The Jackets face Lousiville tonight for the second time this season. Before the game, we sat down with Mike Rutherford from Card Chronicle to get his insight on what he expects when the Cardinals and Jackets hit the court.
FTRS: You guys seem to have things rolling again after a small blip around the turn of the new year. Obviously as a top five team in the nation your team possesses many strengths, but what things in particular have you been excelling at for the last month?
Three-point shooting is the standout. Louisville has been the best three-point shooting team in the country during its 10-game winning streak and has made nine or more threes in each of its last five games. The last time U of L didn’t hit nine threes in a game was actually the first meeting with Georgia Tech. Jordan Nwora and Ryan McMahon in particular have been red-hot from the outside.
The other big thing has been guys just figuring out and accepting their roles. After so much uncertainty about the point guard position for the first two months of the season, Fresh Kimble has taken over the backup spot, David Johnson has emerged as his primary backup, and Darius Perry has been moved off the ball. Louisville gives solid minutes to nine guys, and all nine seem to have a full understanding of what their job is.
FTRS: It’s been a wild and unpredictable season for the sport as a whole but you guys are one of the few teams that has largely lived up it’s preseason billing — at least so far. With so many upper classmen leading your team, how much pressure is there on this team to make good on it’s abilities in the big dance? Do you look at this season as Final Four or bust?
“Final Four or bust” might be a little extreme, but there’s definitely a sense from everyone around the program that these next two months represent a chance to do something special. The other big thing as far as the mindset of Louisville fans is concerned, is that everyone knows there’s another bout with the NCAA coming. U of L might not even be eligible for the NCAA tournament in 2021 or maybe 2022, so when you have this type of opportunity, there’s definitely some added pressure to take advantage of it.
FTRS: This is the second time these teams have met this year and back in January we had you guys on the ropes in the second half before you stormed back to win. Other than this game being played in Louisville which certainly means a great deal, what do you expect to be different this time around? What adjustments do you think coach Mack and his staff will make?
I wouldn’t really expect Louisville to make any sort of adjustment, and I wouldn’t be surprised if round two is about as competitive as round one. The only thing that really stands out about the first meeting is U of L shooting solidly below its season average. My guess is that Chris Mack is banking on everything playing out in a similar fashion but his team maintaining its recent hot shooting streak.
FTRS: Obviously Jordan Nwora has carried your team in the scoring department but who would you say is your second most important player?
This would seem like a strange answer if you were just looking at statistics, but I think it’s freshman point guard David Johnson. He might not be the second best player on the team, but I think it’s easy to make a case for him as the second most important.
Louisville’s other three guards are all 6’1 or smaller. Johnson is 6’5. He missed the first month of the season with a shoulder injury and was easing his way back into things during the last part of December and the first week of January. When this was happening, opposing teams with bigger guards were swallowing Louisville up with high pressure man-to-man defense. Johnson takes that away because he can take just about anyone off the bounce, he’s a tremendous passer, and he has the size and athleticism to either finish around the rim or make a perfect pass to one of U of L’s handful of perimeter threats.
FTRS: What’s you result and final score prediction for the game?
I’m going to stick fairly closely to the Ken Pomeroy prediction and go with Louisville 72, Georgia Tech 64.
Many thanks to Mike for taking the time to answer our questions. Make sure to check out some Louisville coverage over at Card Chronicle.