RUTGERS SCARLET KNIGHTS (10-12, 2-7)
Game Time: 3 p.m.
Television: WHAS-11/ESPN Plus/MSG/MASN
Location: Freedom Hall: Louisville, KY
Favorite: Louisville by 18
All-Time Series: Louisville leads 5-1
Last Meeting: Louisville won 64-49 on 1/13/08
Probable Starting Lineup
G Mike Coburn....8.3 ppg
G Anthony Farmer..10.7 ppg
C Hamady N'Diae...5.0 ppg
F JR Inman....13.8 ppg
F Jaron Griffin...8.4 ppg
If only they'd scheduled the second game two days after the first.
After starting Big East play 0-6 and being written out of the race to make it to New York by just about everybody, Rutgers promptly beat Villanova by 12, went on the road and beat Pitt by 13, and took the hottest team in the league - Seton Hall - to overtime.
So how has this team that sandwiched a 15-point loss to Louisville three weeks ago with a 26-point loss to Providence and a 22-point loss to Syracuse been able to right the ship (Kragthorpe) so swiftly? The main reason is one that's consistent in all turnarounds: improved shooting.
The player who has had the light bulb shining the brightest the last two weeks has been freshman guard Mike Coburn, who was named the National Freshman of the Week by Rivals.com on Jan. 30. Coburn, who hit double figures just four times in his first 19 collegiate contests, has scored 23, 17 and 23 points in the Scarlet Knights' last three games. He has hit eight of his last nine three-point attempts, and 20 of his last 36 from the field overall.
Also heating up has been another freshman, the ultra-gifted Corey Chandler. In Rutgers' last three games, Chandler is averaging 16 points and has hit 6-of-12 attempts from beyond the arc.
Louisville spent nearly all of the first game against Rutgers in a zone, even after the Scarlet Knights got off to an uncharacteristically hot start from the outside. With Coburn and Chandler coming in red hot, and capable shooters like Jaron Griffin - who hit four-of-five threes and scored a career high 23 points on Jan. 13 - and Anthony Farmer also suiting up, I would be extremely surprised if we didn't see a significant increase in the amount of man employed by the Cards this afternoon.
This will present a significant test for both Jerry Smith - who will check the extremely versatile Chandler - as well as Juan Palacios and Earl Clark, who will be forced to try and contain leading scorer JR Inman. Inman scored 11 points in the first game against the Cards, but didn't look comfortable at all against the zone, and turned the ball over seven times. He's a big body, so you might see more man when Earl Clark is on the floor than when he isn't, even if JDP still has a better grasp on how to play defense.
Derrick Caracter had an extremely rough go of it in Piscataway, and much of that was because of the defensive presence of Hamady N'Diaye. The big man swatted four shots against the Cards, and has blocked 12 more in RU's last three games. Expect David Padgett to go right at him the first time he touches the ball, just as he did in the last two games against Gransberry and Thabeet.
Cardinal fans have been upset all week over the number of outside shots taken in the Connecticut game, but if the whistles on N'Diaye or Inman don't come early and often this afternoon, then you can bet that the offense isn't going to look all that different than it did on Monday. Although I would expect that certain folks will be extremely selective when it comes to the shots they opt to attempt.
The turnaround that Fred Hill has engineered over the past two weeks has been nothing short of amazing, but don't forget that these guys played right with us for 35 minutes even before all the improbable clicking. And now Farmer is healthy and back in the starting lineup, and Coburn and Chandler are certainly a far cry from the guys that scored one and six points in the loss at the RAC.
U of L dominated the final five minutes of the game three weeks ago because they dominated two statistical categories: turnovers and rebounds. Rutgers got flustered and gave the Cards seven cheap points, and U of L didn't allow any second chances to a team that suddenly went ice cold from the floor. RU finished the game with 16 turnovers, and lost the rebounding battle 38-29.
Rebounding, turnovers and perimeter defense sounds like the recipe for another win.
CC Prediction: Louisville 79, Rutgers 63
I don't care how well these guys are playing, this is simply a game that Louisville cannot afford to lose. They just can't.