A pair of teams that have already earned first-round byes in the upcoming Big East Conference Tournament get together at Carrier Dome on Saturday afternoon, as the 10th-ranked Louisville Cardinals come calling on the 12th-ranked Syracuse Orange.
Louisville enters the weekend sporting a 23-5 overall record, which includes an 11-4 league ledger. The Cardinals are just a game behind first-place Georgetown with three to play, all of which will be extremely tough for coach Rick Pitino's team -- Cincinnati and Notre Dame both at home being the last two. UofL is in the midst of a four-game win streak, with its latest triumph coming in a 79-58 shellacking of DePaul on the road this past Wednesday. The Cards have won their last two road tilts following an epic five-overtime loss at Notre Dame on Feb. 9.
Syracuse was cruising along with an 8-2 conference mark, but setbacks in three of its last five bouts has the team two games back of the Hoyas with three to play. Fortunately, the season finale next Saturday is against Georgetown in Washington, D.C. The Orange have logged an impressive 16-1 record at home this season, the lone loss coming against the Hoyas last Saturday, as Carrier Dome is without question one of the toughest places for visitors to come and steal a victory.
Louisville owns a 13-7 lead in the all-time series with Syracuse, but the Orange have won the last three meetings, the most recent of which taking place on the Cardinals' home floor back On Jan. 19, 70-68.
Louisville is the top scoring team in the Big East, putting up 74.4 ppg in hitting 44.6 percent of its total shots, which includes a 32.0 percent showing from 3-point range. The Cardinals play some pretty stingy defense as well, limiting the opposition to 58.5 ppg, which they reach by shooting just 39.1 percent from the floor, part of which comes from the mere 31.1 percent foes are connecting on their long-range shots. Russ Smith (18.4 ppg) is far and away the top offensive option for UofL, despite his lackluster 40.1 percent shooting effort. He actually ranks second in the Big East in scoring, while fellow guard Peyton Siva (10.1 ppg, 6.0 apg) is third in assists. Gorgui Dieng (9.8 ppg, 9.9 rpg) is second and Chane Behanan (11.0 ppg, 7.5 rpg) ranks sixth in rebounding. Smith didn't exactly light it up from the field (5-of-13) in the recent win over DePaul, but he finished with a team-high 17 points, and he combined with Siva, who tallied 16 points, for 11 of the team's 15 assists. Montrezl Harrell came off the bench to net 11 points and grab seven boards, while Dieng and Behanan chipped in 10 points apiece. Behanan pulled down nine of the team's 46 rebounds -- the Blue Demons had only 33 caroms. DePaul shot just 35.9 percent from the floor, going a woeful 1-of-9 from beyond the arc while committing 19 turnovers. Louisville was guilty of 18 miscues, and went just 2-of-8 from downtown.
Syracuse is right there with Louisville in terms of offensive production, the team averaging 74.0 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .447 overall, .322 from 3-point range, and .684 from the charity stripe. Defensively, SU has been on point as well, with foes permitted just 59.7 ppg and their shooting effort coming in at .371 overall, which includes a 28.7 percent showing from downtown, which ranks Syracuse second in the conference at the moment. The Orange are also ranked second in blocked shots (6.4 bpg), steals (9.5 spg) and turnover margin (+3.75). The team boasts four double-digit scorers in the form of Brandon Triche (14.5 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 3.7 apg), C.J. Fair (14.4 ppg, 7.3 rpg), James Southerland (13.8 ppg, 5.0 rpg) and Michael Carter-Williams (12.5 ppg, league-leading 7.9 apg), and it was Fair who paced the club in its most recent outing, scoring 20 points and grabbing seven rebounds. Unfortunately, that effort went for naught as the Orange dropped a 74-71 decision at Marquette this past Monday. Southerland hit for 15 points, draining four treys along the way, while Carter-Williams tacked on 14 points and handed out five assists. Neither team shot particularly well, but the clear difference in the game came at the free throw line, as the Golden Eagles outscored the Orange there by a staggering 29-5 margin. MU attempted 35 foul shots, compared to just seven for SU.