Chapel Hill, NC (SportsNetwork.com) - A Top-25 matchup is on tap in the ACC, as the fifth-ranked Louisville Cardinals take on the 18th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels at the Dean E. Smith Center on Saturday afternoon.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals are sitting at 14-1 on the season with the lone loss coming a couple of week's ago against rival Kentucky (58-50). Since then, Louisville has gotten back to its winning ways, with three straight victories, including wins over Wake Forest (85-76) and Clemson (58-52) to begin its first run through ACC play.
Roy Williams' Tar Heels aren't the new kids on the block by any stretch of the imagination. North Carolina has been a powerhouse in the ACC for a long time and despite four losses, they are among the conference elite once again. The Heels are however, coming into this matchup off their first ACC loss on the season, falling at home to Notre Dame, 71-70 on Monday.
North Carolina holds a 9-3 series edge over Louisville and won the last meeting, a 93-84 shootout last year at the Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff in Uncasville, Conn.
The Cardinals are coming off a poor offensive performance against Clemson, as the team shot just .327 from the floor overall. The first half was particularly disappointing for the Cardinals, as they scored just 18 points on .222 efficiency and trailed the Tigers, 22-18 at the break. The team rallied in the second half though with 40 points to top Clemson and remain unbeaten in league play. Chris Jones led the way with 22 points. Fellow guard Terry Rozier poured in 15, while forward Wayne Blackshear finished with 11. All-America candidate Montrezl Harrell struggled though, finishing the game with just six points and six rebounds.
The one constant for Louisville this season has been strong play at the defensive end of the floor. The Cardinals are limiting foes to a mere 55.5 ppg, while holding them under 36 percent shooting overall, including a mere 28 percent from behind the arc. The team also boasts of an impressive +5.2 turnover margin. Four of the team's five starters are averaging double figures, although the scoring pool dries up after that. Rozier paces the team with 17.0 ppg. Despite a less-than-stellar outing against Clemson, Harrell is still delivering on 59.7 percent from the floor and averaging 15.9 points and 9.3 rebounds per game. Jones (12.8 ppg) and Blackshear (12.5 ppg) round out the potent quartet.
North Carolina will put Louisville's vaunted defense to the test in Chapel Hill. The Tar Heels are averaging 80.1 ppg as one of the most explosive squads in the ACC. Guard Marcus Paige headlines the team in the scoring column at 13.5 ppg. Sophomore big man Kennedy Meeks is UNC's equivalent of Harrell. Meeks is converting 58.6 percent of his shots and is averaging 12.7 points and 8.8 rebounds per game. Brice Johnson (11.3 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Justin Jackson (9.6 ppg) and J.P. Tokoto (9.1 ppg) provide more than enough scoring depth.
Despite holding a huge edge in rebounding (43-26), UNC allowed Notre Dame to drain 10 3-pointers in the Irish win on Monday. North Carolina couldn't keep pace, shooting just .369 from the floor overall, including a mere 4-of-16 from behind the arc. Paige was just 6-of-17 from the floor, but he did lead the team with 15 points. Tokoto and Meeks each posted 12 points in the loss.