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Previewing Louisville: NC State to be tested by another great defense

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How to watch the game

Tip time: 4 p.m. ET, Saturday Feb. 14

TV: ESPN

Online streaming: WatchESPN

Radio: Sirius/XM 84, Wolfpack Sports Network (affiliates)

Louisville vitals

Record: 20-4 (8-3)
Pomeroy ranking: No. 11
RPI: No. 10
Wins vs. Pomeroy top-100: 8
Best win: UNC (No. 12 in Pomeroy Ratings)
Worst loss: UNC (No. 12 in Pomeroy Ratings)

Adjusted tempo: 66.4 poss/40 minutes (ranks 106th)
Adjusted offensive efficiency: 108.1 (ranks 56th)
Adjusted defensive efficiency: 86.8 (ranks 3rd)

Louisville @ StatSheet
Louisville roster
Louisville schedule
Louisville 2014 stats / 2015 stats

The Louisville offense and starters

Louisville Offense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 53.5 (30) 15.3 (25) 37.1 (24) 41.2 (147)
2014-15 48.9 (182) 17.9 (78) 35.8 (43) 41.4 (73)

Louisville finished each of the last two seasons at No. 1 in the Pomeroy Ratings, and while the Cardinals haven't been able to maintain that run for a third season, they've still been really damn good. Rick Pitino has his program in the midst of an incredible streak on the defensive side, though his offense has shown some cracks.

That's why this is a top-15ish team, and not necessarily a top-five team--the problems are not exactly massive, clearly, but they've made a difference. The Cardinals have missed do-everything guard Russ Smith, who remained efficient despite a huge workload, and Luke Hancock, who like Smith could be counted on to shoot effectively inside and out.

The Cardinals haven't been able to establish the variety of outside shooting options they had in 2014, and as a result they've seen their 3FG% drop to 30.1%, which ranks 304th nationally. They had a handful of regulars who hit at least 34.5% from beyond the arc last year, including Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear, who returned in 2015.

But Rozier and Blackshear are slumping compared to their production in 2014, leaving only one player (Chris Jones) on the 2015 Cardinals shooting better than 34.5%.

While the Cards' outside shooting has been iffy, they're fortunate to have big man Montrezl Harrell to carry a big chunk of the offense, and Rozier has made almost half of his 233 two-point attempts.

Starters

Chris Jones (5-10, 175) -- Jones has those ever-so-typical Short Guy Problems, as he is shooting only 39.5% inside the arc; that's about what he shot last season as well. He's competent beyeond the arc and a career 74% shooter at the free throw line, so two-point attempts are wins for the defense. Jones is also a fantastic thief, with a steal rate that ranks 47th nationally.

Terry Rozier (6-1, 190) -- Rozier assumed a lot of the possessions left behind by Russ Smith, and he's handled it well, all things considered. It's come at the cost of his three-point accuracy, which is down to 33.6% from 37.1% in 2014, but that's not a huge problem. His eFG% is actually up because he's making so many more two-point attempts.

Wayne Blackshear (6-5, 215) -- Blackshear is making 48.8% of his twos on the season, but he's just 9-25 since the start of conference play. He's leaned more on his outside shot in that time, so it's good he's warmed up a bit from outside.

Montrezl Harrell (6-8, 240) -- He can give Louisville a lot of different things, from big blocks or rebounds to jaw-dropping dunks. He is shooting a career-best 64.2% inside the arc to go with a career-high 60.2% at the free throw line. The only thing that's hurt him to any degree is his effort to expand his range--after taking a total of two three-pointers in his first two seasons, he's tried 33 this season and made seven. So he's willing to take that shot on occasion, but it's not the most optimal spot for him.

Keeping the dunkmaster here off the offensive glass is critical for NC State--he's grabbed at least five offensive boards in seven games this year, and nothing good is gonna happen once he has that rebound. There are only horrors.

Chinanu Onuaku (6-10, 230) -- Blocks a lot of shots, grabs a lot of offensive boards. Shoots better than 60% from the field but only shoots about as often as BeeJay Anya, which is to say not often at all.

The Louisville bench and defense

Reserves: Mangok Mathiang (6-10, 220), Shaqquan Aaron (6-7, 170), Quentin Snider (6-2, 180). Mathiang fills a role similar to Onuaku's--occasionally shooting the ball, grabbing a bunch of offensive boards, and blocking shots. The Cards' bench doesn't run deep, and they've gotten little scoring from their reserves. Aaron and Snider are freshmen with sub-40 effective field goal percentages.

Louisville Defense -- Four Factors eFG% (National Rank) TO% OR% FT Rate
2013-14 43.9 (6) 25.0 (2) 32.7 (238) 38.4 (130)
2014-15 42.0 (6) 22.5 (29)
30.9 (175) 33.5 (101)

Barring a decline down the stretch, Louisville will finish with a top-five defense for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. The Cards rank 12th in 3FG% defense, eighth in 2FG% defense, ninth in block rate, and 11th in steal rate. Those are national ranks, not conference ranks. Heck, opponents can't even make free throws (64%) against Louisville. The Cardinals are fortunate and good. That never hurts.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Louisville by 11.