Ahead of tonight's game, we asked the good folks over at Card Chronicle a few questions about the team.
1. Louisville is undefeated and has the second-best adjusted defense in the country so far this year according to KenPom. How will a team that loves to play in transition like the Hoosiers match up against a Louisville team that loves to apply the press on defense?
It's an interesting matchup because I think it's the style that Louisville wants, especially after a couple of games against Ohio State and Cleveland State, two teams that were both really hesitant to push the pace. Minnesota definitely tried to get up and down with the Cards and didn't have a lot of success, but I think Indiana is more talented offensively than the Gophers were on opening night. That's a definite concern for a U of L team that has really struggled to put up points the last couple of weeks.
The other big concern for Louisville when it comes to the pace is depth. The Cards are razor thin right now, and you can't expect guys like Chris Jones and Terry Rozier to be on the floor for 37 or 38 minutes in a game like this. I think Pitino is still really hesitant to give big minutes to reserves like Quentin Snider and Anton Gill, so I would not be surprised at all to see Louisville do a lot more halfcourt trapping than full court stuff, especially once we get deep into either half.
2. Of course, this game is being played in Madison Square Garden, even though IU and U of L are only 100 miles apart. Is there any chance that we could possibly see these teams play a home-and-home against each other in the future?
I think so. I know Pitino has been saying publicly the last few years that he really wants it to happen, and I think it would be something that would be good for both programs. There's no excuse for two regional powerhouses to not play every year and to not do it in the region they represent.
3. I had the chance to check out the Cards at the Yum! Center last week for their ACC/B1G Challenge win over OSU. Louisville's defense was working well in the first half, but because of second-half offensive woes, the Cards couldn't put the Buckeyes away until the final minute. Who will be called on to provide the offensive firepower for Louisville this season?
As a preseason first team All-American, Montrezl Harrell is the obvious answer. He drew a lot of attention for hitting three out of four 3-point attempts against Minnesota on opening night, but he has gone 0-for-9 from beyond the arc since them. I think you're going to see Pitino sort of put the kabash on Harrell hanging out on the perimeter from this point forward, and that's probably going to be the best thing that could happen to Louisville's offense.
Point guard Chris Jones enters this game in the midst of a very public shooting slump. The fans have been on him and he is fully aware of it, which is why I think playing 800 miles away could be the best thing for him.
Off guard Terry Rozier was the guy everyone expected to make a massive leap this season, and while he's shown flashes of the ability that has him in so many mock drafts, he hasn't done it consistently enough to leave anyone feeling like he can be "the guy" who makes the offense go right now. He's tremendous in transition and is probably Louisville's best shooter off the bounce, but he's still a work in progress when it comes to the halfcourt offense.
4. Russ Smith, much like Teddy Bridgewater in football, was a transcendent player for Louisville the past few years. How have Terry Rozier and Chris Jones done in the backcourt thus far without Smith?
It has been kind of weird because we spent so much of the last three years talking about how hard it was for guys to playwith Russ, and now we're talking about how hard it is to play without him.
Russ was many things for the Cards in his career, and one of those was a crutch. When the halfcourt offense wasn't working, guys knew they could simply hand the ball to Russ and he was going to make something happen. Now that trump card is gone, and everyone's still figuring out how to adjust.
I think the biggest issue is that there are times where Chris Jones feels like he needs to be Russ now. He had been a score-first point guard his entire life, and it took him so long to adjust to his new role last season, but once he did he was fantastic. Now you sort of get the feeling that he entered this season with the mindset that it was his turn to get to be Russ. It hasn't worked out particularly well for him.
5. One of the concerns among Hoosiers fans this season is the size of our team. How much of a problem will 6-8 forward Montrezl Harrell and 6-10 center Chinanu Onawaku be for Indiana's frontcourt?
I think Harrell's the best power forward in the country, so that will definitely be an issue for IU. Onuaku has probably been the season's most pleasant surprise. Everyone had sophomore Mangok Mathiang penciled in as U of L's starter at the five before the season, but Chinanu has been in that spot since day one, and he seems to get better every game. He's still very much a work in progress offensively, but he arrived at U of L with an ACC-ready frame, and he's already proven himself to be a capable shot-blocker. His biggest concern right now is foul trouble, which is something he's been unable to master so far.
6. Senior Wayne Blackshear rounds out the Louisville starting lineup. Cards fans seemed frustrated with his play last season, but could his 22-point performance against OSU be a sign of better things to come this year?
Fans have taken to ironically calling Blackshear "Big Game Wayne" because of the way he seems to disappear in games against quality opponents, so yeah, I'm hoping that effort against OSU is a sign of things to come. Wayne's biggest issue is that he tends to hang out on the perimeter too much, especially if he hits an early outside shot or two. He has the size and all the tools, he's just never been able to get a handle on when to be aggressive and when to be passive. Of all the guys on the team, I'm most curious to see how he handles this game. It could be another OSU performance or it could be like so many other big games where you hardly notice that he was on the floor.
7. Football talk: Bobby Petrino had a successful first season in his second stint as Louisville head coach, going 9-3, defeating Notre Dame on the road, and beating rival Kentucky in dramatic fashion. How do you see Louisville's Belk Bowl game against UGA going, and who do you think will be the Cards' starting quarterback going into next season?
I think everyone's excited and I think they definitely have a good shot at winning that game. Historically, Louisville has always done really well in big games, and that's an opponent that the Cards can definitely get up for.
As for the quarterback situation, I could write 5,000 words here and we'd still be no closer to a legitimate answer. If Kyle Bolin does start and play well in the bowl game, then I think he's got a real shot at winning the job in the spring. But Reggie Bonnafon, who started half the season is a true freshman, is a guy the staff has been really high on since day one. Then you have the season's first starter, Will Gardner, who looked like he could be the future of the program before suffering his third major knee injury in four years. There's also Penn State transfer Tyler Ferguson who has generated a lot of buzz, and a couple of highly-touted true freshmen who will get a legitimate look if they wind up making it to campus.
Basically, there are like six different guys who could start the season-opener against Auburn.
8. Prediction: Who wins on Tuesday night and by how much?
I think Louisville wins, but I'm sufficiently concerned. The Cardinals always seem to drop a game exactly like this before New Year's, and Indiana has more than enough offense to expose their weaknesses. They're going to have to score, so I'll go U of L, 82-76.