LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- A few pregame thoughts before the biggest game so far this season in the KFC Yum! Center -- No. 6 Syracuse's visit to Louisville. It's the first time U of L has ever played a home game while ranked No. 1 in the nation.
Impressions in no particular order:
1). Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams is the most interesting player in the game to me. He's a 6-6 sophomore averaging 9.3 assists per game and is on everybody's lists -- from All-American to John Wooden. U of L's guards are much smaller but apply a level of pressure he hasn't yet seen this season. Against Villanova, Syracuse looked anything but solid with the basketball. If Carter-Williams has a big game, it's going to be close.
2). One of U of L's staples of attacking 2-3 zones -- entering the ball to Gorgui Dieng or Chane Behanan in the high post -- is a dicey proposition against Syracuse's zone. The Orange do as good a job as anyone in the country at immediately attacking the ball if it comes into the high post. They generate a fair number of turnovers by slapping down on that entry pass and then taking off the other way. Dieng and Behanan will have to be strong with the ball and make quicker decisions than they've had to make against other zones. One possible opportunity -- if a wing slides over on the slap-down, the side opposite the direction the ball came from is usually wide open. Look for the Cards to kick the ball across the high post quickly to see if they can generate a few open three-point tries.
3). Syracuse is long and physical inside, like always, and has multiple players able to block shots from various directions. Like all great shot-blocking teams, the guy who blocks your shot may not necessarily be the player guarding you. Behanan particularly will face a challenge, but as he demonstrated against Kentucky, he can find ways even against good shot-blocking teams.
4). Like Louisville, Syracuse is great in transition. Pitino here faces a challenge. A fast, grueling pace would favor Louisville. But it also would play to a Syracuse strength. I would expect each team's defensive soundness to prevent fast-break points by the other -- unless U of L can start turning Syracuse over.
5). I think either Wayne Blackshear or Kevin Ware will play a bigger role in this game than they have in the past few. Of course, I've been expecting that for a while. But this is a game where Blackshear is going to get open looks, and where his versatile athleticism could be a major asset for U of L.
6). After watching the Villanova-Syracuse game, I came away thinking this is a game U of L could win by double-digits with a good shooting day -- particularly with the game at home. The Syracuse defense poses problems, but I think U of L's pressure will pose even more. The absence of James Southerland will be big for Syraucse today. If U of L takes too many quick shots or gets out of control on offense, it could shoot itself out of it. But with the emphasis placed on "how to play Syracuse" this week, that'd be surprising for such an experienced team.