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No. 8: Louisville Cardinals

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Midnight Madness is Friday. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 25-10 (12-6), 3rd in Big East (tied)
Lost in NCAA tournament first round

Coach: Rick Pitino, 245-96, 11th year (597-220 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2006

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: The Cardinals are healthy. Few teams dealt with more injuries last season than Louisville, which welcomes back a healthy Rakeem Buckles and forward Jared Swopshire, who missed all of last season with a groin injury. Both will vie for starting spots.

Even better? Those injuries gave others more playing time. That meant senior Chris Smith went from a former walk-on to starter and 3-point threat. Same for senior Kyle Kuric, who’s game isn’t as well-rounded as Smith’s but is a better shooter. And freshman Gorgui Dieng became a likely bench-warmer to shot-blocking menace.

Then there’s a fantastic group of incoming freshmen, led by guard Wayne Blackshear and forward Chane Behanan. They’ll be in the mix for starting spots and ample playing time

And leading them all is junior point guard Peyton Siva, who assumes Kemba Walker’s title as quickest guard in the Big East. He’ll create shots for others, for himself and torment defenses too slow to stop him.

The bad: There isn’t much to fret about … except that interior defense.

Louisville’s pressure defense did its usual thing in 2010-11: Created turnovers, harassed teams into poor shots. The result was one of the nation’s most efficient defenses, which usually resulted in easy transition baskets.

But one past that host of pressuring guards, opponents were able to score more easily and grab plenty of offensive rebounds. But hey, maybe that was Terrence Jennings’ fault. Regardless, if the interior defense, Pitino’s got a Final Four team.

The unknown: The freshmen might be more talented than guys like Smith, Kuric and Mike Marra. But those guys know Pitino’s system and play their roles within that system. Does Pitino stick with what’s worked or try his hand with guys who present a greater upside.

This is hardly the first time Pitino’s had loaded team. He’ll know how to manage the talent and any egos that emerge. The Cardinals have some decent tests before Big East play (Vandy and Memphis), but it’s mostly a batch of opponents that’ll let him find the right mix just before the real tests come along.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.