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#5 Louisville Cardinals to Face Up-and-Down Tigers in Littlejohn

The Tigers are a dangerous spoiler.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Georgia Tech Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

This must be what it is like to be an NC State football fan. With postseason hopes now dead, the Clemson Tigers (12-12 (6-8)) host the top ranked team in the conference with a chance to damage their case for a NCAA tournament #1 or #2 seed (Louisville is currently projected as a #3 by CBS).

The Tigers are coming off an exceptional performance in a 20-point road win vs. Pittsburgh. Al-Amir Dawes and Alex Hemenway combined for 24 points on 8-12 shooting. The freshman duo is starting to take big strides, giving optimism for the future.

Louisville (21-4 (12-2)), conversely, just had their 12-game ACC win streak snapped with a loss at Georgia Tech. The Cardinals started their conference slate with a loss to FSU and then won 12 in a row including road wins over Notre Dame and Duke and home wins over Clemson and Virginia. They have the 10th most efficient offense and the 30th most efficient defense.

On offense, Louisville doesn’t lean heavily on the 3-point shot ranking just 174th in 3-point attempts as a proportion of all field goal attempts, however they’re deadly accurate. They ranked 6th nationally in 3-point percentage. In short, they’re picky, but good.

More than a quarter of their 3-point attempts this season have come from star player and 42.9% 3-point shooter Jordan Nwora. Averaging 18.8 points per game with deadly efficiency (114.4 offensive rating), he is their best offensive player. The Tigers may lean on the athleticism of Tevin Mack to try to slow him down. Whatever they do, it’ll be one of the most important matchups of the game.

Another matchup to watch is at center. Louisville has two players at or over 6’10” that they rotate at the position: Malik Williams and Stephen Enoch. Combined they average 18.7 points per game in just under a combined 40 minutes per game. They’ll be a tough task for Aamir Simms to slow down. Look for Louisville to accept Clemson’s slow pace and beat the Tigers inside or with Nwora attacking from anywhere on the court.

The Tigers are arguably the most difficult team in the conference to get a feel for. They’re wildly inconsistent. They’ve beaten Duke and Syracuse at home, so we know when shots fall they can be dangerous, but Louisville is the better team. It feels like there’s about a 13 shot the Tigers pull an upset, a 13 shot they get blown out, and a 13 shot they play a competitive game but yield to the better team in the end. I’ll bet on the last of those. Dawe’s improvement gives me hope, but I don’t see the Cardinals losing two straight games. Any chance to catch them by surprise is gone after the wake up call Georgia Tech delivered. KenPom’s statistical analysis lines up with this prediction:

KenPom: Louisville win 67-62 (68%)

Ryan Kantor: Louisville win 70-66