With less than half-a-minute left in their game on Saturday, Michael Carter-Williams elevated to throw down a dunk and take a lead from the then-top-ranked Louisville Cardinals. The Rick Pitino-coached team would fall to their ACC rivals, 70-68. That disappointing finish makes the Cardinals an even more dangerous opponent for Villanova, as they arrive at the Wells Fargo Center to play the Wildcats.
This week, the Cardinals dropped to number-5 in both major college basketball polls.
Villanova suffered a close loss of their own, after leading 31-24 at the half, the 'Cats saw the Providence Friars come back to take a 69-66 win. Now at 2-3 in the Big East, Nova needs to stop the bleeding and pick up some wins in league play.
Louisville is going to be the favorite in this game, despite being on the road.
Led in scoring by Russ Smith at 19.3 points per game, the Cardinals are 35th in the country, scoring 76.4 points on average. Point guard Peyton Siva averages 11.3 points and 5.7 assists per game, while 6-6 forward Chane Behanan is right there with Siva at 11.2 points per game, adding 7.7 rebounds — good for second on the team. Center Gorgui Dieng averages 10.2 rebounds per game with 8.7 points.
Louisville plays fast on offense, trying to score quickly before opposing defenses can get set up. They play a high-energy style and press on defense, allowing them to average 11 steals per game, leading the Big East by 19 total steals this season. They will look to put significant pressure on Villanova's young guards, especially Ryan Arcidiacono who averages 3 turnovers per game, coughed it up six times against Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and five more against Providence this weekend.
Though it looked like ball control was on track to improve as the non-conference portion of the season came to a close, the Wildcats have succumbed to pressure again during the Big East season. As the turnovers have increased, the team's strengths on rebounding have dropped as well, with the 'Cats taking a loss on the boards in each of the last two games.
Against Providence, they also lost their edge at the free-throw line, allowing the Friars to take 23 more shots from the stripe than they racked up themselves.
Against Louisville, the Wildcats will need to perform much better in those three categories. Villanova shoots slightly better from 3-point territory as a team, connecting on 33.4% compared to 32.7% for the Cardinals, who have two players averaging over 35% from deep — Kevin Ware at 46.2% and Siva with 36.4%. Villanova has three players over that mark, with Achraf Yacoubou making 38.6%, James Bell hitting 36.7% and JayVaughn Pinkston making 36%.
Villanova will need to mature and play to it's strengths to have a chance against the Cardinals, and a heavy dose of Chennault at the point could also be helpful, since he offers at least a bit more ball control than Arcidiacono.