Thursday, December 18, 2008
This might get ugly, speaking of the upcoming Louisville/Minnesota tilt on Saturday. Ken Pomeroy has this as a 10 point win for the Cardinals, and gives them an 87% chance of winning, but I think he might be giving the Gophers too much credit.
This team is absolutely loaded, and they play a stifling brand of defense. They rank first in the country in defensive efficiency, and are in the top 25 in the country in several defensive metrics: offensive rebound % (4th), 3-pt fg % (8th), effective field goal % (13th), block percent (13th), and steal percent (21st). What does all that mean? It means they play absolute lock-down defense, and don't give you many second chances. The Gophers have been a very efficient offensive team this year, ranking 37th in the country in offensive efficiency, but they are absolutely going to have their work cut out for them on the offensive end.
And defensive too, for that matter. The Cardinals are not only an excellent offensive team, but they are a matchup nightmare. Their three top players are all 6-6 or bigger, and two of the three are threats from both inside and outside. Earl Clark is the smallest of the three, but might be the team's best overall player and would have likely been a first round draft pick if he came out last season. He's putting up 11.6 pts/8/1 rebs/3.4 assists per game this year, and almost put up a triple double against Ohio earlier this year. He isn't a major three point threat, but can hit it if needed, and has a great perimeter shot and can get to the rim almost at will.
If he isn't enough for you, how about 6-9 Terrence Williams, point forward extraordinaire. He leads the team in both rebounding (8.9 per game) and assists (4.9) - which he also led the Cardinals in last season - and chips in with 10.6 points per game as well. He's strong enough to take smaller players right down to the block and dominate, and can't be checked on the perimeter by bigger, slower players. Unfortunately for the Gophers, they only have one Damian Johnson, and they'll have to pick one of Clark or Williams for him to guard and pray to Jehovah that they figure out how to slow down the other one.
And we haven't even gotten to their leading scorer yet, the 6-9 freshmen and former high school player of the year Samardo Samuels. He's a bruiser (240 lbs.) who is coming off his first career double-double against Austin Peay with 21 pts and 12 rebounds. I don't think Williams has the quickness to slow him down, and I don't think either Iverson or Sampson are strong enough. Iverson is probably their best bet, but don't count on it.
Just in case you aren't nauseous yet, don't forget the Cardinals have four very good, lightning quick guards in Jerry Smith, Edgar Sosa, Preston Knowles, and Andre McGee, all of whom have better than a 1.4-1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, led by Jerry Smith at 3.3-1 and Knowles at 3-1 - both of whom also shoot the three at better than a 40% clip. Collectively, the team doesn't turn the ball over much at all (9th in the country in turnover %) and shares the ball well (3rd nationally in assists/made field goal ratio.
Give up? Yeesh. There is a bright spot here, kind of, and it's that the Cardinals have not really been tested yet. Their toughest test thus far has been Austin Peay, ranked 135th according to Kenpom (not counting tonight's game, against Ole Miss who is ranked 94th). They do have a lost in there, losing on a neutral floor (sound familiar?) to 134th ranked Western Kentucky 68-54 in a shocker, which, unfortunately, may have woken them up a bit.
Those are your bright spots. How can the Gophers win?
1. Figure out a way to turn the Cardinals over.
2. Iverson/Sampson are able to keep Samuels in check
3. Someone, and I have no idea who, helps out Damian Johnson and they figure out a way to slow down both Clark and Williams.
4. Nolen and company are able to keep Smith and company out of the lane (this one is actually possible)
5. Shamala and Busch don't get anywhere near the court, and Hoff plays sparingly since none of the three can possibly guard anyone on Louisville's roster, including the walkons.
6. The Gophers are able to keep the game at their pace (Gophers play very slowly (259th), Louisville very quickly (30th))
7. The Gophers are able to take advantage of every possession, and play an extremely efficient game to go along with their slow pace - something like 55% from the floor, 50% from three, and less than 10 turnovers.
8. Louisville is just flat cold. In their loss against Western Kentucky, the shot just 26% (20% from three), even though WKU is a pretty bad defensive club. A little luck like that, maybe because of the neutral court, would go a long way.
9. Al Nolen plays the game of his life on the offensive end, figuring out ways to get the offense going despite the suffocating Louisville defense
10. Some kind of miracle.
So that's it. That's all that has to happen for the Gophers to win. Can they do it? Sure, I guess. Cleveland State just won at Syracuse, so pretty much anything is possible. Just not likely. Louisville 77, Gophers 55. But to make you feel better, here's a nice Louisville (pronounced Lou-uh-vull) fan: