(6) Louisville (10-1) at FIU (8-4)
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 21, 6 p.m. (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: U.S. Century Bank Arena (5,000) -- Miami, Florida. Television: FS1. Home Record: UofL 9-0, FIU 5-1. Away Record: UofL 0-0, FIU 2-1. Neutral Record: UofL 1-1, FIU 1-2. Conference Record: UofL 0-0, FIU 0-0. Series Record: Louisville leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: The sixth-ranked Louisville Cardinals open a four-game road trip on Saturday evening, as they invade south Florida to take on the FIU Panthers at U.S. Century Bank Arena.
The defending national champion Cardinals, who are playing their first official road game of the season tonight, have run out to a 10-1 start, although their 90-62 rout of Missouri is really their only quality win thus far. Louisville's other game of note took place in Uncasville, CT on Nov. 24, but that one resulted in the team's only loss of the season as it dropped a 93-84 decision to North Carolina. UofL will play at intrastate rival Kentucky next Saturday, and then will kick off its inaugural American Athletic Conference slate at UCF on New Year's Eve.
FIU has won twice as many games as it has lost to this points in the season, going 8-4, which includes a 5-1 mark at home. The Panthers opened the season 0-2, but went on a six-game win streak before alternating setbacks with victories in the last four. FIU has been idle for the past two weeks, its last action resulting in a 72-61 triumph over visiting Florida Gulf Coast. Following this clash, the Panthers will play two more non-league games before lifting the lid on Conference USA play at Rice on Jan. 9.
Louisville leads the all-time series with FIU, 2-0, reaching that point by virtue of its 79-55 win at home last December.
The Cardinals rank in the top-15 nationally in scoring, putting up 86.3 ppg by knocking down 47.5 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a 34.1 percent showing from 3-point range. The team could stand to improve its accuracy at the foul line (.659), but a +8.3 rebounding margin coupled with the nation's No. 1 turnover margin (+9.4) almost assures it of securing an unparalleled level of success. Not to be outdone, Louisville's effort at the defensive end allows foes to net a mere 60.5 ppg behind typical shooting outputs of .399 overall and .328 from beyond the arc. The Cards commit the fewest turnovers of any team in Division I (9.1 per game), while at the same time ranking fifth in the country in steals (9.8 per tilt). Russ Smith (16.6 ppg, 3.4 rpg, 5.2 apg) heads a list of four double-digit scorers for coach Rick Pitino's club, as he is joined by Chris Jones (14.3 ppg, 2.7 rpg), Montrezl Harrell (12.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg) and Wayne Blackshear (10.0 ppg, 3.0 rpg).
Harrell scored 17 points and grabbed eight rebounds to pace the Cardinals in their 90-60 win over visiting Missouri State on Tuesday night. Blackshear, Smith and Terry Rozier each tacked on 11 points for Louisville, which shot 51.5 percent from the floor while limiting the Bears to only 37.9 percent. The Cards dominated the glass (51-30), but converted only 16-of-30 free-throw attempts.
FIU has done a number of things well here in the early going, as the team averages 72.3 ppg while allowing 66.1 ppg. The Panthers are shooting 46.9 percent from the floor, while permitting the opposition just a 39.7 percent success rate. The team does an outstanding job corralling loose balls, as it ranks fourth in the nation in total rebounds (493), while its 60 blocked shots is second-most in C-USA. Leading the way for FIU is Tymell Murphy with his 16.3 ppg, although Rakeem Buckles is nipping at his heels with 14.7 ppg. Buckles gets it done in other areas as well, as his league-leading 10.5 rpg has him the rare company of guys who are averaging a double-double this far into the season.
In the 11-point win over Florida Gulf Coast two weeks ago, Buckles notched his sixth double-double of the season with 11 points and 13 boards, while Dennis Mavin matched his career high with 19 points. Murphy led all scorers with 23 points, hitting all 10 of his foul shots in the process. FIU won the game due in large part to a 22-5 edge in points from the charity stripe.
While FIU clearly has talent and could make some serious noise in Conference USA this season, the Cardinals are the superior team in this matchup. While there's always a chance Smith and company could be looking ahead to next week's showdown with Kentucky, give Pitino's bunch the nod as he is likely to have them focused on claiming that first road win of the season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisville 83, FIU 64
12/21 10:31:44 ET