The Louisville Cardinals are back to doing what they do best, creating turnovers and causing chaos. In the Cardinals lone loss of the season to North Carolina, Louisville was only able to force 14 turnovers. Since they had 14 of their own, they were unable to create extra possessions. This team is built on extra possessions, whether it’s turnovers or offensive rebounds, the Cardinals need those extra possessions or their likelihood of winning is drastically diminished.
After the loss to UNC, Louisville beat Southern Mississippi by 31 points, and that victory was fueled by forcing 22 turnovers and grabbing 15 offensive boards. Well, Louisville did the same thing again Wednesday night to UMKC; the Cardinals forced 20 turnovers and got 22 offensive rebounds on their 44 misses. If you can rebound half of your misses, you can cover up a lot of offensive deficiencies. Louisville is not a very good shooting team. Going into Wednesday, Louisville was shooting 45.4 percent from the field, which was good for 148th in the country, and they didn’t help their percentage any by shooting 42.9 percent against UMKC. Getting offensive boards, along with forcing turnovers, are the two main sources of offense for this team.
Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan lead the Cardinals in glass work, as the two combined for 12 offensive boards, and 18 total rebounds. The size and athleticism of those two make crashing the boards easy against cupcakes like UMKC and Southern Mississippi, but if Louisville has any hope in effectively defending their NCAA Championship, they need Harrell and Behanan to both be bigger against tough competition.
The same goes for the defense. Louisville likes to pressure the ball, and defend full-court, which is easy when you are playing teams that do not handle the ball well, or who aren’t as big or quick as you are. Against UNC the Cardinals did not force turnovers, which led to the Tar Heels shooting 52.4 percent. Getting stops is something that this team cannot do in the half-court; they need to create chaos that leads to turnovers, because in the half-court they are a below-average defensive team. Even against lowly UMKC, Louisville allowed the Kangaroos to shoot 46.0 percent. Causing mayhem is what this team has to do to win.
The leader of the mayhem show was Russ Smith, which should come as no surprise. Smith was the quarterback of this defense last year as Louisville won the title, and now he’s back to wreaking havoc again. Against UMKC he had three steals, all in the first half in a 10-minute span, which ballooned the Cardinals lead from 10 to 21. In the second half, Louisville kept up the pressure, and extended the lead, ending the game with a 90-62 victory.
Beating UMKC is what Louisville was supposed to do, but the way they did it is what will have Rick Pitino excited. Louisville is replacing Peyton Siva with Chris Jones at the guard spot next to Smith, and it has been more trying than anticipated. The crazy part is that the anticipated struggles were thought to have been on the offensive end. Instead, it has been the full-court defense that has been lacking. What we have seen from Louisville over the past two games is a team that is starting to get humming on defense. As long as that engine is purring, the Cardinals will stay in the race.
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