice). What they don’t have is a guy who can just go get them a bucket when things break down late in a possession, or in crunch time deep in the second half. A Ty Jerome or DeAndre Hunter has not emerged from this group as of yet, and that’s been an issue.
None of this to say Virginia isn’t capable of beating just about anyone on a given night. The defense is still among the nation’s elite, they shoot the three collectively (39.2 percent) better than all but seven teams in the country, their third in the country in team free-throw percentage, and they turn the ball over on just 15.5 percent of their possessions, the 18th-best rate in D-I.
Virginia also has a level of experience and familiarity on its roster that most teams across the country would kill for this time of year. Kihei Clark is in his third year of running the show, even though it feels like he’s been there since the late ‘90s. Huff and Woldentensae are both in their fourth years with the program, Hauser is a senior, and Murphy is a junior who played monster minutes in both of his seasons at Rice.
There’s probably not a whole lot I can tell you about Virginia that you don’t already know. You know they’re going to play slow, you know about the pack-line defense, you know they have a handful of guys capable of going nuts from the outside, and you know Huff has the potential to be a monster every time he steps on the floor (especially with no Malik Williams to check him).
Even without Williams, Louisville is a far more athletic team than this Virginia group. We all know Chris Mack isn’t all about the up and down, but if a guy like David Johnson spots an opportunity to make a play in transition, he would be wise to exploit it. U of L should also be able to do some damage on the glass in this game the same they did against Duke last Saturday. Samuell Williamson and Jae’Lyn Withers need to view every shot on both ends as an opportunity for themselves to go make a play.
Own the glass, utilize your athletic advantage with a handful of transition scores, keep them from going nuts beyond the arc, and finally …. as always … we’re going to need some guys to step up and knock down some decent looks from three.
You gotta make shots, folks.
—Saturday is Senior Day for Louisville. Cardinals Malik Williams, Carlik Jones and Charles Minlend will be honored in a ceremony before the game and will address the crowd afterwards. U of L will be wearing its red uniforms, and fans attending the game are encouraged to wear red as well.
—Louisville has a 61-17 record in its conference home games over the last nine years (.773).
—Virginia has already earned the No. 2 seed for next week’s ACC tournament. Louisville can lock up the No. 3 seed with a win over the Cavaliers.
—Louisville is 2-10 against Virginia in ACC games, and 2-4 against the Cavaliers inside the KFC Yum Center. UVA is 6-2 in games at the Yum Center overall, scoring a Sweet 16 and regional final victory inside the building on their way to the 2019 national championship.
—Virginia is third in the nation in free-throw percentage (.804), third in fewest personal fouls per game (12.9), fifth in scoring defense (60.2 ppg) and eighth in three-point field goal percentage (.392).
—Louisville ranks fourth in the ACC in field goal percentage defense (.416) and scoring defense (66.2 ppg), and first in three-point field goal defense (.307).
—Virginia head coach Tony Bennett is 11-2 lifetime against Louisville.
—Carlik Jones is one of just two players in the ACC to rank among the top 10 in each of scoring (17.6 ppg, 4th in the ACC), assists (4.5 apg, 4th), steals (1.5, 6th), assists/turnovers ratio (2.00, 6th) and free-throw percentage (.826, 4th). He is the first player in U of L history to score in double figures in each of his first 18 games as a Cardinal.
—Virginia’s Jay Huff ranks first in the ACC in field goal percentage (.585), second in blocked shots (2.5), 12th in rebounding (7.0) and 18th in scoring (13.3).
—Virginia’s Tomas Woldetensae hit seven three-pointers and scored a career-high 27 points in the first meeting between these two teams last season.
—In ACC games, Louisville has averaged 12.1 offensive rebounds per game, the most of any team in the conference outside of North Carolina.
—Louisville has a 14-6 all-time record in games played on March 6. Perhaps its most significant win on the date came when it defeated No. 1 Syracuse in the last U of L game played at Freedom Hall.
—Under Tony Bennett, Virginia is 103-2 when holding opponents to fewer than 50 points.
—Louisville is 12-0 this season when shooting a better percentage from the field than its opponent.
—Virginia has finished at or higher than their predicted ACC finish in 11 of the last 12 seasons. They were picked to win the conference before the start of this season.
—UVA is 135-10 when scoring at least 70 under Tony Bennett.
—Louisville is 10-0 this season when it makes six or more three-pointers, and just 3-5 when failing to hit that mark.
—Louisville is 27-1 over the last two seasons when scoring at least 71 points, including 9-1 this season. The lone loss came at Miami.
—Since 2004, Louisville is 126-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.
—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.
—Louisville has won 155 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 18 seasons. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others. The Cardinals have only played 18 total games so far this season.
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Virginia 62, Louisville 60