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Sunday morning Cardinal news and notes

Steven Vanover was a die-hard Cardinal fan his entire life, one who insisted on watching games even while he was receiving chemotherapy. Cancer took him earlier this month at the far, far too young age of 24, but his family -- including brother Michael (left) and sister Amy -- and friends know he'll be watching this afternoon.

I_medium Spread Check: Michigan State by 2.5.

I_medium Mike Waters of has an awesome profile of U of L strength coach Ray Ganong and his intense in-game persona.

"Everybody has a purpose and a different character and personality,'' Ganong said. "That's who I am. I can't sit there and just watch. It's just who I am. I love it.''

The animated Ganong stands out even more because he sits between two of the calmest people on the Louisville bench. To his right sits Wayne Turner, who played for Rick Pitino and Tubby Smith at Kentucky and is now an assistant strength coach. To Ganong's left is Fred Hina, the team's trainer.

"I'm pretty much numb to Ray at this point,'' Turner said. "He gets into it, but unless he catches me with an elbow, which he has, I try to focus on the game.''

"I feel sorry for him,'' Ganong said of Turner. "And Fred, too, he's the same way. It's a love-hate relationship. They love me, but they hate me during the games.''

During games, Ganong holds onto two or three of the red folding chairs that the Cardinals' players use during timeouts.

"If I wasn't holding the chairs,'' said Ganong, "my hands would be flying.''

I_medium Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press breaks down which team has the advantage in every area, and then says he foresees a close game with the Spartans coming out on top.


This is such a tough call. If both teams are at their best, Louisville is slightly better. But the Spartans obviously have some special things going on, starting with those guards. Frontcourt foul trouble will be a huge factor in this game - the Spartans need all their big men available. And Dawson has to be full frenzy from start to finish while avoiding those fouls. Pitino won't press much, not with MSU prepared to attack it. But he will switch defenses, and the Cardinals can make it very tough for opponents to locate quality shots. Here's guessing MSU gets one more than Louisville to drop.

Prediction: MSU 65, Louisville 64

I_medium Graham Couch of the Lansing State Journal embarks on the same endeavor, but sees things turning out differently.

Prediction:Louisville looks the part. Even more so than Virginia. This is a team that can struggle to shoot. And, if they do, and MSU doesn't, the Spartans can win this game. But MSU rarely sees a matchup where it can't rely on having the physical advantage with Dawson. It can't against Louisville.

Make it: Louisville 67, MSU 62

I_medium Campus Insiders' Jordan Cornette is the only person in the Western World unimpressed that Rick Pitino has gotten this Louisville team to the Elite 8. Four days ago, Cornette picked West Virginia to beat Kentucky.

I_medium Sports Illustrated's Michael Beller looks at how both Louisville and Michigan State can win, which I'm pretty sure can't happen.

Louisville will win if:

1. It stops Travis Trice: The Spartans senior guard clearly isn't ready for his college career to end. He had 23 points in the win over Virginia in the Round of 32 and 24 against Oklahoma in the Sweet 16 on Friday, only the second time this year he's topped 20 in consecutive games. Both senior forward Branden Dawson and junior guard Denzel Valentine have been effective complementary scorers in this tournament, but Trice is the engine making Michigan State go right now. If the Cardinals can shut that engine down, they will avenge a 2009 Elite Eight loss to the Spartans and return to the Final Four for the third time in four years.

2. It makes the Spartans offense uncomfortable: Michigan State does a decent job taking care of the ball, ranking 71st nationally in turnover percentage, but taking the ball away from the opponent has long been a strength of Rick Pitino's defenses, and this year's Cardinals rank 38th in the country in defensive turnover rate. Louisville can struggle to score consistently, so it will need easy transition points to keep its offense flowing. If they can score double-digits on fast-break points, they'll be headed for Indianapolis.

Michigan State will win if:

1. It dominates the glass. The Spartans aren't terribly big, but they do a very good job cleaning up their misses. They're 83rd in the country in offensive rebounding rate and 27th in defensive rebounding rate. It would seem that Louisville, with 6'8" Montrezl Harrell, 6'10" Chinanu Onuaku and 6'10" Mangok Mathiang, would have a significant advantage on the glass in this game, but Louisville is actually a touch worse than the national average in defensive rebounding. For Michigan State, Matt Costello is 76th in offensive rebounding rate, while Branden Dawson and Gavin Schilling are both in the top 120. If the Spartans can get second chances on offense, while preventing them on the other end, they will get Tom Izzo to his seventh Final Four.

2. Trice and Valentine shoot a combined 40 percent from three. Trice and Valentine have taken almost 64% of Michigan State's attempts from three-point range this year and have 65% of the team's makes. They went 6-for-12 in the upset of Virginia and 8-for-20 in the win against Oklahoma. Bryn Forbes adds some additional firepower from distance, but it's Trice and Valentine, both of whom play at least 32 minutes per game, who will have to carry the bulk of the production from outside. If they convert as many triples as they have in either of the last two games, it could be hard for Louisville-which hasn't made more than five three-pointers in any of its six games this month—to keep up.

I_medium In non-basketball news, the Louisville baseball team took down Georgia Tech 8-3 on Saturday to move to 10-1 in ACC play, good for best in the conference.

I_medium As many people have noted, Sunday's game is starting to feel like an every three years thing.


The Spartans knocked out the Cardinals in the 2009 Midwest Regional final. Louisville responded by beating Michigan State 57-44 in the 2012 West Regional semifinal.

Spartans senior Branden Dawson recalls the latest loss all too well. He watched it on television in his dorm room after sustaining a knee injury in the regular-season finale.

"It was hard just sitting there and not being able to play," he said. "It will be great for myself being able to play against these guys for the first time."

Louisville is 5-3 against Michigan State, including a second-round tournament win in 1959.

I_medium Jonathan Lintner of the C-J looks at Louisville football's Saturday scrimmage, and says sophomore QB Reggie Bonnafon was the standout.

I_medium I guess this website translates normal articles into slang, and for whatever reason, I found its translation of this Quentin Snider story to be sort of hilarious.

I_medium The New York Daily News discusses the possibility of Rick Pitino coming to St. John's, and uses this fact as justification for why there could be mutual interest:

It's the same reaction most have to the idea of getting Pitino, who has all those things at Louisville and reportedly makes nearly $6 million annually. But St. John's place in the world is a little different now. It has been to the NCAA Tournament two of the past five years, spent stretches in the national rankings.

You can play up the New York angle or the Big East angle if you want, but come on, man.

I_medium Louisville's win over NC State on Friday made Wayne Blackshear the first Louisville player ever to play in 15 NCAA Tournament wins. Sunday's game against Michigan State will be Blackshear's 18th NCAA Tournament game appearance, also a new U of L record.

I_medium Many people have noted that Quentin Snider played 37 minutes without a turnover Friday night, but Dana O'Neill points out that all the Cardinals did a good job of taking care of the ball.

Lost in the commotion of the back-and-forth game -- Louisville had just five turnovers in the game, only one in the entire second half. Rozier and Quentin Snider made savvy decisions on when to push tempo and when to retreat, and then took their time in the half court. That mistake-free basketball all but eliminated NC State's usually potent transition game.

I_medium Tom Izzo is the best coach in March by a wide margin (according to FiveThirtyEight), but Rick Pitino is No. 2.

I_medium While the college football world was busy giving Louisville hell over taking former TCU star Devonte Fields, they were also ignoring the fact that the Cardinal staff also passed on dismissed Georgia DT Jonathan Taylor, who later wound up at Alabama. Taylor was arrested again on Saturday night.

I_medium Harry's into it.

I_medium Chane Behanan being on State Street in Lexington last night makes me a little sad.

I_medium A year after draft experts were talking about Teddy's small hands and skinny knees, we've got guys out here asking who is going to be the next Teddy Bridgewater in a positive way.

I_medium Three Michigan-based Gannett reporters serve up their picks for the game, and just one likes the Cards' chances.

Mitch Albom

MSU 64, Louisville 61:The scariest thing the Cardinals have is Rick Pitino. But he doesn't wear shorts. MSU isn't the best team in the tournament, but the team in its way so far has been surmountable with tough defense and relentless effort. Louisville is the same. A good game, and the Spartans are off to Indy.

Jeff Seidel

MSU 65, Louisville 61: Seriously? You think it's wise to pick against this team? Against Tom Izzo in a quick, turnaround game? All right. So the Spartans don't make free throws, not until crunch time. And they get into foul trouble way too often. But they play great defense most of the time, and they play as a team and they have enough guys to make critical shots at crucial times. On to Indy they go.

Drew Sharp

Louisville 65, Michigan State 60:The Cardinals' Montrezl Harrell called out the Spartans' Branden Dawson on Saturday, questioning the energy level the MSU senior will exhibit today. Not exactly the smartest strategy, but it speaks to Louisville's overall confidence approaching this game. Expect another physically grueling battle, but Rick Pitino gets the edge over Tom Izzo. But not by much.

Pretty sure Rick wears shorts sometimes.

I_medium The Louisville women's team saw its season end sooner than it wanted, but Jeff Walz is still so, so awesome. Here's visual proof.

I_medium With Pitino vs. Izzo getting most of the national attention for this game, the Lansing State Journal focuses in on Harrell vs. Dawson.

On Saturday, the guy who will trade shoves and snarls with Dawson in one of the best individual matchups of this tournament wondered aloud whether Dawson is capable of helping the Spartans enough today.

"I haven't seen too many players play with the energy that I play," Louisville senior forward Montrezl Harrell said. "I don't take any plays off. I go in and make sure I play 110% every play. If (Dawson) has as much energy as me, it should be a good game (today). I don't see him running with as much energy as I have."

The Spartans were done with their media obligations Saturday by the time those words were spoken. They're certain to find their way onto a bulletin board and into Dawson's hands before the No. 7 seed Spartans (26-11) and No. 4 seed Cardinals (27-8) meet at 2:20 p.m. today (CBS) at the Carrier Dome in the East Regional final.

That doesn't mean they aren't rooted in fact. The 6-foot-8, 240-pound Harrell is one of the hardest-playing, loudest-talking players in the game, a guy whose 15.7 points and 9.2 rebounds a game don't quite reflect the fury he seems to possess during and after every play.

"Every dunk, he's pounding his chest, looking into the crowd," said the 6-6, 225-pound Dawson, who dominates when he plays with that passion but still needs a prod at times. "It will definitely be a man's game."

I_medium Michigan State is hopeful that history repeats itself on Sunday ... but only if we're talking about 2009, not 2012.

I_medium "Randle the Handle" of The Toronto Sun likes Louisville to cover the 2.5-point spread on Sunday, and since this is the first time I've ever heard of Randle the Handle, I can accurately say that Randle the Handle has never steered me wrong before.

I_medium Godspeed, heroes.

I_medium Louisville already beat Michigan State in rowing this weekend, so let's keep it rolling.

I_medium Yahoo's Pat Forde previews Sunday's "clash of the titans."

That was payback for 2009, when Michigan State made Louisville submit. Two days after scoring 103 points in the Sweet 16 against Arizona, the Cardinals were held to 52 by the Spartans.

Before that game, Izzo hosted old friend and former assistant Tom Crean for a pregame scouting report and film session since Crean had played Pitino so often in the Big East. This time around, Pitino has summoned La Familiato Syracuse.

Son Richard Pitino, whose Minnesota team beat Michigan State in late February, is here. So are former Pitino assistants Ralph Willard and Kevin Keatts.

There is not a surplus of preparation time in a two-day turnaround, but both teams will be as ready as possible. Sleep is optional at this time of year.

"What matters now is we've got two teams and 40 minutes," Izzo said."Some of these kids have worked -- when I just think, I look down and see Travis [Trice] and Denzel [Valentine] for sure and I think how many hours they put in this summer, all that for 40 minutes. Does it get any better than that? It reminds me of an Olympian, you work out all that time for a 100-yard sprint that you could screw up at the start.

"That's what's great about sports. That's what's great about what we have. That will be the pre-game talk. Hey, you've earned the right to be here. We didn't take an easy route to get here. We had to beat a lot of good people. So you've earned the right to have some swagger, but just understand that there's another team that's earned the right, too, and they play hard as hell, too. It should be a hell of a game as far as that goes."

I_medium Via Jeff Greer, Louisville has won 13 of its last 14 against AP Top 25 teams in games played on March 5 or later.

I_medium ESPN's Dana O'Neill previews the Cards vs. the Spartans.

I_medium U of L players talk about their personal pregame rituals and superstitions.

I_medium East Lansing police have already planned extra patrols for Sunday.

I_medium Branden Dawson was a freshman with an ACL tear when Louisville knocked Michigan State out of the NCAA Tournament in 2012, and Draymond Green claims that if Dawson had been healthy, it would have been the Spartans, and not the Cards, who would have made the Final Four.

I_medium And finally, beat Michigan State.