The Louisville Cardinals, who were ranked No. 1 in the nation just one month ago, are now 13th and on a two-game losing streak.
Fortunately for the Cardinals (11-3, 2-1 ACC), they will play host on Tuesday night to the Miami Hurricanes (9-4, 1-2), who have yet to show this season that they can hang with a top-20 team.
The Hurricanes are 0-2 against ranked teams this season, losing to then-No. 5 Louisville, 87-74, in their season opener on Nov. 5 and falling to No. 2 Duke in a 95-62 blowout this past Saturday.
In that first Louisville-Miami game, the Cardinals shot 54 percent from the floor and held the Canes to 43.5 percent.
“Louisville’s defense was outstanding, especially in the first 30 minutes,” Miami coach Jim Larranaga said. “They combined terrific defense with running their offense really well. They certainly deserve their high ranking.”
That ranking has been tumbling, however, including a six-spot drop in the past week. The Cardinals lost 78-70 at their rivals, the Kentucky Wildcats, on Dec. 28. Louisville then lost 78-65 to ACC opponent Florida State on Saturday, marking the Cardinals’ first home loss of the season.
Louisville’s 6-7, 225-pound forward Jordan Nwora, the preseason ACC Player of the Year, matched his career high with 32 points against Florida State, but Cardinals coach Chris Mack was not pleased with his backcourt.
“Our guards got manhandled,” Mack said. “Florida State shot over the top of them.”
Miami’s guards are nowhere near as tall as those at FSU, but they are dangerous. In fact, all three of Miami’s starting guards average more than 14 points per game — 5-7 point man Chris Lykes (15.3), 6-5 slasher Kam McGusty (14.9) and 6-3 long-distance shooter Dejan Vasiljevic (14.6). They combined for 46 points in that first matchup against Louisville.
In addition, all three of them are in either their third or fourth year of college, giving Miami excellent backcourt experience.
However, Louisville leads the all-time series against Miami 12-4, winning three of the past four, and the Cardinals will likely exploit mismatches with four key frontcourt players.
Nwora, who leads the ACC in scoring (21.0), on Saturday became the 69th player in Louisville history to surpass 1,000 career points. He had 23 points and 12 rebounds in that first Miami matchup and should feast again.
Louisville’s Steven Enoch, a 6-10, 260-pound senior, is another tough matchup for Miami. He had 11 points and 12 rebounds in that first game.
Malik Williams, Louisville’s 6-11, 250-pound junior, missed the first Miami game due to a foot injury. But, in Louisville’s past seven games, he and Enoch have split the center duties and have combined to average 20.0 points and 13.7 rebounds while shooting 54 percent from the floor.
Dwayne Sutton, a 6-5, 220-pound senior forward, is averaging 8.9 points and a team-high 8.5 rebounds.
With that quartet holding things down, it’s no surprise Louisville ranks 14th in the nation in field-goal-percentage allowed (37.2).
Miami’s top big men are 6-10 junior Sam Waardenburg, who has been dealing with tendinitis in his right knee, and 6-9 Florida Gators transfer Keith Stone, who has given the Hurricanes a lift off the bench.
Louisville’s key guards are junior point man Darius Perry, who leads the team with 58 assists; and senior shooter Ryan McMahon, who tops Louisville in 3-point percentage (42.7) along with Nwora.
Senior Lamarr Kimble and 6-7 freshman Samuell Williamson are two more Cards guards to watch. Williamson came off the bench to score 13 points in the first Miami game.
–Field Level Media