Louisville Cardinals (0-0) at Miami Hurricanes (0-0)
Game Time: 6:31 p.m.
Location: Watsco Center: Coral Gables, Fla.
Television: ACC Network
Announcers: Steve Schlanger (play-by-play) and Cory Alexander (analyst)
Officials: Mike Eades, Ted Valentine, Ron Groover
Favorite: Louisville by 6.5
Series: Louisville leads, 11-4
Last Meeting: Louisville won 90-73 on Jan. 6, 2019 at the KFC Yum Center
Probable Starting Lineups:
A secondary goal of press can be to force the offense to initiate a) later in the shot clock than normal b) in bad locations and c) with players who don't normally initiate. You can achieve that without being as risky. Here Miami starts their 1st action >10 secs into the clock pic.twitter.com/dqFvZ2ExAm— Jordan Sperber (@hoopvision68) January 8, 2019
After a disastrous 14-18 season in which they were ravaged by injuries, defections, NCAA decisions and a lack of scholarship players, Miami is looking for a significant bounce-back in 2019-20. Jim Larranaga’s squad, which returns its top scorer and its top three-point shooter, was picked to finish ninth in the ACC by the league’s media members before the start of the season.
As was the case a year ago, all talk with this Miami team begins and ends with point guard Chris Lykes. The diminutive — he’s listed at 5’7 and that seems generous — Lykes figures to once again be one of the ACC’s most entertaining players. He ranked ninth in the conference in scoring (16.2 ppg) last season and figures to have an even bigger green light as a junior.
Lykes was solid against Louisville a year ago, scoring 18 points and dishing out four assists over 33 minutes of court time. He’s been dealing with a knee contusion that limited him to just 12 minutes of PT in Miami’s exhibition against Flagler last week. Larranaga said during his Monday press conference that he couldn’t guarantee Lykes would be 100 percent by the time tip-off rolled around Tuesday night, but added that he would be shocked if his point guard couldn’t play his standard allotment of minutes. That’s a big deal for a team whose primary offense is Lykes using the high pick-n-roll to pull up from deep, drive to the dish or create for others.
The man Lykes loves to set up more than any other is senior sharpshooter Dejan Vasilijevic. Though he might look like the slightly out of shape former high school football star lighting it up during pickup at your local Y, Vasilijevic can play. He’s hit 199 three-pointers in his college career and is almost certain to graduate as Miami’s all-time leader in three-pointers made. Louisville’s players should know all about him. He buried 5 of 8 triples and finished with a team-high 19 points in last year’s meeting.
Perhaps the most intriguing player in this game is Oklahoma transfer Kameron McGusty. McGusty was a solid player for two seasons in Norman, but Lon Kruger making the decision to let Trae Young do whatever the hell he wanted during the 2017-18 campaign made McGusty disappear a little bit and ultimately led to his transfer. McGusty is the perfect accent to the incumbent Miami backcourt in that he has the size that Lykes is lacking and the versatility that Vasilijevic is.
McGusty was Miami’s clear standout performer in the Flagler exhibition, controlling the offense and finishing with a game-high 20 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Depending on the lineup on the floor at the time, McGusty figures to be the responsibility of either Jordan Nwora or Dwayne Sutton.
The frontcourt is where, on paper at least, Miami is really lacking. That could change if starting center Rodney Miller’s performance against Flagler is an indication of things to come. The Oak Hill Academy product made a minimal impact for the Canes in two seasons before redshirting last year. During that year off, Miller lost 20 pounds, reshaped his body, and became adept at finishing around the rim with both hands. Conditioning remains a concern with him, as does his ability to put up respectable numbers (16 points on 8-of-12 shooting in the exhibition) against teams with a respectable inside presence.
Florida grad transfer Keith Stone was Miami’s projected starter at the four position, but he’s out Tuesday night with a knee injury. Starting in his place will be Sam Waardenburg, a 6’10 junior from New Zealand who has played a solid amount but hasn’t produced a solid amount over his first two college seasons. This is the spot in Miami’s lineup that appears to be the weakest, and the spot that Louisville — assuming Steven Enoch is fully healthy and able to demand adequate attention from Miller at the five — can really exploit. Waardenburg but is an OK rebounder, but he likes to hang around the perimeter (where he’s a capable shooter) too much for someone who’s 6’10.
Miami isn’t as rail thin on the bench as they were a year ago, but the ‘Canes aren’t exactly bursting with capable reserves either. Freshmen Isaiah Wong and Harlond Beverly are both combo guards who were top 80 recruits in the class of 2019. Both got solid minutes and played well in the exhibition against Flagler. Another freshman, 6’9 forward Anthony Walker, also played 17 minutes and was 3-for-6 from the field. Redshirt sophomore big man Deng Gak was a player Louisville actively recruited once upon a time, but he has yet to make a major impact in college, partly because of a knee injury that ended his 2018-19 campaign after just eight games. Expect to see him play 15-20 minutes off the bench.
While Miami’s offensive numbers were actually above average last season, the ‘Canes were last or next to last in the ACC in virtually every major defensive category. They really struggled at stopping teams in transition (will be interested to see if Chris Mack tries to run a little early on to see if the Canes have improved any in that area) and their lack of bodies often forced Larranaga to employ a sagging 2-3 zone where the effort level was ... minimal. It’s hard not to see that defense being significantly better with the addition of McGusty and the benefit of more capable bodies on the bench.
—Louisville has won 15 consecutive season-openers, and 24 of their last 26.
—This will be the earliest Louisville basketball has ever started a season, breaking the previous record of Nov. 8 that was set last season.
—Louisville is 4-2 against Miami since joining the ACC in 2014-15, and 5-4 all-time against the Hurricanes in games played in Miami.
—This is Louisville’s first season-opener on an opponent’s home court since an 89-75 win at BYU Hawaii on Nov. 20, 2004.
—Louisville’s Jordan Nwora (17.0 ppg) and Miami’s Chris Lykes (16.2 ppg) are the top two returning scorers in the ACC. Nwora is the preseason ACC Player of the Year.
—Louisville is 8-4 all-time when opening the season with a conference game. The Cardinals haven’t played a league opponent on opening night since beating Tulane 55-54 on Dec. 4, 1981.
—Miami’s Keith Stone, a grad transfer from Florida, will miss tonight’s game with a knee injury. Louisville will be without the services of injured junior center Malik Williams and freshman guard David Johnson.
—This will be the first time Miami has ever opened a season against a conference opponent. The Hurricanes haven’t played a power conference foe in their season-opener since squaring off against Michigan in 1987.
—The Hurricanes are 99-30 (.767) at the Watsco Center under Jim Larranaga, including 49-10 (.831) over their last 59 outings. As a whole, Miami is 194-74 (.724) at the Watsco Center, which opened as the BankUnited Center Jan. 4, 2003.
—Louisville has won its first conference game in nine of its last 11 seasons. The Cardinals defeated Miami in their ACC opener a year ago.
—Chris Lykes is one of just 13 recruited scholarship players under 6’0 at a high-major program.
—Chris Mack is 10-0 in season-openers as a head coach.
—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 18 seasons (also Kansas, Duke and Gonzaga).
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 77, Miami 69