Louisville didn’t play their best game on Friday night against the Oregon Ducks, and if it wasn’t for the continued exceptional play of Russ Smith, they may have lost. Smith finished with 31 of the Cardinals’ 77 points, giving him 81 total points in the three NCAA Tournament games – an absurd total. With Peyton Siva in foul trouble right from the start, Smith was forced to predominantly run the point, and it was noticeable that their offensive flow wasn’t as fluid as in games past. Also, the Ducks were fearless, willing to run with the Cards and never backing down, even with a 14 point deficit entering the second half. In the end it got a bit tense, but Oregon could never get closer than eight and the Cardinals eventually went on to win 77-69.
Louisville now gets the Duke Blue Devils on Sunday night with a trip to the Final Four on the line. This game is actually a rematch from earlier in the season – Duke beat Louisville 76-71 on November 24th in the Bahamas in the Battle 4 Atlantis championship game.
I’m guessing that Louisville will gladly trade that championship for a ticket to the Final Four.
In that first meeting between the two teams Louisville was missing a significant piece from their lineup – center Gorgui Dieng. In their previous game, a win over Missouri, Dieng fell awkwardly on his wrist which was later discovered to be fractured – sidelining him for six weeks and leaving a major hole in Louisville’s lineup.
While Mason Plumlee has had an exceptional season, he cooled off a bit once conference play began. But before that, he was playing out of his mind in November and December. Every single starter that night against Louisville finished with double digit points, but he led the way with 16 points and seven rebounds.
Having Dieng in the lineup this time around is obviously a significant difference, especially when matching up with Plumlee, but it doesn’t mean we should necessarily expect the results to be different.
The biggest key to Louisville’s success will be Peyton Siva staying on the floor. He has gotten into foul trouble far too often throughout the season, including Friday night, and without him the offense tends to struggle. Russ Smith, who deserves to have the ball in his hand as much as possible and who should have a green light at all times, cannot be expected to direct the offense. Siva’s job is to be the quarterback, and when he does the offense opens up. It’s imperative that he is out there as much as possible – they likely wouldn’t be here without the sensational play of Russ Smith all season, but they need Siva, their floor general, moving forward.
Duke could not have executed much better against Michigan St. Friday night, grabbing control of the game from the get-go and never relinquishing it. Louisville will have to play much better than they played against Oregon if they want to avenge their loss from earlier in the season. There isn’t much room for error at this point in the tournament, so sloppy play and a lack of a point guard won’t get it done.
Coach Pitino vs. Coach Krzyzewski. Peyton Siva vs. Quinn Cook. Russ Smith vs. Seth Curry. Gorgui Dieng vs. Mason Plumlee. Luke Hancock vs. Ryan Kelly. A trip to the Final Four on the line. Does it get much better than this?