Louisville has a lot to be thankful for this Thanksgiving: its oppressive defense, future Hall of Fame head coach and rabid fan base. Above all, however, the Cardinals should be thankful that it’s only November, because their half-court offense is in dire need of a facelift. Without one, this team is sure to fall short of gargantuan preseason expectations.
Final Score: Louisville over Northern Iowa, 51-46
Twitter-compatible recap: L-Ville forces 21 turnovers, commits 20. Cold shooting Cards survive late 17-2 run by UNI in controversial finish. Ugly, ugly offense.
Controversial finish. With Louisville leading by a deuce and the shot clock winding down, Peyton Siva’s errant scoop shot with six seconds remaining on the game clock bounced into the arms of Northern Iowa forward Nate Buss. Buss snatched the rebound, but gave the ball back to the Cards on a tie-up called on the floor. Replay confirmed a Louisville defender draping over Buss’ back, an obvious foul that should have sent the Panthers forward to the line for a chance to tie. Instead, Russ Smith scored on a conventional three-point play off the in-bounds and that that was all she wrote.
Selfish offense. Both teams were guilty of this, but we pick on the Cards in particular because of the No. 2 ranking preceding their name. Louisville committed the dreaded statistical sin, racking up more turnovers as a team (20) than assists (12) by a wide margin, no less. Northern Iowa owned a contemptible 8:21 assist to turnover ratio itself, which borders on historic awfulness, but Louisville, not UNI, is the team wielding a ‘Final Four or bust’ mission statement. Siva played all night in his own world, as if he were reenacting a game of one-on-one on the playground. The Cardinals point guard attempted 12 shots, turned the ball over four times, yet only recorded one assist. Suffice to say, that type of effort won’t cut it on Friday in the semifinals against Phil Pressey and Missouri.
Lethal defense: The defense has been the great cosmetic for a Louisville team that is borderline dysfunctional offensively this early in the season. The Cardinals were gnats on defense Thursday night, suffocating the Panthers and forcing 21 turnovers in all. Despite ranking 103rd in the nation last season in adjusted offensive efficiency, L-Ville rode the No. 1 defense in the nation (as measured by adjusted defensive efficiency) into the Final Four. Why is Louisville still a bona fide title threat despite its ineptitude in the half-court? Its defense is even better this year than last.
…But the Cards still can’t shoot: Louisville will still need to shoot appreciably better to actualize that championship potential. The Cards hit just five of their 22 3-point attempts in the Thursday’s quarterfinal, and for the season are shooting just 29-percent from long distance. Louisville couldn’t shoot last year, even with two deadeye shooters—Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric—patrolling the wing. You can imagine the task at hand now that Smith and Kuric are no longer part of the equation.
Northern Iowa a player in the MVC: Creighton, Illinois State and Wichita State certainly won’t make it easy, but make no mistake, Northern Iowa is a legitimate contender in the Missouri Valley Conference this year. That is, provided that the team’s star player doesn’t repeat his quarterfinal performance again. In his first true statement game in college, sophomore floor general Deon Mitchell didn’t exactly seize the moment. The electric guard was flustered by Louisville’s on-ball pressure (he won’t be the only one), committing more turnovers (7) than he scored in points (6). As sloppy as the Cardinals were offensively, be mindful of giving the Panthers credit. After all, defense is their calling card too. If UNI can take Louisville down to the wire—after scoring just four points over the first 12 minutes of the second half and without the team’s star player do anything productive—there’s no program in American with whom it can’t compete. That 17-2 run in the blink of an eye, which trimmed a late, 18-point deficit to one, was masterful.