N.C. State forward Bee Jay Anya told the media Thursday that he didn't see any noticeable differences between Louisville in February and Louisville now other than the absence of Chris Jones.
Sure, Anya is just confident in his team's abilities and was trying to make some kind of point, but he also probably should have paid a bit more attention in film study ahead of the Wolfpack's rematch with Louisville in the Sweet 16 this evening. The Cardinals are much different than they were in February when N.C. State came into the Yum! Center and dominated, and it has almost nothing to do with Chris Jones.
Well, maybe it does.
Here are five ways Louisville isn't just different, but better now than the team N.C. State saw in February, in no particular order:
1. Quentin Snider
The Louisville native was a natural fan favorite as soon as he signed to become a Cardinal, and here he is in his first NCAA Tournament as Rick Pitino's starting point guard. Snider has vastly improved defensively, and he's been a poised floor general through Louisville's first two games in the Tournament. Perhaps most helpful has been his ability to pick up some of the offensive load that Jones left behind, scoring 16 and 10 points in the first two games, respectively.
2. Louisville shares the ball better
This is, perhaps, another byproduct of Jones being removed from the equation. Terry Rozier mentioned this in his response to Anya's comments on Thursday, and he's right. Only two Cardinals reached double figures in Louisville's February loss to N.C. State. On Sunday, four Cardinals scored ten or more points. Snider has been an effective scorer, but he hasn't taken a ton of shots in Louisville's two Tournament games, allowing for things to flow more smoothly.
3. The defensive pressure has been turned up
Defense gets talked about with Louisville all the time, but it's been true so far in the Tournament, particularly against Northern Iowa. Louisville's pressure was able to speed up the Panthers and keep them out of their comfort zone for most of the game. Granted, N.C. State will be much happier playing at a faster tempo than Northern Iowa, but that doesn't mean that Louisville's improved team defense can't have a more profound effect this time around.
4. Terry Rozier looks like a pro prospect again
Rozier shot 3-for-11 from the field in Louisville's loss to N.C. State in February and didn't get to the free throw line once, finishing with seven points. Everyone saw what Rozier did Sunday against a defensively sound Northern Iowa team. He shot 8-for-13 from the field and 8-for-9 from the free throw line en route to 25 points in the Louisville victory. Rozier was in control and having his way with Northern Iowa, something that the Wolfpack did not experience on their trip to Louisville.
5. It's the Sweet 16, and Louisville is still coached by Rick Pitino
This record was tarnished a bit with last year's Tournament loss to Kentucky, but Rick Pitino is still 11-1 in the Sweet 16 as a head coach. That's pretty remarkable, and the Tournament so far this year is proof enough of how good Pitino is in March. It wouldn't have surprised a ton people if Louisville hadn't gotten to this weekend, but they did. Moreover, they did it by rebounding from a shaky start and dominating in the Round of 32. Mark Gottfried has done well at N.C. State, but he has yet to lead the Wolfpack any further than the Sweet 16 in his four-year tenure.
Louisville probably didn't need bulletin board material ahead of a Sweet 16 game. Nobody should need bulletin board material when the NCAA tournament comes around. But the Cards got some anyway, which can't hurt anyone.
The Cards are much different than they were the last time they saw N.C. State, even if the Wolfpack don't know it yet.
As Rozier said Thursday in what could become a famous phrase from this year's tournament run, "they'll find out."