Atlanta, GA (SportsNetwork.com) - With the hopes of a conference crown all but gone, the Louisville Cardinals embark on a two-game road trip, starting with Monday's ACC showdown with the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at McCamish Pavilion.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals were still very much in the hunt for the ACC title a couple of weeks ago, but their first run in their new conference got derailed. The team dropped three of four games recently, but was able to find the win column last time out, battling from behind to knock off a tough Miami-Florida squad on Saturday, 55-53. The victory moved Louisville to 21-6 overall and 9-5 in the ACC. However, the team is now four games out of first place with four games to play.
Winning a conference crown this season is a notion that was abandoned long ago for Georgia Tech. Brian Gregory's team is sitting three games under .500 overall at 12-15 and much further below that mark in league play at a mere 3-12. The Yellow Jackets come into this game with losses in three of their last four outings. including an 89-60 rout at North Carolina on Saturday.
Louisville holds a slim 15-13 advantage in the all-time series with Georgia Tech and has won the last two meetings, the most recent of which came back in 2005.
Louisville fell behind early against Miami, trailing by 10 points at the half (29-19), but rallied in the second half to edge out the Hurricanes at the KFC Yum! Center. All-America candidate Montrezl Harrell was unstoppable in the win, posting 21 points and 14 rebounds. Chris Jones returned from a one-game suspension to pour in 17 points, while Wayne Blackshear finished with 10. The Cardinals shot a disappointing .339 from the floor in the game, but held a 41-34 edge in rebounding.
Jones' return to the lineup for Louisville was short-lived, as the talented guard was dismissed from the team on Sunday. Jones was an integral part of the gameplan at both ends of the floor and his absence the rest of the way will be tough to overcome. The Cardinals still possess star power in the form of Terry Rozier and Harrell, but the team took a real hit in terms of scoring depth and perimeter defense with the loss of Jones (13.7 ppg, 53 steals). Rozier has emerged as one of the ACC's rising stars though, ranking fourth in the conference in scoring at 17.6 ppg. Harrell is already established up front, averaging 15.6 ppg (seventh in the ACC) and 9.5 rpg (second in the ACC). Blackshear (10.5 ppg) rounds out the team's only legitimate offensive threats to date, as the next closest scorer is Chinanu Onuaku with a mere 3.3 ppg.
Georgia Tech is playing these days a little shorthanded as well, as guard Chris Bolden (6.9 ppg) is currently serving a six-game suspension. The team's subpar season can be attributed to the fact that Tech scores (64.2 ppg) just as much as it give up (64.2 ppg). Offensive efficiency hasn't been a strength this season, with the team netting just 41.3 percent from the floor, a number weighed down by an ugly 28.1 percent from behind the arc. Senior swingman Marcus Georges-Hunt is the only Yellow Jacket currently averaging double figures at 13.9 ppg. Forward Charles Mitchell (9.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg) and center Demarco Cox (8.7 ppg, 5.9 rpg) provide decent frontcourt depth.
The Yellow Jackets were simply no match for the Tar Heels in Chapel Hill on Saturday, as UNC shot a blistering 62.3 percent from the floor, compared to Tech's rather bland 38.3 percent effort. Compounding the problem was North Carolina's 37-29 edge in rebounding and the fact that the Heels outscored the Yellow Jackets 46-30 in the paint. Georges-Hunt was once again the leader at the offensive end, posting 15 points in the lopsided loss. Quinton Stephens came off the bench to tally 10 points, while Tadric Jackson chipped in with nine.