If it feels like the Louisville basketball Cardinals haven't played a game in like forever, it is because they haven't. Sure, they had games against College of Charleston and UMKC in the last 10 days, but honestly, except for the first 5 minutes or so last Tuesday night, the Cardinals have not been challenged since December 1, a 2-week stretch where luckily there was nothing else going on except like 10,000 Louisville-related things that turned out well.
It is another reminder about how crazy things have been that our biggest non-conference true road game of the season (and maybe even the biggest non-UK non-conference true road game of the past few years?) has gotten very little hype. Part of that is Memphis State has not held up its end of the bargain, dropping 2 of 3 in the Bahamas to VCU and Minnesota before barely escaping against Northern Iowa 52-47 in what I imagine was totally unwatchable and did not put up much of a fight against the sand, sun and sights of Atlantis. Memphis shot 36.7% for the game but held UNI to 31.4% and kept them off the line, and more importantly locked down in the last 2 minutes with a 1-point lead to win the game.
Not sure how much that game tells us except that Memphis can execute down the stretch when needed, perhaps. Many of the same guys from last year are back: Adonis Thomas, Tarik Black, Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford all started against us. Gone is Will Barton and the 28 points he hung on us while looking like he could literally care less about how good at basketball he is. This year's leader in scoring is Geron Johnson, a JUCO transfer guard who will likely get Russ's undivided attention until hey what is that over there a basketball I'd like to throw it towards that rim.
But they are much more balanced: They have 7 guys who play about equal minutes and all average right around the same point totals, and an 8th guy, D.J. Stephens, will also play some minutes.
Last year's game had the hype and national attention, and rest assured that the Lesser National Package Company Pyramid will be hyped up, giving the Cards their toughest road atmosphere of the season when combined with the talent lined up across from them.
The best way to preview this game may be to look at where things were a year ago, how last year turned out and what has happened since then. Things have turned out well, is my point, while Memphis is struggling a bit under Pastner and is in a really tough spot in terms of conference affiliation and their football program. So much has happened.
Anyway, I am going to stay away from predictions except to say that obviously it is going to be a close game, and a lot depends on who actually plays for us. Our team this year is much better equipped to play a run and gun game, and we also have the talent advantage. If we can hit some shots and they don't shoot out of their minds, we should prevail.
And if we lose, it will say a whole lot less about the state of our program than last year's loss might have.