Rick Pitino's Cardinals were expected to handle their first two opponents rather easily, and that was indeed the case. After a 35-point romp over Tennessee-Martin in the season opener, Louisville bested Lamar by a 68-48 final last Sunday, the most recent outing for the squad. The Big East Conference is loaded once again, but it certainly appears that the Cardinals have as good a chance of winning the league title as any other school.
As for Butler, it suffered a shocking loss to Evansville in the season opener before bouncing back strong to knock off Chattanooga last time out by a 57-46 final. Fourth-year head coach Brad Stevens has led the Bulldogs to back-to- back national title games, and his group is expected to win the Horizon League once again. There are some tough games ahead on the non-conference schedule, including matchups with Xavier, Stanford, Purdue and Indiana, and a few big wins outside the Horizon will certainly come in handy when NCAA Tournament selection time rolls around.
Louisville and Butler have split their 10 previous meetings, and the Cardinals posted an 88-73 win over the Bulldogs last season.
It is hard to judge Louisville on its first two games, as the competition level of was obviously sub par. Still, the team has stayed true to its characteristics, sharing the ball on offense and playing tremendous defense. Four players are averaging double figures in points thus far, and Chane Behanan is tops with 12.0 ppg on the strength of his staggering 79.6 percent shooting from the field. Far more than just a scorer, Behanan has ripped down 25 rebounds through two outings. As for the defensive play to date, foes are scoring a mere 48.0 ppg against Louisville, which is yielding a mere 26.1 percent shooting from the floor. In the 20-point romp over Lamar, the Cardinals permitted just 15-of-65 shooting, a tremendous defensive showing by any standards. Jared Swopshire paced a balanced offensive attack with 13 points off the bench.
In Butler's 11-point win over Chattanooga last time out, center Andrew Smith led the way offensively with 16 points, and he also ripped down a game-high 10 rebounds. Chrishawn Hopkins added 12 points for the Bulldogs, but the sophomore guard shot just 4-of-17 from the field and needs to be a bit more selective at the offensive end of the court. Butler connected on just 37 percent of its field goal attempts in that affair, including a 6-of-22 effort from three-point range, but a strong defensive effort offset that inefficiency, as Chattanooga was limited to 36.4 percent overall shooting. In the opener against Evansville, a three-point overtime loss on the road, the Bulldogs received 22 points from Hopkins and 21 from Smith, so it certainly appears that those two players will carry the offensive load this season.