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Friday evening Cardinal news and notes

It happened. Beat Kentucky.

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—Spread check (basketball): Kentucky by 1.

—Spread check (Music City Bowl): Mississippi State by 4.

—Here’s U of L’s official preview of the Battle of the Bluegrass.

—Brendan McKay has been named to D1 Baseball’s All-Decade Team.

—I’ve seen a lot of homemade fan cornhole boards over the years, none better than this set.

—The Bobblehead Hall of Fame has a new Louisville-Kentucky rivalry bobblehead available for purchase.

—Hoops Insights has a great look at the strengths and weaknesses for the Cards and Cats here.

I’ll start with the most interesting thing about the Cards, their strong shooting. UofL doesn’t have a great shot selection profile but has overcome that with accuracy from every part of the court. They rank only 330th in percentage of shots taken at the rim, 177th in percentage of shots taken from 3 point range, and 47th in percentage of shots taken between the rim and 3 point line. Typically the latter are the least efficient shots, because shooting percentages aren’t very good on them and they’re only worth 2 points as opposed to 3. However, UofL is in the top 50 in FG% from each area (9th near the rim, 41st on other 2 pointers, and 36th from 3) which overcomes shot selection issues. This offensive profile is actually fairly similar to what the San Antonio Spurs did last season in the NBA, as they took a much higher percentage of mid-range shots than other teams but were very accurate. The downside is that shooting accuracy tends to fluctuate, so teams with a suboptimal shot selection can have their offense fall off hard. This is what’s happened to the Spurs this season, for example, as they are an average shooting team from most parts of the court but have a poor offense because of low-efficiency shots. The Cards have to be very accurate to overcome inefficient shot selection, which can cause their offense to fall off quickly if they aren’t hitting shots at a high rate. They’ve been good enough to make this a strength, but it’s worth monitoring.

Louisville’s elite eFG% defense is more reflective of a few key principles. The Cards:

—Allow very few shots at the rim (15th nationally)

—Benefit from poor opponent 3 point shooting (13th nationally)

—Allow almost nothing in transition (16th fewest transition shots, 1st in opponent transition eFG%)

Opponents tend to take a long time to get a shot against UofL. Per KenPom, their average defensive possession lasts 18.4 seconds, good for 22nd longest. These late possessions tend to lead to poor shots; per, opponents only get to the rim on 12% of their possessions longer than 25 seconds. The Cards are clearly getting used to the pack-line defense of Chris Mack.

Another strength for the Cards is the presence of Jordan Nwora. He currently ranks #1 in KenPom’s player of the year formula as he’s combining heavy shot volume with strong efficiency, while also rebounding well and avoiding turnovers. By my data, he takes 33% of UofL’s shots with a 56% eFG%. He also does a good job of avoiding fouls, committing only about 2.5 per 40 minutes. He’s played over 80% of UofL’s non-garbage time minutes, so UofL rarely has to play a significant stretch of minutes without him.

—After losing 14-0 to Louisiana Tech in the Independence Bowl and becoming the first power conference team in 40 years to be shut out in a bowl game by a non-power conference team, Miami fired offensive coordinator Dan Enos on Friday.

—Pitt saved at least a little face for the ACC on Thursday by coming back and beating Eastern Michigan 34-30 in an eventful Quick Lane Bowl.

—Football videos are back and they are just as glorious as they were the previous three months.

—Danielle Lerner has a lengthy look (Athletic link) at the 1983 Dream Game with some firsthand accounts from the Cardinals who were involved in the famous victory .

—A roller coaster eight weeks for the Evansville basketball team continued Friday with the news that head coach Walter McCarty has been placed on administrative leave pending an investigation into alleged violations of the university’s Title IX policy.

—It had to be a Karen.

—Hayes Gardner of the CJ dives into the multiple ways that the longer three-point line is affecting college basketball this season.

Voting is still open for the Card Chronicle Person of the Year, where Scott Satterfield has a fairly solid lead over Lamar Jackson.

—Hoop Vision serves up a general overview of Louisville-Kentucky.

Game To Watch

#3 Louisville at #16 Kentucky

Saturday 3:45pm ET (CBS)

Kentucky enters Saturday’s rivalry game on a two-game losing streak, but the Wildcats showed some promise against Ohio State. In particular, Nate Sestina’s performance (5-for-8 from three) seemed especially important for a team with shooting issues.

Sestina’s emergence as a pick-and-pop shooter gives Kentucky an opportunity to take advantage of Louisville’s aggressive ball screen defense — which will likely be needed against the pack-line defense designed to take away driving opportunities for quick guards like Ashton Hagans and Tyrese Maxey.

On the other side of the ball, Louisville’s offense is still a bit of an unknown, even 12 games into the season now. Chris Mack has switched to a more motion-based approach this year, after we saw a heavy ball screen approach last season. And while the new offense has been a success against weaker competition, the Cardinals really struggled offensively — even when adjusting for competition — against both Michigan and Texas Tech.

Kentucky’s defense will give Louisville another opportunity to showcase their offense against a team with formidable size and athleticism. And while the Michigan and Texas Tech performances are reasonable cause for concern, it should be noted that Louisville shot a combined 7-for-36 from three in those two games.

Film Room: How Texas Tech’s Deny & Switch Defense Upset Louisville

—Louisville alum Tim Kubel made Top Drawer Soccer’s college Team of the Decade.

—Sports Illustrated plays Stock Up/Stock Down in college hoops.

—ESPN’s Bill Barnwell says there’s no question: Lamar is the MVP.

1. Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

The best football player on the planet in 2019, end of story. A Heisman Trophy and an NFL MVP award makes for a pretty incredible trophy case, given that only eight players in NFL history have done both. Jackson is going to have them both in his pocket before turning 24.

—The staff over at A Sea of Blue is split with their predictions for Saturday’s big game.

—Seems like a good thing.

—Big Red Louie says it’s time for Louisville to hold up its end of the rivalry bargain.

—The Cards have arrived in Nashville.

—Rob Dauster serves up a betting preview of Louisville-Kentucky.

It’s going to feel pretty gross, but I think the smart money here will be on Kentucky.

We’ve seen this story before with the Wildcats. They struggle throughout the first two months of the season before they put together one, statement performance that lights a fire under the program and turns the season around.

I think this is going to be the performance.

Kentucky is coming home after five days and two losses in Vegas. They are going to be playing their first meaningful game in Rupp Arena this season, and it just so happens to come against their arch-rival Louisville.

I also think this is going to be a tough matchup for the Cardinals. They struggled against Texas Tech when the Red Raiders were able to get out and pressure Louisville’s ball-handlers. They beat Michigan at home, but that win was a product of Louisville’s defense. They only managed to score 58 points on 66 possessions. This is also going to be their first road game since the first game of the season, a win over Miami.

BEST BET: I’m hoping to be able to get this at Kentucky (+3), in which case I’d probably just end up on the Kentucky ML. What will worry me is if the line ends up around a pick-em or with Kentucky laying points. The major concern here is that the Cardinals are the second-best defensive team in the country, according to KenPom, and Kentucky has not exactly proven to be good offensively this year.

—The mayors of Louisville and Lexington have made a bourbon bet on Saturday’s game.

—Future Card D’Andre Davis has some hops.

—After a disappointing start to the season, Kentucky enters Saturday’s rivalry game in need of a big win for its non-conference resume.

—National predictions for the Music City Bowl appear to be leaning towards Mississippi State.

—The Cards got some new kicks for Christmas.

—Rick Bozich says Kentucky has the better players, but Louisville has the better team.

—Efficiency ratings say Louisville was the seventh-best team in college basketball over the last decade.

Today, for an early taste of All-Decade content, we present to you the top programs of the decade in adjusted efficiency margin from the 2009-10 season through 2018-19:

1. Duke (+27.1)

2. Kansas (+26.2)

3. Kentucky (+25.8)

4. Gonzaga (+23.6)

5. Michigan State (+23.2)

6. North Carolina (+23.0)

7. Louisville (+22.9)

8. Villanova (+22.9)

9. Wisconsin (+22.8)

10. Virginia (+22.2)

So there you have it, the definitive rankings of the past decade. I’m sure no one will possibly argue otherwise.

—For Kentucky, Saturday is about closing out a decade of dominance over its bitter rival.

—Nailed it.

—BetAmerica is rolling with U of L to cover the spread against Mississippi State.

—Athlon also likes Louisville to pull the slight upset in Nashville on Monday.

Final Analysis

Numbers aside, you have a team in Mississippi State that did not meet expectations this season, while Louisville surpassed expectations in 2019. That could signal motivation being a major factor in this matchup, which is not uncommon for bowl games. The Bulldogs probably have more talent on both sides of the football, but the Cardinals are the team entering Monday’s matchup with far more inspiration, as many did not expect them to be playing in a bowl game so soon. And that will give them the nod from a coaching standpoint. Louisville pulls out a win late in a mild upset.

Prediction: Louisville 35, Mississippi State 31

—The Herald-Leader has a basic matchup overview of the Cards vs. the Cats.

—And finally, beat Kentucky.