BOZICH | Five reasons Louisville can upset Michigan State - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Five reasons Louisville can upset Michigan State

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Rick Pitino and Louisville will be the underdog at Michigan State Wednesday night. Rick Pitino and Louisville will be the underdog at Michigan State Wednesday night.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Michigan State started the season ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll and Tom Izzo’s Spartans have surged to third, behind Kentucky and Maryland.

Louisville started the season on Planet ORV (others receiving votes) and the Cardinals finally inched to 24th Monday.

Michigan State earned two first-place votes this week and 23 more for second place in the current AP poll.

Louisville earned two 15th place votes (one from Dick Vitale), and the Cardinals were still ignored by 32 of 65 voters, including sharp students of the college game like John Feinstein of National Public Radio, Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated and Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com.

You know where I’m going with this:

There’s certainly a vibe that the Cardinals’ trip to play the Spartans at the Breslin Center in East Lansing Wednesday night will be as challenging as making Nick Saban laugh. Michigan State opened as a 5 ½ point favorite. When the number moved, it went to six, not five.

The Spartans are not only the safe pick, they’re the reasonable pick.

Michigan State is 7-0 with three wins against Top 60 opponents. Louisville is 5-0 with zero wins against Top 100 opponents.

Here is the crazy thing about this game, which is part of the Big Ten/ACC Challenge:

Louisville could absolutely win. Follow along.

Five Reasons Why The Cardinals Are Not A Silly Pick Against Sparty:

1. The computer rankings like Louisville.

Surprised? Me, too.

Jeff Sagarin’s preferred predictor rankings have Louisville the second-ranked team in America and the Spartans third.  Add the homecourt advantage (strong in East Lansing) and Sagarin’s formula actually forecasts Michigan State by 2.69 points.

But his pure rankings say Louisville is the slightly better team.

Ditto for the less reliable Ratings Percentage Index, which has Louisville ranked seventh and Michigan State 12th.

2. Rick Pitino’s team has upgraded its offensive efficiency.

Without Terry Rozier and Chris Jones there is considerably less Hero Ball. Those two guys loved shooting more than they loved winning.

The sample size is too small for definitive judgments, but The Wince Factor has also declined with Louisville’s offense.

One year after the Cards ranked 64th in Ken Pomeroy’s offensive efficiency ratings, they’re 31st in that statistic today. Last season Louisville averaged 1.03 points per possession. The number is 1.26 after five games.

Louisville is making 52.3 percent of its field-goal attempts. The Cards shot 42.9 percent last season. Their field goal percentage after the first five games was 43.7 – including games against Jacksonville State, Savannah State and Cleveland State.

The Cards have made at least 50 percent of their shots in all five games. Louisville shot 50 percent in just eight of 36 games last season.

Like I said: No Rozier. No Jones. No problem.

Last season’s team might have had more pros. This season’s team has a better understanding of the way Rick Pitino wants to play.

3. Size matters.

Michigan State considers itself as physical as anybody, especially at home. That’s what Tom Izzo demands. The Spartans have outrebounded their opponents by more than 18 per game.

Gulp.

Louisville has played inferior competition but showed superior dominance on the glass. The Cards are plus-21.4 in rebounding margin. That’s first in the nation.

Keep track of the rebounding tug of war Wednesday. Michigan State is strong, but not huge. Izzo often starts three guards. If you consider Denzel Valentine, Michigan State’s best player, a small forward, Louisville’s starting frontcourt of Damion Lee, Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku will be about two inches per man larger.

4. Michigan State’s challenge record is surprisingly shaky.

The Big Ten/ACC Challenge isn’t the usual November or December buffet. You can’t schedule your way to success.

Izzo has made his name in March, not early December. The Spartans have lost three straight and six of their last seven in the Challenge.

That includes the last three seasons when a ranked Michigan State team has been taken down by an unranked ACC team.

5. Rick Pitino has answers for One-Man Bands.

OK, it’s a bit of a stretch to call the Spartans a One-Man Band. But Valentine, their senior wing, leads Michigan State in scoring (19.9), rebounding (8.9), assists (8.6) and steals. I’ve read multiple stories that Valentine is the early leader of college basketball’s player of the year.

Can’t argue.

But I also can’t argue with the idea one reason that Pitino entered the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2013 is he understands how to take away -- or at least slow -- the other guy’s top option.

It might require a zone. It could require a double team from the right direction. It could be selecting the most effective Louisville player for the assignment. Or it could be a combo platter of those ideas.

I don’t expect Valentine to punish Louisville with 20 points, 9 boards and 9 assists. I do expect a tight game.

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