By Tyler Leli @jetleli on March 25, 2014
The Louisville Cardinals found life tough during the opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament, as they barely squeaked by Manhattan and then found Saint Louis to be another tough matchup. Now Rick Pitino and company head into the Sweet 16 where they will face off with the University of Kentucky, a game that will surely be their most difficult of the 2014 NCAA Tournament. These are the five players they need to step up to win and advance.
During the NCAA Tournament one player can win a game by getting hot shooting the ball, and Luke Hancock has the potential to do this. The senior small forward has a 33.9 percent mark from three-point range but went 6-for-17 from this distance during the opening two games of the NCAA Tournament. Over those two games Hancock played 65 minutes and scored 37 points, showing he can score big despite not being a physical specimen.
Louisville will have to counter the size of Kentucky's Willie Cauley-Stein and Dakari Johnson during the Sweet 16, and Stephan Van Treese is the only veteran player the Cardinals have who can do this. Van Treese isn't quite as big as his counterparts, but he is bulky enough to fight hard in the lane and has averaged 9.3 rebounds per game the last six games. Louisville will find it hard to win if Van Treese doesn't contain Kentucky's big men.
Winning the battle on the perimeter will be important in the Sweet 16, and Louisville will need Chris Jones to live up to his potential to do this. Jones isn't the biggest guy in the world, but he is quick, battles hard and is a great defender. If Jones can play 30 minutes of good, hard basketball, then Louisville will counter the offensive effect of Kentucky's guards and guys like Montrezl Harrell and Russ Smith will find it easier to score.
Ultimately Louisville needs their top guys to show up during the Sweet 16, and forward Montrezl Harrell can definitely be described as a big gun. Harrell is dominant physically as he is unstoppable at the rim and creates foul problems for opposing players. During the current season Harrell has averaged 29.2 minutes per game, 14.0 points, 8.4 rebounds and a 60.5 percent field goal percentage, totals he needs to replicate to move past the Sweet 16.
Russ Smith is one of the best players in all of college basketball, and Louisville will rely on him when things get tough. Smith has great speed, ball handling skills, isn't afraid to attack the rim, can shoot from distance and has experience winning big time games. All in all, there isn't much that Smith can't do at the position of point guard, and as long as his head is spun on straight he will be the man Louisville relies on to win.
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