LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The exhibition games are over – the two that did not count against Kentucky Wesleyan and Bellarmine as well as the four home games Louisville won for interim coach David Padgett.

The Cardinals roll into Mackey Arena in West Lafayette, Indiana, at 8 p.m. Tuesday to play a Purdue team that stumbled against Tennessee and Western Kentucky last week in the Bahamas.

Purdue was supposed to be the second-best team in the Big Ten. The Boilermakers looked the part against Marquette and Arizona. They looked like pretenders against the Volunteers and Hilltoppers.

This will be Louisville’s fourth appearance in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. The Cardinals won their two homes games, dispatching Ohio State (64-55) three years ago and Purdue (71-64) last season while losing at Michigan State (71-67) two years ago.

I’d rank Mackey as one of the five toughest places to play in college basketball. Ear plugs are not optional, with an engaged student section that will be parked with easy conversation distance from the U of L bench. The safest prediction is Purdue will bring coach Jeff Brohm and his football players on the court for a prolonged look at the Old Oaken Bucket during a game-break.

A win at Purdue would be a solid NCAA Tournament seeding credential for the Cardinals. A loss would not be a reason for alarm, unless the game is one-sided.

Three more Cardinals/Boilermakers thoughts:

1. Defensive Snapshot

It’s premature for any proclamations about Louisville’s defensive fiber, especially how it compares to the defense Rick Pitino’s 16 U of L teams played.

Pitino made his name embracing the three-point shot, but defense was his calling card over the last half of his stay at Louisville. His last seven U of L teams ranked in the top-eight teams in the nation in defensive efficiency (points per possession allowed).

It’s a small sample size: four games. Louisville has not played any opponents ranked in the Top 150 in either primary college basketball computer rankings – Ken Pomeroy or Jeff Sagarin. All four games were played at home.

The Cards are not ranked in the top eight in defensive efficiency. They’re 20th, allowing 93.5 points per 100 possessions, nearly two points more than last season and five more than the 2016 team.

But there are encouraging signs. Louisville’s effective defensive field goal percentage is 42 percent. That’s 15th nationally as well as a better number than any of Pitino’s 16 teams. The Cards’ effective defensive field goal percentage (field goal percentage that gives more credit for three-pointers made) last season was 45.8 percent. (Again, that was for 34 games against talented Atlantic Coast Conference competition.)

The Cards are also not fouling as relentlessly as they have in recent seasons. Their opponents’ free throw rate (free throw attempts divided by field goal attempts) is 22.2 percent.

A year ago it was 38.8 percent.  That number was never less than 30 percent during Pitino’s 16 seasons. (Reminder: The number will climb as Louisville plays better opponents on the road.)

2. Super Subs

According to Pomeroy, substitutes have been the Most Valuable Players in three of the Cards’ first four games.

Freshman guard Darius Perry earned the highest offensive rating in Louisville’s season-opening victory over George Mason while Dwayne Sutton had the highest rating in the Cards’ last two wins. Deng Adel stood out against Omaha.

Don’t overlook forward Raymond Spalding. Pomeroy’s formula ranks Spalding fourth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage at 20.6. That is the percentage of missed U of L shots Spalding has grabbed while in the game.

Center Anas Mahmoud ranks 14th nationally in block percentage. Mahmoud has swatted nearly 14 percent of opponents’ shots while he’s been in the game.

3. Final Analysis

Pomeroy’s formula projects a Purdue victory, 78-72, although it gives Louisville a win probability of 30 percent.

Jeff Sagarin’s predictor formula also tilts toward coach Matt Painter’s team. His projection is Purdue by 6.99, almost the same as Las Vegas. Purdue opened as a seven-point favorite at VegasInsider.com, but the spread increased to 8 ½ by 4 p.m. Tuesday.

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