No. 23 Louisville Cardinals (13-5, 4-1) vs. No. 21 NC State Wolfpack (15-3, 3-2)
Game Time: 8:06 p.m.
Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.
Television: Raycom/WAVE-3 in Louisville
Announcers: Tom Werme (play-by-play) and Mike Gminski (analyst)
Officials: Brian Dorsey, Mike Roberts, Chuck Jones
Favorite: Louisville by 4.5
Series: Louisville leads, 11-10
Last Meeting: NC State won 76-69 on March 3, 2018 in Raleigh
Probable Starting Lineups:
About NC State:
For the second time in as many years on the job, former Louisville assistant Kevin Keatts has NC State overachieving and poised to finish its season in the NCAA tournament. The Wolfpack have tasted defeat just three times through 18 games, and own a quality win over then-unbeaten and seventh-ranked Auburn.
The primary thing to know about NC State is that they play at a breakneck pace — the 17th-fastest in the country. They thrive on chaos. High possessions, high scores, high turnovers, transition buckets; this is the game the Pack wants to play.
Accomplishing that Thursday night will be a bit more difficult for Keatts’ team if starting point guard Markell Johnson is out. The junior suffered an injury during NC State’s win over Pitt two weeks ago and has been out for the past two games. He is the team’s most explosive guard, its best ball-handler, and its overwhelming leader in assists (4.1 apg). Johnson has been going through “light practice” all week, but Keatts has remained mum on whether or not he’ll see the court against the Cards.
The player most affected by Jonson’s absence has been sophomore sharpshooter Braxton Beverly, who has been forced to slight over and shoulder a significant chunk of the load at the one. With fewer catch and shoot opportunities, Beverly has gone 4-of-16 from three over the last two games, and was just 1-of-9 from the field against Notre Dame. Still, Beverly is an explosive offensive player who is a prime candidate to join the ever-expanding “broke out of a mini shooting slump against Louisville” club.
Johnson’s injury has had a reverse effect on junior guard C.J. Bryce, a player who followed Keatts from UNC-Wilmington to Raleigh two years ago. A 41.3 percent three-point shooter on the season, Bryce has scored 23 and 17 points in his last two games, respectively, and was 5-for-5 from beyond the arc last weekend against Notre Dame.
NC State’s leader in both scoring (14.3 ppg) and rebounding (7.1 rpg) is 6’5 senior Torin Dorn. Dorn is a decent enough outside shooter, but does the bulk of his damage closer to the rim. He’s a terrific transition scorer and is also terrific at bullying smaller guards into the paint or whipping slower forwards off the bounce. You have to pick your poison. Dorn was terrific in NC State’s win over Louisville a year ago, going 7-for-11 from the field and posting totals of 15 points and eight rebounds.
NC State is odd in that they’re one of the best three-point percentage teams in the ACC, but they rank 290th in the country in three-point attempts per field goal attempts. Also, despite their fast-paced, aggressive style, the Pack are one of the worst teams in America at getting to the free-throw line (they also don’t shoot it particularly well when they do get there).
STRENGTHS: Pace, two-point and three-point field goal percentage, forcing turnovers, offensive rebounding, three-point defense, block percentage.
WEAKNESSES: Markell Johnson’s injury, transition defense, getting to the free-throw line, shooting free-throws, keeping opponents off the free-throw line, turnovers, strength of schedule.
—Louisville has a 44-12 record in its conference home games over the last six years (.786). U of L has the fourth-most conference home wins in its five years in the ACC with a 29-9 ACC home record.
—Louisville is 2-2 in games this season played against teams (at the time) ranked in the top 25.
—Jordan Nwora is just the third Louisville player over the last 17 years to score 25 or more points in back-to-back games. Nwora scored a career-high 32 points against Boston College before pouring in 25 at Georgia Tech in his last game.
—Nwora is the second-most improved scorer in the nation with his 18.5 scoring average up 12.8 ppg from his 5.7 average last year.
—NC State is 2-2 in true road games so far this season and 4-2 in games away from Raleigh. Their true road wins came against Miami and Notre Dame.
—Louisville is one of only five schools to be ranked in the AP Top 25 poll at least once during each of the past 17 seasons, excluding preseason polls (others: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, and North Carolina).
—All 10 players currently on NC State’s roster who have seen playing time this season have scored in double figures at least once this season, and six are shooting 50 percent or better from the field.
—NC State has won six of its last nine ACC road games.
—Both NC State and Louisville boast two of the most prolific benches in the country. The Pack’s bench averages 35.3 points per game, while the Cardinals’ bench averages 29.3 points per game. NC State’s bench set a school-record this season with 62 points in its win over USC Upstate on 12/22, while Louisville’s bench set a school-record this season with 63 points in its win over Southern on 11/13.
—NC State ranks sixth in the nation in scoring offense (86.7), 10th in turnovers forced per game (17.6), 10th in rebound margin (+8.2), 17th in field goal percentage (.494), 17th in assists per game (17.3), and 20th in three-point field goal percentage defense (.293).
—This will be Chris Mack’s first game against NC State has a head coach, but Wake Forest was 3-0 against the Pack during Mack’s time as an assistant in Winston-Salem.
—Louisville is 12-0 this season when shooting a better percentage from the field than its opponent.
—Louisville has won 148 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of just four schools which have won 20 or more games on the court in each of the last 16 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 81, NC State 75