A marquee matchup is on tap at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday, as the Louisville Cardinals put their number one ranking on the line against the seventh-ranked Syracuse Orange.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals have gone about their business quietly this season, biding their time to claim the top spot in the rankings. The lone loss on the season came against Duke back in late November. Since then, Louisville has run off 11 straight wins, including a flawless 4-0 mark to start Big East play. The team solidified itself as the top team in land by besting a tough Connecticut squad on the road on Monday, 73-58.
Jim Boeheim's Orange are sporting an identical 16-1 record thus far. Syracuse's lone loss came to a tough Temple squad on Dec. 22. The Orange have won six straight since then and moved to 4-0 in league play with last weekend's 72-61 win over Villanova.
Louisville holds a 13-6 advantage in the all-time series with Syracuse, including a 7-2 mark at home.
Syracuse used a game-high 22 points from C.J. Fair to propel it to its 34th straight win at home over Villanova, extending the nation's longest current win streak. Freshman Jerami Grant added 13 points off the bench, while Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams chipped in with 10 points apiece. Syracuse, which trailed by two points at the half, converted 54.6 percent from the field over the final 20 minutes to earn the win. A key component of that was a steady 18-of-22 from the free-throw line in the second half.
The Orange are as balanced as any team in the country, with the ability to win at either end of the floor, evidenced by its gaudy +21.2 scoring margin. The team is netting an impressive 79.0 ppg, while holding opponents to just 57.8 and ranking among the nation's best in field-goal percentage defense (.354). The scoring depth is solid with a quartet of double-digit contributors. Triche leads the way at 14.1 ppg. Fair is next in line (13.8 ppg) and is tops on the boards (7.1 rpg). James Southerland (13.6 ppg) is a catalyst off the bench and Carter-Williams is simply a complete player, as the sophomore averages 11.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and a national-best 9.4 assists per game.
The Cardinals are a mirror image of the Orange in that the team has more than enough firepower to win shootouts, but can also grind out defensive wins as well. Louisville enjoys a +20.5 scoring margin, averaging 76.9 ppg, while giving up a mere 56.4. A potent backcourt is headlined by prolific scorer Russ Smith and his 18.9 ppg, while point guard Peyton Siva can both score (11.8 ppg) and get others involved (5.6 apg). The frontcourt is bolstered by forwards Chane Behanan (11.4 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Wayne Blackshear (8.9 ppg) and center Gorgui Dieng (9.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg).
Smith and Behanan provided the necessary offense in this week's win over UConn, finishing with 23 and 16 points, respectively. Siva chimed in with 11 points, while Dieng (six points), owned the glass, hauling in 16 rebounds. Louisville shot an even 50 percent from the floor in the game and overcame a six-point halftime deficit by converting 60.7 percent in the second half (17- of-28).