Long-time rivals collide at the KFC Yum! ranked Louisville Cardinals.
Memphis recently had a three-game win streak snapped by Murray State, 76-72, dropping the Tigers to 5-3 on the season. Their other two losses have come against Michigan and Georgetown, while their five wins have been over the likes of Belmont, Tennessee, Jackson State, Austin Peay and Miami-Florida. The Miami game was the first true road outing of the season for Memphis, and coach Josh Pastner's club will face both Georgetown and Tennessee again before opening Conference USA play at UAB on January 7.
One of only nine undefeated teams left at the Division I level coming into the weekend, Louisville has steamrolled the opposition for the most part this season. Only two of the team's nine victories have been by fewer than 13 points, and its 9-0 start is its best since the 1996-97 squad opened the year at 10-0. The Cardinals are coached by Rick Pitino, and they have won 17 consecutive home games -- their longest home winning streak since also taking 17 straight from February 1, 1988 to January 22, 1989. They are 27-2 in the two-year-old KFC Yum! Center. UofL is in the midst of a 10-game homestand, and the Cards will kick off Big East Conference action against Georgetown at home on December 28.
Louisville owns a 51-34 advantage in the all-time series with Memphis, and the Cardinals have won the last two meetings, the most recent of which was a thrilling 75-74 decision in the 2005 Conference USA Tournament title tilt.
Will Barton is making an early case for C-USA Player of the Year as he is averaging 20.4 points and 7.6 rebounds per game for a Memphis team that is putting up a robust 81.1 ppg while yielding 72.1 ppg. Joe Jackson is the only other Tiger netting double digits on a consistent basis, checking in with 13.4 ppg, and he hands out more than three assists per outing as well. Memphis is shooting 48.7 percent from the field, while converting nearly 39 percent of its three-point tries, and the team is two games over .500 on the year despite being outrebounded on average (-2.9). Barton put forth another impressive effort in the recent loss to Murray State, netting 27 points in hitting 10- of-13 field goal attempts. Jackson added 20 points and Tarik Black came off the bench to chip in 11 points and grab nine rebounds, but the Tigers shot 41 percent from the field and missed 13 of their 19 three-point tries. In contrast, Murray State nailed nine treys, and scored five more points than did Memphis at the foul line (21-16).
Louisville's success this season can be attributed to its play at the defensive end of the court as foes are scoring just 52.7 ppg in hitting only 34.6 percent of their total shots, and 30.5 percent of their three-point attempts. Favorable margins in both rebounding (+7.3) and turnovers (+3.3) have certainly helped, and Pitino's club has played unselfish basketball, averaging nearly 15 assists per outing. From an offensive standpoint, the Cardinals boast three double-digit scorers, and two others are close to joining them. Kyle Kuric (12.9 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Chris Smith (10.6 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Peyton Siva (10.3 ppg, 6.4 apg), Gorgui Dieng (9.9 ppg, 9.0 rpg) and Chane Behanan (9.2 ppg, 8.1 rpg) are the starting five, and they help the team put up 71.6 ppg behind 45.2 percent field goal efficiency. Kuric led UofL in its 80-58 win over Fairleigh Dickinson the last time out, scoring 18 points and pulling down six rebounds, while Siva tallied 16 points and a whopping nine assists, and Dieng logged a double-double with 14 points and 12 boards. FDU was held to just 35.6 percent shooting from the field, and the Cardinals claimed a resounding 50-36 rebounding advantage.