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:
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.
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.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:
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.
CBT PREDICTION: Louisville