The suddenly slumping Louisville Cardinals will try to get out of a rut when they play host to the upset-minded Pittsburgh Panthers at the KFC Yum! Center in Big East Conference action on Monday night.
The Panthers have been riding a wave of momentum of late with wins in four straight contests. Their most recent victory was a 93-55 rout of DePaul on Saturday, moving the team to 17-4 overall and 5-3 in league play. The latter mark good for third place in the Big East at this point. Pittsburgh hasn't been rattled in opposing arenas this season, posting a mark of 3-1 on the road. Pittsburgh entertains Syracuse in its next contest.
Just a little more than a week ago, Louisville stood as the No. 1 team in the country. Since then however, the Cardinals have been in free fall with three straight losses, the most recent of which being a 53-51 setback against Georgetown. This is the first three-game losing streak for the Cardinals since the 2009-10 season. Louisville is still an impressive 16-4 overall, but at 4-3 in conference the Cardinals are locked in a six-way tie for fourth place in the Big East. Playing their next two games at home should help the Cards, who are 9-1 at the KFC Yum! Center this year.
Louisville swept the season series a year ago to up its current win streak over Pittsburgh to three. As a result, the Cardinals lead the all-time series, 7-5.
Pittsburgh dominated DePaul over the weekend, holding the Blue Demons to just 27.7 percent shooting while hitting 49.3 percent of its own shots. In fact, the Panthers had nearly twice as many field goals as the Blue Demons who they would lead by as many as 42 points at one point.
The defensive performance by Pittsburgh fell in line with how well the team has been playing at that end of the floor all season. The Panthers let up the sixth-fewest points per game (54.5) in the country, while holding foes to less than 40 percent shooting. Pitt has also allowed the 20th-fewest assists (9.9 pg) to foes while ranking first in the country in opponent's rebounds (27.4 pg). Pittsburgh complements its strong defense with an efficient offense built on ball movement and shot selection. The Panthers are second in the conference in assists (17.6 pg) and field goal percentage (.492). Each of those marks is among the top-10 in the country as well. Talib Zanna (11.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg), Tray Woodall (10.5 ppg, 5.8 apg) and Lamar Patterson (10.2 ppg) are the club's top scoring options.
In its recent loss to Georgetown, Louisville shot just 34.8 percent from the floor while managing a mere seven assists. Both teams struggled down the stretch, but the Cardinals especially as they missed their final five shots from the floor in the two-point loss.
Peyton Siva (10.9 ppg, 5.8 apg) might not be the flashiest scorer on the team, but his ball handling and defense have been vital to the Cardinals this season. That could not have been more evident than it was against the Hoyas as he was held scoreless in the game after dealing with foul trouble. Siva has struggled of late, averaging a scant 6.0 points over the last three games. Russ Smith (18.4 ppg) is the biggest offensive threat on the squad, but coach Rick Pitino has started bringing him off the bench in recent games. Gorgui Dieng (9.1 ppg, 9.8 rpg, 2.2 bpg) is a force on the interior with how he attacks the boards and protects the rim. Chane Behanan (10.7 ppg, 7.5 rpg) and Wayne Blackshear (9.2 ppg) have also been valuable contributors.