Russ Smith is a problem and he wears super cool knee pads (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Tonight is the annual battle of I-71. This game is always an important one for the historical reasons. For bragging rights etc. All those reasons hold for this game as well, but the importance of this game goes beyond the rivalry. UC is in need of another emphatic statement win for the tournament resume. Beating Louisville is no guarantee of tournament inclusion because of the Blue Hose problem, but it lightens the task considerably. To get it done tonight in a Black Out UC will need to do three things.
Win The Three Point Line
UC and Louisville are very similar teams in the offensive approach. Both teams are filled with shooters who space the floor and can knock down shots. They feature the three point shot in the offense and are very proficient in knocking them down.
On the other side of the ball neither club defends the three point line with any great consistency. To gain an edge for two teams that are freakishly similar statistically one team will have to defend the three point line to a greater extent than they have shown to date.
The Russ Smith Problem
The major advantage for Louisville is that they can bring on one of the most dynamic scorers in the conference off the bench. Smith is a nightmare for defenses because he plays with a manic sense of purpose. A purpose that appears lost on his teammates for long stretches. Smith is that guy at the pick up game who defies all that we know about basketball wisdom time after time, and yet gets away with it.
Outside of Ge'Lawn Guyn the Bearcats don't have anyone who can guard Smith with much of any effectiveness if Smith is on. The good news is that Smith swings wildly between on and off game to game. For the last two weeks he has rotated game by game in the on and off position. He was on against DePaul, hopefully he will be off tonight.
This is the only area where UC has a clear advantage over Louisville, particularly at home. The Bearcats simply must win the turnover margin to get easy buckets. This isn't a vintage Louisville defense by any stretch. But they are hard to work against in the half court because they have ball hawks at the guard spots. Guys who might not be great on ball defenders but who are free to take risks with Gorgui Dieng lurking behind to erase mistakes. UC must turn the cards over to create easy buckets in transition
What's your key to the game? Drop it down below in the comments.