GAME NOTES: The No. 5 Louisville Cardinals look to recover as they head to the City of Brotherly Love for a Big East bout with the Villanova Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center.
Louisville has a 9-8 series edge over Villanova and the Cardinals have won four of the last six matchups, including winning last year's meeting 84-74 in the KFC Yum! Center as five Cardinals scored in double figures.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals reeled off 11 consecutive victories to claim the No. 1 spot in the national polls, but their stay at the top was short-lived as they dropped four slots after a 70-68 setback at home to Syracuse over the weekend. Louisville still has a very impressive 16-2 overall record with the only other loss coming to Duke, which replaced it as the country's number one team. The Cardinals have a very tough backcourt tandem in junior Russ Smith and senior Peyton Siva. Smith is third in the Big East in scoring after raising his average to 19.3 ppg after tallying 20 or more in five of his last seven outings.
While Smith did his part for Louisville versus the Orange by netting a game- high 25 points, Siva went 1-of-9 from the floor. Chane Behanan just missed a double-double with nine points and 11 boards and Gorgui Dieng set a career- high with five blocks. Siva has shown he can both fill it up (11.3 ppg) and get others involved (5.7 apg). Behanan (11.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg) and Dieng (8.7 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 2.5 bpg) star in the front court for Louisville, which is second nationally in turnover margin (+7.5). The Cardinals have forced an average of 19.7 turnovers a game, scoring 449 of their 1,375 points off turnovers (33 percent).
The Cards' ability to create off their opposition's miscues will come in handy, as they duel a Villanova squad that blew a 12-point lead to Providence in a contest it which it committed 25 turnovers. The 69-66 loss to the Friars was the third in a row for the team and dropped Jay Wright's Wildcats to a 2-3 standing in the Big East race. Sophomore forward JayVaughn Pinkston is Villanova's top scorer, averaging 13.3 points per game. Freshman point guard Ryan Arcidiacono is among the conference leaders in 3-point field goals, hitting 37-of-118 to place second on the team with 11.6 ppg.
Although Villanova is four games above the .500 mark, it is just 11th in the Big East in scoring (69.2) and 13th in scoring defense (66.6). After crafting a plus-29 rebound margin in its first three league outings of the season, Villanova has been on the short end of the rebounding count in its last two conference games.
Wright and his Wildcats are continuing their process of reconfiguration and development with the hopes of returning to the realm of the elite, but they have a ways to go and the road will only get more difficult from here. Villanova is catching Pitino's Cardinals at a terrible time, as they will be out to make a statement after coming up short over the weekend.