A showdown of nationally-ranked teams is on tap for Friday night in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis when the second-ranked Louisville Cardinals take on the 13th-ranked Missouri Tigers at Imperial Arena in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
The winner will play either Duke or VCU in the championship game on Saturday night, while the losers will face off in the third place game.
Louisville advanced all the way to the Final Four last season and as a result it came into this year with very high expectations. So far, the Cardinals have lived up to their No. 2 ranking by winning their first three games at home and their opening round matchup of this tournament against Northern Iowa, 51-46.
Leading up to the tournament, Missouri opened up the season on a three-game homestand and it came away victorious in all three. In the opening round on Thursday, the Tigers faced off against Stanford, and they were able to cling onto a single-digit lead for the majority of the second half to hold off the Cardinal, 78-70.
Missouri leads the all-time series over Louisville, 2-1, but the teams haven't play one another since 1989.
The Cardinals appeared to be in great shape to run away with their opening round matchup after they found themselves up 18 points with 12 minutes to play, but UNI ripped off a 20-4 run to make it just a two-point game with 3:24 remaining. The ice-cold second half resulted in a lackluster shooting night for Louisville, which made just 19-of-62 from the field, including 5-of-22 from three-point range, and committed an uncharacteristic 20 turnovers. Russ Smith scored 16 points and chipped in five rebounds, five assists, and four steals, but no other player scored in double digits in the nail-biter. Despite their undefeated mark, the Cardinals have yet to live up to their shooting potential, as they are making just over 40 percent of their shots overall on the young season. Smith is far and away the team's top scorer (20.0 ppg), with Wayne Blackshear next in line (9.5 ppg).
The Tigers have been able to score more than 81 ppg and outscore their opponents by nearly a 20-point margin all despite shooting just 41.1 percent from the floor. With a team full of talented scorers, that number is bound to go up as the season progresses. Phil Pressey is one of the top guards in the SEC and he's proven so in the early going by scoring 16.0 ppg. The junior is more than just a scorer however, as he also leads the team in assists (22) and steals (nine), while only turning the ball over 10 times. Laurence Bowers is the Tigers' top frontcourt presence, putting up a team-high 16.3 ppg on greater than 58 percent from the field. Earnest Ross (12.5 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Alex Oriakhi (12.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg) have also been strong in the early going. In the opening round win over Stanford, Bowers (19 points, 10 rebounds) and Ross (10 points, 11 rebounds) both tallied double-doubles, but the team shot just 36.6 percent from the field.