Two teams at opposite ends of the Big East Conference standings meet on Wednesday night, as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights play host to the 11th-ranked Louisville Cardinals.
Louisville had been cruising along with a stellar 16-1 record, but the team hit a rough patch as it dropped three straight conference games to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown. Since then however, the Cardinals have righted the ship with a pair of wins over quality foes Pittsburgh and Marquette. The 70-51 win over the nationally-ranked Golden Eagles this past Sunday improved the squad to 18-4 overall and 6-3 in the Big East, the latter of which has it within a game of first-place Syracuse.
Rutgers is hoping to put the brakes on a four-game slide, with three of the setbacks coming on the road. The Scarlet Knights are still a favorable 12-8 on the year, but their 3-6 league ledger has them just two games out of the Big East basement. The team is 8-3 at home this season, but has lost two of its last three at the RAC. This is the second straight game and sixth since the calendar turned to 2013 that RU has faced a ranked opponent, and its last such outing took place at Cincinnati last Wednesday and resulted in a 62-54 loss.
Louisville has dominated the all-time series with Rutgers, winning all but one of the 11 previous meetings. The Knights' only win over the Cardinals came in a 65-56 decision at home back on Jan. 28, 2006.
Sporting averages of 73.8 ppg on offense and just 57.6 ppg at the defensive end, it's no wonder Louisville is enjoying the kind of success it is this season. The Cardinals rank among the top teams in not only Big East, but the country as well in several statistical categories, and they boast three double-digit scorers in Russ Smith (18.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg, 49 steals), Peyton Siva (10.7 ppg, 6.1 apg, 47 steals) and Chane Behanan (10.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 37 steals). Gorgui Dieng (9.3 ppg, 9.9 rpg, 37 blocks) and Wayne Blackshear (9.1 ppg, 3.9 rpg) are close to joining the ranks, and the team as a whole owns favorable margins in both rebounding (+5.0) and turnovers (+6.5). Smith scored a game-high 18 points, and Siva tacked on 14 to go with seven assists, helping the Cardinals whip visiting Marquette on Sunday. Louisville shot 51.9 percent from the field, while holding the Golden Eagles to just 35.8 percent. UofL was 6-of-16 from 3-point range, while its opponent went only 3-of-13. A 38-26 edge on the glass coupled with the fact that the Cards turned 17 turnovers into 32 points clearly played an integral role in the lopsided outcome.
Even with an overall record that has it four games over .500, Rutgers is barely outscoring the opposition (67.8-66.8 ppg), notching the second-worst scoring margin in the Big East as a result. The team is shooting 45.1 percent from the field, which includes a 34.4 percent showing from 3-point range, and it features a pair of double-digit scorers in Eli Carter (15.2 ppg) and Myles Mack (12.9 ppg, 37 steals). No other RU player nets more than 7.4 ppg. The Scarlet Knights are the league's top free-throw shooting team (.734), but they rank near the bottom in both turnover margin (-1.7) and assist-to-turnover margin (0.9). Despite hitting 8-of-17 3-point attempts, Rutgers came out on the short end of an eight-point decision at Cincinnati last week. Mack came off the bench to score 15 points, draining three treys, but he was also guilty of five of the team's 21 turnovers. Carter and Jerome Seagears both tallied 11 points for the Knights, who shot just 37.5 percent from the field overall, which just so happened to be the same figure the Bearcats turned in. The difference in the game was UC's 21-10 advantage in points from the foul line.