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Sweet 16 Preview: No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky

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On Wednesday and Thursday, we will be breaking down all eight of the Sweet 16 matchups. Here is our look at No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 8 Kentucky:

RELATED: Sweet 16 Power Rankings | Top 16 Players | Eight Critical Individual Matchups

WHEN: Friday, 9:45 p.m.

WHERE: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis (Midwest Region)

MAJOR STORY LINES: Louisville is looking to make their third straight Final Four and repeat as national champs, and they have a real chance of making that happen. Kentucky was the preseason No. 1 in the country, spent the first four months of the season underperforming and limiting expectations, and then they went out and played up to their potential for the first time all season while handing Wichita State their first loss of the year.

And, you know, it’s Louisville vs. Kentucky.

KEY STATS: Louisville is currently sitting at No. 3 in KenPom’s rankings in large part due to the fact that their defense is No. 2 in adjusted efficiency. And the reason their defense is that good is because they rank second nationally in defensive turnover percentage. Kentucky can be turnover prone at times, particularly Andrew Harrison. If Louisville is going to win, they are going to need Russ Smith, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier to wreak havoc on Kentucky’s guards, turning this into an uptempo game.

SWEET 16 PREVIEWS: Stanford-Dayton Wisconsin-Baylor | Florida-UCLA | Arizona-SDSU

Iowa State-UConn | Michigan-Tennessee | Virginia-Michigan State | Louisville-Kentucky

KEY PLAYERS: The most important matchup is going to be between the two back courts, but the most entertaining battle is going to be waged between Julius Randle and Montrezl Harrell. Randle was arguably the most talented player in the SEC this past season, a powerhouse power forward that is capable of utter domination in the paint. Harrell isn’t as highly-regarded by NBA types as Randle is, but he’s got a shot at being a lottery a pick largely because he is capable of … utter domination in the paint. This will be fun.

POINT SPREAD: It started at Louisville (-5.5) and is down to Louisville (-4) in some places.


1. Stephen Van Treese and Kentucky’s board work: Louisville does not have a big front line. Kentucky’s front line is as big and athletic as many NBA teams. Van Treese doesn’t need to be dominant, but he absolutely must have an impact on this game, especially on the glass. Louisville is 264th nationally in defensive rebounding percentage. Kentucky is second in offensive rebounding percentage. That’s a major, major concern.

In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the winner will likely be determined by whether or not Louisville gets more points off of turnovers than Kentucky gets off of second chance points.

2. Three-point shooting: Louisville is known for playing a lot of zone while Kentucky has made a 2-3 zone a priority late in the season. Who can take advantage of the looks they good over the zone? Kentucky shoots 32.7% from three. Louisville shoots 37.0%.

3. Which Russ Smith shows up?: Russ was a first-team all-american this season, and rightfully so. But he shot 6-for-19 from the floor and committed 13 turnovers in the first two games of the tournament while collecting just two steals. Those numbers simply won’t cut it.


No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.