#25 Louisville vs. Connecticut: Monday's Preview

    
February 5th, 2012
On the heels of their decisive win over Seton Hall, Connecticut (15-7, 5-5) will look to keep things going as they visit #25 Louisville (18-5, 6-4) in a critical Big East matchup. For all the issues that UConn's dealt with recently they're just a game out of fourth, and with that being the final double-bye slot in the Big East Championship this is a game both teams need.

The Huskies are being coached by George Blaney due to Jim Calhoun's indefinite leave of absence, but the biggest development from their win on Saturday was the fact that the guys on the floor finally took the reins and showed leadership. If they can build on that aspect of their win, UConn could be in line to go on a run despite a tough week that also features a trip to Syracuse.

Wing Jeremy Lamb (17.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg) is the primary offensive option for UConn, with his smooth game invoking memories of Richard Hamilton among many involved with the program. But part of the problem during the Huskies' skid was the fact that neither Lamb, Shabazz Napier (13.3 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.0 rpg) nor Alex Oriakhi (6.4 ppg, 4.9 rpg) seemed capable of leading the way.

Napier and Oriakhi were moved to the bench in hopes of providing a spark to an offense that's been stagnant, especially against zone defenses, and freshman Ryan Boatright has been that guy. Boatright (9.8 ppg, 3.5 apg) scored 19 points and dished out five assists against Seton Hall and the offense looked a bit crisper with him running the show.

Louisville is going to come at UConn with their full-court pressure, which could be an issue for a team that's averaging 13.4 turnovers per game. But it would have been an even bigger problem without Boatright, and if anything the Huskies may be more concerned about Louisville's 2-3 zone than anything.

The Cardinals allow opponents to shoot just 37% from the field and 33.3% from three, and it isn't as if all 16 of the turnovers that Rick Pitino's team forces comes by way of the press. The Cardinals need to be careful with the basketball themselves as they average 15 turnovers per game, and the run-out opportunities that could result may give UConn the boost they need.

Peyton Siva (8.5 ppg, 5.6 apg) is a highly athletic guard who runs the show for the Cardinals, but he's also averaging 3.5 turnovers per game. Both he and sixth man Russ Smith (12.4 ppg, 2.2 apg) need to make smart decisions while not losing their aggressive nature, a task that's proven easier said than done at times.

Louisville is the deeper team on the perimeter, with the likes of Chris Smith and the versatile Kyle Kuric also playing integral roles in the Cardinal attack. What happens on the perimeter will be key to the outcome but the play inside will be just as important for both, especially for a UConn team that needs its big men to be productive offensively.

Freshman Andre Drummond (10.2 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 2.7 bpg) can at times look to be a man among boys on the court, and that's what happened on Saturday as the Pirates were without Herb Pope. But he's going to run into some resistance in the form of the much-improved Gorgui Dieng (10.2 ppg, 9.5 rpg, 3.5 bpg), the Big East's leader in blocked shots.

Dieng (sprained his right ankle in Saturday's win ) has become more confident offensively, and even with him the Cardinals can also call on a Chane Behanan as well. This is where Oriakhi, Tyler Olander and Roscoe Smith come into play; they need to be productive if the Huskies are to win on the road. The Huskies have been a slightly better rebounding team but both can hit the offensive glass, and with the shooting being what it can be second-chance points should be right up there in regards to importance.

Also of note on Monday is the first of two meetings this season between Texas and Texas A&M, made even more important by the fact that both teams are in desperate need of wins from an NCAA tournament resume standpoint. The Aggies have been without both Khris Middleton and Dash Harris of late due to injury, meaning that Elston Turner will need to be even more effective as a scorer. If he can get some help from Naji Hibbert A&M will have an even better chance of defending their home floor.

Mercer has the opportunity to take over sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Sun as they host East Tennessee State in what's also a key game for the Bucs as they jostle for seeding in the upcoming conference tournament. Belmont, who's tied with the Bears atop the A-Sun, takes on Austin Peay in a non-conference matchup (this will be a league game next year as the Bruins will join the OVC) and Wofford visits Davidson in a SoCon battle in hopes of moving one step closer to locking down that other conference tournament bye out of the South Division.

Davidson's three games up with four to go, and a win would clinch at least a tie for the division crown. Lastly, Missouri looks to build on their win over Kansas as they visit an Oklahoma team that's hanging on to hopes of earning an at-large bid. Steven Pledger has been one of the most improved players in the Big 12, and he's going to need to play extremely well if the Sooners are to pull off the upset.

Top 25 Games
7:00 PM (4) Missouri at Oklahoma (ESPNU)
9:00 PM (15) Marquette at DePaul (ESPNU)
7:00 PM Connecticut at (25) Louisville (ESPN)

NCAA Division I Games
7:00 PM Stony Brook at New Hampshire (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Stetson at Jacksonville
7:00 PM Vermont at Maine
7:00 PM USC Upstate at Kennesaw State (ESPN3)
7:00 PM Boston University at Albany
7:00 PM Wofford at Davidson
7:00 PM Appalachian State at Elon
7:00 PM East Tennessee State at Mercer
7:00 PM Florida Gulf Coast at North Florida
7:30 PM North Carolina A&T at Florida A&M
7:30 PM Furman at Georgia Southern
7:30 PM North Carolina Central at Bethune-Cookman
7:30 PM Hampton at Delaware State
7:30 PM Norfolk State at Maryland-Eastern Shore
7:30 PM Howard at Morgan State
7:30 PM Longwood at South Carolina State
8:00 PM Austin Peay at Belmont
8:00 PM Texas A&M-CC at Savannah State
8:30 PM Alabama State at Arkansas-Pine Bluff
8:30 PM Southern University at Jackson State
8:30 PM Alabama A&M at Mississippi Valley State
9:00 PM Idaho State at Montana
9:00 PM Texas at Texas A&M (ESPN)
9:00 PM Alcorn State at Grambling State