GAME NOTES: The top-seeded Louisville Cardinals begin their quest back to the
Final Four on Thursday as they take on the North Carolina A&T Aggies in a NCAA
Tournament Midwest Regional second-round matchup at Rupp Arena.
NC A&T overcame the odds and won the MEAC Championship for the first time
despite entering the postseason as the seventh-seed. It then took care of
business in a thrilling first-four matchup versus Liberty to escape with a
73-72 win, the first NCAA Tournament victory in school history. Jeremy
Underwood led the way with 19 points on 6-of-6 shooting from the field, while
Bruce Beckford chipped in 16 points on 8-of-10 efficiency from the floor. The
Aggies stopped a driving layup by Liberty's John Caleb Sanders as time expired
to clinch the decision.
NC A&T is usually much more modest on the offensive end of the court, scoring
just 62.4 ppg, but the team makes up for it with strong defense (61.4 ppg
allowed). The Aggies are a poor outside shooting squad with only 30 percent
efficiency from beyond the arc, but they force their opposition into 18.3
turnovers per game to make up for it. Adrian Powell (12.5 ppg) and Lamont
Middleton (12.4 ppg) have been neck-and-neck for the scoring lead all year
long. Austin Witter is the Aggies' best rebounder with 7.1 per contest which
he accompanies with 3.0 rejections per tilt. Beckford and Underwood both chip
in under nine ppg regularly.
This will be just the second head-to-head between NC A&T and Louisville in
history. The Cardinals won the first meeting and will advance to play the
winner of the Colorado State-Missouri matchup if they avoid becoming the first
No. 1 seed to be upset in its first game.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals have reeled off 10 wins in a row entering the Big
Dance, with the most recent being a 78-61 rout of Syracuse in the Big East
Tournament title game. Louisville's last six victories have come over teams in
this year's field. The team is very deep in terms of talent in both the
backcourt and frontcourt.
Creating havoc for opposing teams has been the key to the squad's success this
season. The Cardinals led the Big East and are in second in the nation in
steals (10.7 spg). The Cardinals' opposition is scoring just 58.0 points per
game and shooting 38.8 percent from the field. Russ Smith (18.1 ppg) has no
limitations as a scorer. He should be able to bounce back after being limited
to only 10 points by the Orange in the Big East Tournament title game. Gorgui
Dieng is one of the best big men in the nation with his ability to crash the
boards and protect the rim. The speedy Peyton Siva (10 ppg, 5.9 apg) runs the
point for the Cardinals, while Chane Behanan (9.9 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Wayne
Blackshear (8.0 ppg) and Luke Hancock (7.5 ppg) add even more options.
A Louisville loss is highly unlikely due to its clear advantage at every
position. The Cardinals did not earn a No. 1 seed by accident and they could
very well be the eventual champions if they continue to play at the same high
level that they have over the past few weeks.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Louisville 81, North Carolina A&T 61