The Battle 4 Atlantis begins Thursday night for No. 2 Louisville when the Cardinals host a Samford team hungry for a major upset at the KFC Yum! Center.
It will be a difficult task for Samford to try to get a win on the road in this matchup. Beyond the fact that the Cardinals are considered one of the best teams in the nation, the Bulldogs went just 4-10 on the road last season. This season Samford has split its first two games with a loss at Austin Peay (75-64) and a win over an NAIA squad Martin Methodist (59-40). Samford faces another ranked opponent on the road in its next matchup against No. 17 Memphis.
For Louisville this much anticipated season got off to a solid start with the Cardinals breezing by Manhattan (79-51) in its season opener. Much is expected of Rick Pitino's unit after the squad advanced to the Final Four last season and finished 30-10 overall. Louisville will travel to the Bahamas for a matchup with Northern Iowa in the next leg of the Battle 4 Atlantis, which is held over the Thanksgiving weekend.
This will mark the first matchup between these two teams.
Samford played some tenacious defense against Martin Methodist holding the RedHawks to just 27.1 percent shooting, including a 5-of-25 effort from the floor in the first half. For its part Samford shot 44.9 percent in the game and had 17 assists to just four by Martin Methodist.
Forward Tim Williams has powered Samford on both ends of the floor in the early going. He is averaging a double-double (18.0 ppg, 10.0 rpg) while also collecting 2.5 steals and blocking 2.0 shots per game. Teaming with Williams in the starting front line is Tyler Hood, who has been consistent with nine points in each games, while bringing in 5.5 rebounds per game. In the win over Martin Methodist, Williams had 23 points and 10 boards. In the backcourt Raijon Kelly has run the show from the point. Kelly has dished out 5.5 assists per game through the first two contests and is also scoring well (11.5 ppg). The Bulldogs could really stand to improve their shooting from beyond the arc going forward. In the first two games the Bulldogs knocked down only 9-of-47 shots from three-point range.
Louisville prided itself on its defense last season, allowing only 61.0 points per game. The Cardinals got right back to that level of production against Manhattan, holding the Jaspers to just 35.7 shooting, including a feeble 5- of-19 effort in the first half. Louisville kept up the pressure in the game and scored 32 points on 27 turnovers.
Russ Smith was the lead scorer in the win over Manhattan, pouring in 23 points while also collecting a team-high five assists. Smith is the top returning scorer from last year's squad (11.5 ppg) on a team that relied more on a balanced offensive attack. George Mason-transfer Luck Hancock played well enough in his first game with the Cardinals, scoring eight points while collecting four steals. Point guard Peyton Siva (9.1 ppg, 5.6 apg last season) played a team-high 34 points and looked plenty healthy after an ankle injury slowed him last season. Siva had a double-double with 10 assists to match his 10 points. Chane Behanan (8 points, 9 rebounds) also had a good first game while defensive enforcer Gorgui Dieng, who led the Big East in blocks per game last season, played just 20 minutes.