The fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals take to the court for the first time since suffering their only loss of the season, as they welcome the Illinois State Redbirds to the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday afternoon.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals won their first five games of the season and certainly looked the part of a top-five team along the way. However, in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas last Saturday, Louisville met its match, falling to now No. 2 Duke, 76-70.
The Redbirds have followed a similar path in the early going. Illinois State also opened the year with five straight wins, only to lose in its sixth game, last weekend's 72-69 overtime decision against Northwestern in the South Padre Invitational. ISU returns four starters from a team that won 20 games a year ago and is well on its way to another highly successful campaign.
This is just the second time these two teams are meeting on the hardwood. The first came back in 1974 and resulted in a 117-107 shootout win for Louisville at Freedom Hall.
Tyler Brown did what he could to push the Redbirds to victory over Northwestern last weekend, but his career-high 36 points weren't enough in the end. The Redbirds committed 20 turnovers in the game and were outscored 23-10 at the free-throw line. Brown was 12-of-20 from the floor, including a sizzling 7-of-13 from 3-point range. Jackie Carmichael provided support with a double-double consisting of 13 points and 12 rebounds. No other Redbird netted more than five points in the loss.
Illinois State has played well at both ends of the floor this season and the result is an impressive +18.5 scoring margin. The team has really thrived offensively, shooting 50.5 percent from the field overall and putting up 85.0 ppg. The team is shooting just under 40 percent from behind the arc, but is converting just over eight 3-pointers per game (8.2). Brown and Carmichael have been an effective one-two punch, averaging 18.8 and 16.2 ppg, respectively. Both players are shooting over 50 percent from the floor, but Carmichael is closing in on 60 percent (.585). Bryant Allen adds perimeter depth at 13.0 ppg and teams with Brown for 31 of the team's 49 3-pointers to date.
Louisville's first loss of the season coincided with the unavailability of center Gorgui Dieng (broken wrist). More known for his defensive play, Dieng (8.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg) will be sorely missed for the next month or so. In the loss to Duke, it was the backcourt tandem of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith that led the way, posting 19 and 17 points, respectively. Louisville also got a nice game from freshman Montrezl Harrell, who posted 10 points in 20 minutes of work off the bench.
Known for their defensive tenacity, it remains to be seen just how Louisville will miss Dieng. The team still enters this contest as one of the top defensive teams in the nation, holding opponents to just 54.5 ppg (19th nationally), forcing 21.0 turnovers per game and enjoying a +9.3 rebounding margin. The team also has a potent scorer in Smith. The 6-0 junior is averaging a hefty 19.2 ppg this year. Siva (10.3 ppg) is also playing at a high level, but more as a distributor (6.3 apg). The two guards have really caused problems for the opposition defensively as well, combining for 35 steals over the first six games. Needing to step up along the front line is forward Chane Behanan (8.5 ppg, 8.5 rpg).