Blogger So Dear (BSD): Sunday night will be Louisville's entrance to the ACC as the Cardinals head to Winston to take on Wake Forest. Is there any concern among the Louisville fan base that it will be anything other than a dominating victory for L'Ville?
Card Chronicle (CC): Oh there's definitely concern about this game, mostly for reasons specific to Louisville and not necessarily about Wake Forest. For one, this is only Louisville's second true road game and the first, while a win, resulted in a fight that cost Montrezl Harrell an additional game in suspension for throwing a punch. Second, Louisville has managed to go braindead on the offensive end in almost every game for some stretch that lets lesser opponents hang around. Right now, there's no reason to expect that to stop. Third, Rick is still clearly trying to get through to certain players (ahem, Chris Jones) the necessity of playing as a team. So yeah, some concern.
BSD: Terry Rozier is currently ranked #7 in Ken Pomeroy's player of the year award. Describe to Wake fans who may not have seen him play before what makes him so dangerous.
CC: Terry's really, really good getting into the lane off the dribble and off pick and roll set plays, and finishing at the basket. I've been a little disappointed in his perimeter shooting so far, but he's strength has been either in transition or in the half court, finishing at the rim even against bigger players. And, while he's struggled from three at times, he hit a huge basket late to help seal the win over Ohio State and he took over the game at Western Kentucky in Harrell's absence.
BSD: Other than Rozier who is a player you expect to have a big night/big year in ACC play?
CC: Well, Montrezl Harrell is that guy for Louisville. He's displayed a bit better mid-range game but he's at his best in the post and with lobs or put backs on offensive rebounds. Any game where Rozier and Harrell are getting to the basket is likely going to be a game Louisville can win. The challenge all year for Louisville has been finding that third consistent scorer to go with them.
BSD: Rick Pitino's squad has fared extremely well this year en route to a 12-1 record. The only blemish is, of course, a 58-50 defeat to Kentucky. Do you think that loss will linger with the team moving into ACC play, or will they put it behind them and focus on what is ahead?
CC: I don't think the loss itself will linger because I don't think there's anyone that can roll out five or six 6'10 or taller players like Kentucky. But I do fear the issues the game exposed, things like the unwillingness to stick with structured half-court offensive plays and the lack of consistent perimeter shooting, will remain issues when Louisville plays Duke, Carolina, or Virginia.
BSD: Defensively Louisville is outstanding, ranking 2nd in KenPom, but the offense is a pedestrian 69th and struggled immensely vs. UK. Is that problematic moving forward or do you believe those numbers will improve as the team plays more together?
CC: I think it can marginally improve, but, the biggest problem is guys, experienced guys, just miss too many jumpshots. That can certainly improve throughout the season (Louisville saw this happen in the miraculous Final Four season three seasons ago) but it doesn't just go away. If Louisville is able to improve to just an "ok" three-point shooting team, they're a Final Four caliber team. If they don't, they aren't.
BSD: What is your prediction for the game Sunday night? Enjoy the motorcycle fumes and a fan base drunk on wine coolers!!!
CC: Hey we know a little about drunkeness and motorcycle…HEY! Anyway, I think Wake's own offensive struggles matched against Louisville's defense will be too much to pull the upset at home, but I suspect this will hover around a single-digits kind of game deep into the second half. I'll say Louisville 70 Wake Forest 59.