The Cardinals (3-20, 1-11 ACC) are in the midst of an outstandingly horrific year that has seen losses to Lenoir-Rhyne, Wright State, and Lipscomb, but that doesn’t mean this contest should be considered over before it starts. This is still a historic program, and if there’s any sport that truly anything can happen, it’s college basketball.
Louisville and Pitt have matched up once already this season, a game in which Pitt left the KFC Yum! Center with a resounding 75-54 win. The contest was highlighted by Greg Elliott’s best offensive output of the year (23 PTS on 9-12 shooting) as well as a double-double from Jamarius Burton (10 PTS 11 AST). Louisville was led in scoring by G El Ellis with 19.
To be frank, there isn’t much the Cardinals are doing well this season. Not only is Louisville the worst team in the ACC offensively in terms of points-per-game, but their 63.4 ppg ranks 335th in D1 basketball. Kenpom ranks the Cardinal offense 298th in the country, sandwiched between Lehigh and Southern.
On the defensive end, the stats aren’t much better. The Cardinals have allowed 74.7 ppg so far this season, better than only Florida State in the ACC. Kenpom does like Louisville’s defense a bit more, ranking them 263rd in the nation.
All of this is a way of saying that Pitt simply cannot lose this game. The Panthers are struggling to build momentum in key metrics that go into deciding tournament seeding and a second Q4 loss for Pitt would be extremely detrimental to any hope of avoiding a trip to Dayton for the First Four.
So, how do they do it? The recipe for success against a team like Louisville has been simple. Turn their offensive incompetence into your benefit by means of points off of turnovers. Louisville’s assist/turnover ratio is 0.58 (the next lowest is 1.00) and the Cardinals average 16.1 TO a game. Pitt exploited that weakness in their prior matchup, winning the turnover battle by a margin of 17-13, generating 25 points off of those 17 Louisville miscues.
Louisville, as any inexperienced team does, suffers from lapses in communication. It’s no surprise the Panthers had 21 assists, one off their season-high, against them last time out. The Cardinals can be broken down by decisive work from pass-first guards. In that context, it makes sense how Burton was able to generate 11 assists and how Elliott, a proprietor of the catch-and-shoot, dropped 23 last time out. If the ball moves with intention, an open man can be found.
If Louisville did one thing better than Pitt last time out, it was the play in the post. The Panthers only generated one-second chance point, while Louisville produced 15. The Cardinals edged Pitt in the rebounding battle 34-33 as well as points in the paint, leading that by a margin of 24-20. It was an uncharacteristic display out of both squads, with Pitt’s underperformance coinciding with a strong showing from a Louisville frontcourt that (shocker) is not normally a good rebounding team. Pitt is third in the ACC in total rebounding margin, and Louisville is 11th. If the Panthers can improve that aspect of their game this time out, they’ll hold just about every single advantage possible over the Cardinals.