The Layup Line: Louisville

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

2 nationally ranked teams. Primetime. ESPN. 12-game winning streak. Undefeated in conference play. Need more?

When the Bearcats pulled out to a 19-point lead in the second half against Temple, I began penning my eulogy. Yeah, I know it was ballsy, but you can't pick any fruit without going out on a limb, right? Although - you can't write preview articles on this website if the team you pick to win ends up losing by 20. State law.

Lucky for me Unfortunately, the Bearcats eased off the gas and Temple and Dalton Pepper happened. So what looked like the worst prediction in the history of college basketball ended up not-so embarrassing. Sort of. I think?

Let's pretend it never happened, and we'll move on to the 99th meeting between the Cardinals and Bearcats. Here's what you're thinking: there's no way the guy that picked the 'Cats to lose to Temple will pick them to beat the Cardinals. And to that I say: stay tuned...

  • Game: Thursday, January 30, 2014; 7:00pm EST
  • Location: The YUM Center; Louisville, KY
  • TV/Radio: ESPN; 700 WLW

Let's get the obvious out of the way: the Louisville Cardinals (17-3) are good. Maybe elite? The best team Cincinnati has played this year, statistically speaking. Yeah, they have holes, but the fact the 'Cats have more than a puncher's chance should tell you something. How'd you feel about this matchup immediately following that Xavier loss?

In other words, we've come a long way.

The Cardinals, as you probably know, are led by Russ Smith (#02) and his 18.1 points a game. But in AAC play, Russ has stepped it up a notch - averaging 20.1 on 46% FG shooting. And he's not alone on offense: 4 other Cardinals are averaging double digit points this season. In fact, UL leads the AAC in points per game (83.2) AND scoring margin (+21.4).

But I'm not as scared of this matchup as I probably should be - partly because I think the 'Cats match up well down low. Oh - and Justin Jackson will play; I'm not worried at all. I think Mick's recent comments are an exercise in gamesmanship. There's no way Mr. Mean Face warms up at halftime of the Temple game if there was any doubt about structural damage to his ankle.

Anyway, the key to Thursday's game, in my humble opinion, is 6'8" Montrezl Harrell (#24). He and Smith are the only 2 Cardinals that have started all 7 AAC games. During conference play, Harrell's leading UL in blocks (1.5), and is scoring 12.3 a game. I actually think Jackson/Rubles can neturalize him on offense; my concerns are on the glass, though (read: keep reading).

I picked the crazy upset last game, and it almost happened. So, basically, I've got my mojo back...

What the 'Cats have to do to win:

  • Keep Harrell off the glass. He's averaging 9.4 boards a game in conference play, and no other Cardinals are close. Limit his boards and UC could come away with a positive rebounding margin.
  • Make a difference beyond the arc. No, this doesn't mean jack up three's; it means UL is 2nd in the conference from deep (.375), and 1st in defending the trey (.299). On defense: guard the arc and let JJ erase defensive mistakes. On offense: don't settle for anything less than wide open.
  • Somebody, score. Shaq's averaging over 8 points a game in conference play, and the 'Cats will need all 8 (and more) against UL's defense. Whether it's him or Sanders or Caupain or whoever - someone has to put the ball in the hoop besides JJ and SK. The Bearcats need 3 guys in double digits when the buzzer sounds if they want to be victorious.

My prediction: It's hard to win at Louisville - just look at last year's 16 point drubbing at the Yum Center. But I wouldn't be shocked if the 'Cats pulled off the upset on the road; would you? In the end, though, UL has too much fire power on offense, and I don't trust the Bearcats on the glass just yet. Really hope they prove me wrong: Cardinals win 68-61.

And that's the roller coaster ride that is the Layup Line...

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