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Louisville-Miami preview: Cards host Canes in ACC opener

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Louisville looks to shake off the memory of the disappointing effort against Kentucky with a win in its ACC opener.

Louisville Cardinals (9-4, 0-0) vs. Miami Hurricanes (8-5, 0-1)

Game Time: 6 p.m.

Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ESPNU

Announcers: Anish Shroff (play-by-play) and Cory Alexander (analyst)

Officials: Jamie Luckie, John Gaffney, A.J. Desai

Favorite: Louisville by 7

Series: Louisville leads 10-4

Last Meeting: Miami won 78-75 in OT on Jan. 24, 2018 in Coral Gables

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About Miami:

The Hurricanes enter Sunday’s coming game coming off arguably their most complete performance of the season. Miami led No. 18 NC State for the bulk of the evening on Thursday, and owned a 74-64 advantage with just 10 minutes to play. Jim Larranaga’s smaller, thinner team ultimately wilted down the stretch, however, taking an 87-82 defeat. Poor free-throw shooting (16-for-29) and a 51-29 rebounding advantage for the Wolf Pack soured what was otherwise a solid effort from the Canes.

Through 13 games, it’s been a disappointing season for Miami both and off the court. The Canes have been without the services of their best player, Dewan Hernandez (formerly Dewan Huell), since day one. Hernandez was initially held out as a precaution after his name came up in a report that alleged he had a relationship with now infamous “runner” Christian Dawkins. Earlier this week, the NCAA released a decision which stated that Hernandez had entered into an agreement with Dawkins (despite the fact that there was no written contract), and declared him ineligible for the entire 2018-19 season.

Hernandez’s absence, coupled with the redshirting of junior Rodney Miller and an injury to highly-touted freshman Deng Gak, has left Miami with just seven scholarship players. After a 5-0 start, the Hurricanes went through a four-game losing streak that included losses to Seton Hall, Rutgers, Yale and Penn. They bounced back to take care of three overmatched low major opponents before Thursday’s ACC-opening loss to NC State.

Miami is led by one of the most exciting players in the ACC, 5’7 sophomore point guard Chris Lykes. He enters Sunday averaging 17.5 ppg, and is coming off a performance against NC State where he hit 10 of 15 shots and scored a game-high 28 points. A super talented backcourt of Lonnie Walker, Ja’Quan Newton and Bruce Brown forced Lykes to come off the bench last season, but he was instrumental in the team’s success down the stretch, scoring in double figures in eight of Miami’s final 10 games. He hit two threes, scored nine points and dished out four assists in The U’s win over Louisville last year.

Florida Gulf Coast grad transfer Zach Johnson — a player Louisville heavily pursued during the offseason — comes off the bench but is the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.9 ppg. The explosive athlete has scored more than 20 points in each of Miami’s last two games, and has connected on 7 of his last 11 three-point attempts.

Anthony Lawrence (13.2 ppg), Ebuka Izundu (12.0 ppg) and three-point specialist Dejan Vasiljevic (12.0 ppg) also average double-figures for Miami, which gets 87 percent of its scoring production from its top five scorers.

While Louisville is one of the best teams in the country at getting to the free-throw line, Miami is one of the best at keeping its opponents off the charity stripe. The Hurricanes are No. 3 in Division-I in allowed FTA/FGA.

As you might expect from a team with Miami’s lack of size and depth, its perimeter numbers are solid on both ends of the floor, but the Canes have really struggled with rebounding and interior defense. This is a game where guys like Steven Enoch and Dwayne Sutton should thrive around the rim, and where Jordan Nwora should be able to produce a double-double.

TLDR team summary:

Strengths: Field goal/three-point shooting, forcing turnovers, not turning the ball over, Chris Lykes/Zach Johnson can go off for 30 on anyone, don’t let teams kill them from the free-throw line.

Weaknesses: Lack of size, rebounding, free-throw shooting, depth, interior defense, 0-1 in true road games.

Notable:

—Louisville has won its conference opener in five of the last six seasons, and eight of the last 10. The Cards began ACC play with a 77-51 win over Pitt last season.

—Louisville has won seven of its last eight games when playing the first game of a new calendar year.

—Miami is the only team among basketball’s six power conferences with five players averaging in double-figure scoring.

—Under Jim Larrañaga, Miami is 48-37 in true road games, including 31-31 in ACC play.

—Louisville is third in the nation in free throw attempts per field goal attempts (357/716, 49.9 percent) and leads the nation with 26.8 percent of its points coming from free throws.

—Louisville has a 42-12 record in conference home games over the last six years, and is 27-9 in league home games since joining the ACC.

—Miami’s Dejan Vasiljevic has hit at least one three-pointer in 26 straight games – the longest current streak in the ACC.

—Louisville is 8-0 this season when shooting better from the field than its opponent.

—Miami was picked 10th (one spot ahead of Louisville) in the 2018-19 ACC Preseason Poll, but the Canes have exceeded their predicted finish in each of Jim Larrañaga’s first seven seasons.

—Louisville is 4-0 all-time in home games against Miami, and 2-0 against the Hurricanes inside the KFC Yum Center.

—Miami is 0-3 all-time in games at the Yum Center. The Canes also played inside the building during the 2016 Sweet 16, where they dropped a 92-69 decision to eventual national champion Villanova.

—Louisville’s Jordan Nwora is currently the most improved scorer in the ACC, rising 12.1 points from last season (2017-18 average: 5.7 ppg, 2018-19: 17.8 ppg).

—Louisville is the last team in the ACC to play its first conference game.

—Jim Larrañaga is 2-3 against Louisville in his coaching career, with all five games coming during his time with Miami.

—Louisville has won 147 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 74, Miami 68