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Adversary Analysis -- University of Louisville Cardinals

This is a quick rundown of the UK/UL game.  I am keeping this short, as I will be doing a lot of posting today, and I have been typing non-stop all morning.

Offense

Offensively, the Cardinals will want to run more than Kentucky.  That just seems to be Billy Gillispie's style, despite the hopes of fans when Smith left.  The Cardinals run the motion offense similar to what Pitino ran at UK and in the NBA.  Terrance Williams is Kentucky's leading scorer at 12 ppg, with Derrick Caracter and Earl Clark close behind at 12.

Kentucky, on the other hand, seems to run more sets under Gillispie.  This differs a lot from the offense Kentucky ran under Smith, and seems to be one of the main things our returning players have had difficulty integrating into their game. 

Defense

The Cardinals employ the Pitino pressing defense.  This is something UK fans are intimately familiar with, and we should be rightly concerned that our shaky ballhandling will be vulnerable to Louisville's pressure.  The addition of Jasper should help, but he can't play the whole game, and as soon as he is out, look for the Cardinals to jump on the Cats in the back court.  In the front court, Pitino likes to mix up his defenses as much as Gillispie is dedicated to his pressure man-to-man.  We can expect to see a combination of zone and man-to-man from the Cardinals, although the Cards will probably be in man-to-man more than zone.

Look for the Cardinals to try to deny the ball to Jasper.  If they are able to do that, I don't know how we can avoid 15+ turnovers.  Pitino perfectly well knows that we are a bad ballhandling team, and that is a weakness he will seek to exploit.

Correlations

Louisville's offense has been up and down this year.  The best offensive efficiency U of L has had this year has been against Hartford very early in the season, and the worst just recently against Cincinnati.  Louisville seems very sensitive to offensive rebounding percentage.  They have lost 3 of their four games with offensive rebound percentages below 35%.  Kentucky has exactly the same problem, only their threshold seems to be lower.  UK has lost all of its games when it has had offensive rebounding below 32%.  There is a high correlation between defensive efficiency and offensive rebounding for both teams, but it is particularly strong in Kentucky's case.  Offensive rebounding also has a strong correlation to offensive efficiency with Kentucky.

The bottom line seems to be this -- the team that does the best job on the offensive glass is likely to emerge the winner.  For Louisville It doesn't seem to depend on any one player, it is all about the team and how they hit the offensive glass.  Its the same with Kentucky, although when Patterson gets 5 or more offensive rebounds, we have yet to lose, and we have only lost once when he gets 4 or more.

Intangibles

The intangibles favor Kentucky very slightly.  We are playing at home, coming off out best game of the year and have the further good news of relative health for our woebegone team.  The Cardinals are coming off a home loss to Cincinnati, and need this victory very badly.  Nobody is immune to the media, and the Cards are beginning to hear it from the press.  They are far too talented to be this inconsistent, and it is taking a toll.  Expect the Cardinals to come out like a ball of flame.

Player Matchups

Kentucky is considerably smaller and has less strength on the blocks than Louisville.  Derrick Caracter is a huge load inside, although Patterson is much quicker and far more athletic.  However, the combination of Padgett and Caracter are likely to be more than Kentucky can handle inside.  Fortunately, Caracter is very prone to fouls, and Patterson is likely to make it hard for Caracter to stay on the floor.  Kentucky really has nobody to match up with David Padget.  We are likely to try to stick Mark Coury on him, but I don't believe Coury can hold him down -- Padget is simply too skilled.  Perhaps Stevenson can help, but he is seriously outmassed.

Ramon Harris will be forced to guard Earl Clark most of the game, and that matchup is not all that bad for UK.  Clark is inconsistent, but at 6'9" and 220#, he is significantly bigger than Harris and will be able to take him down low.  Juan Palacios, a former starter, is hard to judge.  So far, he has not been the same player that was so tough for the Cardinals in his freshman season.  Still, he is capable of both scoring and rebounding.  We don't really have a good matchup for him other than Patterson, and he is likely to be otherwise occupied.  Harris may be able to guard him if he isn't otherwise occupied.

Jodie Meeks or Derrick Jasper will probably be forced to guard Terrance Williams.  Meeks is just as athletic, but he is smaller and less experienced.  Jasper is a better defender and just as tall as Williams, but his knee and generally lesser athleticism are a concern.  Bradley or Crawford will be forced to guard Edgar Sosa, and this is not a good matchup for either man.  Sosa is quicker and more athletic than almost anyone Kentucky can put on him.  Fortunately, Sosa has been very inconsistent this year.  It would help if this trend would continue.

I really don't know how Gillispie will match them up, but the bottom line is, there will be more mismatches favoring the Cardinals than the reverse.

Overall

In all honesty, this is a game Kentucky should lose.  The Cardinals are more talented, more experienced, and have far greater depth.  They are also bigger and stronger than Kentucky, and have mismatches that they can exploit all over the court.

5 Reasons Why Kentucky Will Win

  1. Louisville foul trouble
  2. Patrick Patterson is a big factor in the middle
  3. Derrick Jasper gets to handle the ball when he wants
  4. Kentucky shoots the ball well from the perimeter
  5. Louisville continues to suffer from poor perimeter shooting

5 Reasons Why Kentucky Will Lose

  1. Louisville is bigger, stronger, and more athletic
  2. Louisville has a deeper and more talented bench
  3. 20+ turnovers
  4. Less than 15 offensive rebounds
  5. Any of our 5 best players in foul trouble

Conclusion

On paper, the Cardinals should defeat Kentucky in this game.  In reality, this game has often proven to go against the expectations of statistical analysis.  This is a rivalry game, and many variables that are normally not present are here in abundance.  For example, Kentucky has played but a single game at full strength, a blowout win against a vastly inferior team.  Nobody knows how good this Kentucky team is.  Kentucky also has a new coach who has defeated a superior Pitino-coached team in his first attempt, in the same venue under tournament pressure.  The Cardinals are vastly underperforming even UK given the relative depth, experience and injury situation of both teams.

My head says the Cards will win.  My heart says "Not so fast -- we have barely seen the team we will see today.  Louisville cannot prepare for us, because they have only seen this team play one game."  I'm going with my heart.

Update [2008-1-5 15:24:34 by Truzenzuzex]:  Earl Clark is reportedly not available for the game today.  I am always suspicious of such announcements from Pitino, though ...