Normally, when it's January and Pitt and Louisville are playing each other, you know you're going to see a battle between a pair of ranked teams. So it sounded like a great option for ESPN's College GameDay.
Needless to say, nothing about this season is normal. For either squad.
You guys already know about Pitt's massive disappointing season, but if you haven't been paying attention, it's getting just as bad over in Louisville. The Cardinals, a preseason top ten team, started the season 12-0 before losing five of their next seven. Would you ever think at this point that Rutgers and South Florida have more Big East wins than Pitt or Louisville?
Louisville, though, has had to deal with multiple injury problems. The latest was to junior forward Rakeem Buckles, who is out for not just the rest of this season, but all of next season as well after tearing an ACL. The Cardinals have had a total of 8 different players at some point this season miss games due to injuries. For their game against the Panthers on Saturday, Louisville may be without Buckles, Mike Marra, Kyle Kuric, Stephan Van Treese, and stud freshman Wayne Blackshear. It's ugly over at the Palace of Fried Chicken.
With the Cardinals literally limping into the game Saturday, can Pitt knock them off and finally win a Big East game?I think this will be a great opportunity for Pitt to build off of what they've done against Marquette and Syracuse. Pitt played reasonably well in both, yet came up short both times. Now at home, in front of what should be a packed Pete for Gameday, Pitt has some momentum building. If they can knock off the Cardinals, Pitt can start making a small run to at least get out of the basement of the Big East. After Saturday's game, three of the next four are at home, with only one ranked foe amongst them in No. 10/12 Georgetown. Pitt plays Providence and Villanova at home and travels to Morgantown for the 1st half of the Backyard Brawl.
What has happened to Louisville since their undefeated run ended? The injuries haven't helped, but in their past seven games, Louisville hasn't shot particularly well, especially from three-point range. Louisville is 41 of 134 from behind the arc in their past seven games, which is just over 30% from the field. The problem, as you may see, is that Louisville shoots a lot of threes. They're averaging 19 attempts in these past seven games. Pitt will have to do a good job of shutting down the perimeter.
Pitt has to guard Chris Smith and Russ Smith well. With Kyle Kuric potentially out for Louisville, these are Louisville's best scorers, with both averaging double figures and can shoot from the perimeter. Shutting down Chris, who is shooting 42% from three-point distance is going to be especially important. In the front court, Gorgui Dieng is a force, averaging almost a double-double a game with ten points and nine rebounds. Pitt's big men are going to have to contain Dieng and keep him off the glass. Freshman forward Chane Behanan will also start for the Cardinals and he also is close to a double-double a game, averaging eight points and seven rebounds. The other guy to watch, obviously, is Peyton Siva. Siva is a great player for Rick Pitino and will likely be the one taking the final shot should this game come down to it.
Where Pitt can gain an edge is, like always, through its rebounding. The Cardinals are outrebounding their opponents by just two a game. Even in this losing streak, outside of the game against Rutgers, Pitt has done a good job of cleaning up the glass. The thing is, though, that they have to do a better job of scoring on those second chance opportunities.
Louisville is a good defensive team, allowing just 61 points a game. But they can be exploited. This is a team that just gave up 90 to Providence and more than 70 to Georgetown and Marquette. Part of that came at the free throw line. Louisville averages around 19 fouls a game, so Pitt will have many chances at the free throw line. But they have to make them. Against Syracuse, Pitt was a dreadful 12-23 from the line.
And of course, no preview of Louisville would be complete without bringing up the full court press. Pitino is going to throw it at the Panthers and you can bet Pitt will struggle against it. Normally, Pitt has an experienced ball handler running the point to help break the press, but this season, not so much. Again, the more defensive stops Pitt makes, the fewer number of times the Panthers will have to break the press. It's a good incentive, I think.
For those wondering, here is a schedule of events for GameDay:
8:30 A.M. Doors open for ESPN College GameDay show
10:00 A.M. Live College GameDay national broadcast on ESPNU
11:00 A.M. Live College GameDay national broadcast on ESPN
12:30 P.M. Doors open for Women's Basketball Game
2:00 P.M. Pitt Women's Basketball Game vs. West Virginia (Big East TV)
6:15 P.M. Building closes in preparation for men's basketball game
7:30 P.M. Doors open for Men's Basketball Game
8:00 P.M. Live College GameDay national broadcast on ESPN
9:00 P.M. Pitt Men's Basketball Game vs. Louisville (ESPN)