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Louisville is rolling once more and presents NC State with a big challenge

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This would be a good time for State to show some fight.

Clemson v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Louisville’s brief apprehension by the association of hypocrites and pedants otherwise known as the NCAA did some damage to its basketball program proved not to have long-term consequences and was instead just a flesh wound. Chris Mack is in his second season—it’s been three since Rick Pitino’s departure—and the Cardinals are right back where they were among college basketball’s elite.

Without sanctions that stuck in any meaningful way, Louisville was a good bet to bounce back quickly as long as it didn’t do something silly like give then-interim coach David Padgett the full-time job.

Which, of course, it didn’t—not with Mack sitting there for the taking a couple hours north of campus. Mack has had to insert some transfers to ease the transition but recruiting has not and will not be a problem for him. Most likely there’s a lot more where this season is coming from.

Louisville Offense

2020 Cardinals Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Cardinals Off_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Offense 113.9 (15) 53.3 (39) 18.1 (101) 32.8 (45) 32.5 (173)

During his time at Xavier, Mack established a track record of building strong offenses, which has carried over to Louisville. The Cards improved nearly 30 spots in offensive efficiency in his first year and have moved up another 13 this season.

Louisville is foremost an elite three-point shooting team, with four players who match volume with efficiency. Three of the four guys who have attempted at least 50 threes this season are shooting better than 40% from outside. If anything, the Cardinals could probably stand to shoot more threes, as their attempt rate is slightly below average and their interior scoring has been good but not great. In league play, this has been the ACC’s best three-point shooting team.

The Cards also rebound well offensively, though as offensive boards have dried up in this era, rebounding well doesn’t necessarily imply that it’s a dramatic difference maker. Fifteen years ago, Louisville’s OR% would have ranked 128th, while this year it’s good enough for 45th.

Excellent shooting and balance elsewhere—the Cards aren’t elite in many categories but aren’t a liability in any area, either—has been the recipe for their effectiveness.

Starters

Darius Perry (6’2, 195) — A good distributor who is hitting threes at a 41.5% clip as a secondary option. He’ll operate more as an opportunist rather than somebody who hunts his own shot, though he has been in double figures in Louisville’s last two games.

Ryan McMahon (6’0, 185) — In his college career, more than 80% of McMahon’s field goal attempts have come from beyond the arc, where he’s a 38.7% shooter. This season he’s hitting nearly 43%. It’s a good idea to make him put it on the floor and attempt to score where he’s less comfortable, which is anywhere inside the arc.

Dwayne Sutton (6’5, 220) — Sutton is hitting 60% of his twos and 37% of his threes but accounts for only about 13% of Louisville’s shots while he’s on the floor, so his effectiveness is underrated by his scoring average (9.1 PPG). He’s an excellent rebounder at both ends, too—just a really good role player.

Jordan Nwora (6’7, 225) — Nwora is following up his breakout 2019 campaign with a run at ACC Player of the Year honors. He’s coming off a 37-point performance at Boston College, and in league play he is 30-58 (51.7%) from beyond the arc. He’s efficient despite shouldering a huge workload, which is always a sign of a great player.

Steven Enoch (6’10, 255) — A good shot blocker and a tough guy to handle in the paint at the offensive end. He rebounds well both offensively and defensively, and he shoots free throws well. He does tend to be foul-prone, though.

Bench

David Johnson (6’5, 210), Malik Williams (6’11, 245), Lamarr Kimble (6’0, 185), Samuell Williamson (6’7, 200). Williams has been the most productive bench player on the team, scoring effectively in the paint while grabbing rebounds in bunches. In rather limited minutes, he’s been Louisville’s best overall rebounder and shot blocker.

Johnson had a coming-out party against Duke but his progression has been slow after suffering a serious shoulder injury in June. His strength has been scoring inside the arc.

Kimble is a transfer St. Joe’s who wasn’t much of a shooter there and hasn’t been much of one with Louisville, either. Williamson has been horribly turnover-prone but is shooting 56% on twos.

Louisville Defense

2020 Cardinals Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
2020 Cardinals Def_Eff (rk) eFG% TO% OR% FTR
Defense 91.1 (20) 43.2 (9) 17.0 (298) 26.8 (115) 26.9 (55)

Louisville looks a lot different defensively these days, dispensing with Rick Pitino’s press-heavy style for the more passive fundamentals of the pack-line. And here Mack’s track record has been iffier, but Louisville has done an outstanding job of locking down the paint in 2020.

The Cardinals tend not to force many turnovers, but forcing all those missed shots is the big thing.

The Pomeroy Predictor likes Louisville by three.