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Louisville-Seton Hall preview: Cardinals face first big test of season

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Kevin Willard and the Pirates are back in town.

Syracuse v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (1-0) vs. Seton Hall Pirates (0-0)

Wade Houston Tipoff Classic

Game Time: 4:02 p.m.

Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ESPN2

Announcers: Mike Couzens (play-by-play) and Fran Fraschilla (analyst)

Favorite: Louisville by 6

Officials: Ron Groover, Mike Roberts, Brent Hampton

Series: Louisville leads 14-6

Last Meeting: Louisville won 70-65 on Dec. 1, 2018 in Newark, N.J

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About Seton Hall:

Few players in college basketball left larger shoes to fill this season than Seton Hall’s Myles Powell. A First Team All-American a year ago, Powell did pretty much everything for the Pirates for the last four years, and graduated as the No. 9 scorer in the history of the Big East. On Friday, life without him begins for Kevin Willard’s program.

Seton Hall’s season was actually set to begin on Wednesday with a Yum Center game against Winthrop, but the Pirates were forced to hit the pause button for two weeks earlier this month after a positive Covid test from within their program. That pause also resulted in the cancelation of the season-opener. Seton Hall was also scheduled to play a big game against No. 2 Baylor on Sunday, but that game was canceled earlier this week after Bears head coach Scott Drew tested positive. SHU officially resumed all team activities on Tuesday.

Willard had a legitimate national title contender a season ago, and while that lofty bar may not be met in 2020-21, he still should be fielding a squad that is right there in the top 4-5 of the always competitive Big East.

Despite losing Powell, fellow double figure scorer Quincy McKnight, Big East Defensive Player of the Year Romaro Gill and others to graduation, Seton Hall still returns 44 percent of its scoring, 63 percent of its rebounding and 50 percent of its three-pointers made from last season’s Big East championship team.

Leading the charge for the Pirates this season figures to be 6’11 forward Sandro Mamukelashvili, who should be a double-double threat every time he takes the floor. The highly-skilled lefty big man is going to be an extremely tall task for Louisville’s frontcourt defenders. He averaged 12 points and six boards a year ago, but was at his best down the stretch. In Seton Hall’s final eight games, Mamukelashvili averaged 15.1 points and 7.8 rebounds per game while shooting 57 percent from the field and 50 percent from three.

Two other familiar names are also back in South Orange: wings Myles Cale and Jared Rhoden. While Rhoden produced solid averages of 9.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game last season, the larger impact both he and Cale make comes on the defensive end of the floor. In fact, as good as Powell was last year, Seton Hall was actually a markedly better defensive team when he was on the bench and guys like Cale and Rhoden were on the floor together. They’ll be tough assignments for David Johnson and Samuell Williamson. Rhoden, in particular, will test whoever draws him on the defensive end. His scoring output should jump to a place where he gets All-Big East consideration at the end of this year.

How well Seton Hall’s season ultimately goes rests largely with the answer to the question of how healthy and effective Harvard transfer Bryce Aiken can be. Aiken is a former top 100 recruit who averaged 22.2 points per game two years ago at Harvard and who has gone over the 30-point mark seven times in his college career. A foot injury prematurely ended his 2019-20 season with the Crimson, and then a knee injury forced him to miss most of the summer as well as the first few weeks of practice at Seton Hall. He’s expected to be fully ready to go for Friday’s game.

If Aiken isn’t able to handle the floor general duties for whatever reason, the assignment will be passed to senior Shavar Reynolds. A former walk-on, Reynolds can hit the outside shot when he’s left all alone, but his mentality is more of a pass-first point guard than what Pirate fans saw from Powell or will see from Aiken. Defensively, he is a dog, and he will relish the opportunity to try and keep Carlik Jones from doing this thing.

Canisius grad transfer Takal Molson is another guy to watch. He was one of the MAAC’s most prolific scorers during his time in the conference, but due in large part to his lack of a supporting cast, he wasn’t overly efficient. His efficiency should be improved with more talent around him, but how Molson adjusts to life not being scoring option A, B and C will be intriguing to follow.

Another name Louisville fans might recognize is Ike Obiagu, a 7’2 center who transferred in after spending two seasons at Florida State. Obiagu never made much of an impact at FSU, primarily because he was stuck behind the 55 other 7-foot Game of Thrones characters that Leonard Hamilton somehow convinces to come to Tallahassee.

In summary, Powell, Gill and McKnight were all spectacular, but there’s more than enough both returning and entering the fold for Willard to get this team back to the NCAA tournament and to be competitive with the best teams in the Big East. Stylistically, I wouldn’t expect them to look any different than they have. They’re going to get into you defensively, they’re going to push pace when the situation calls for it, and they’re going to try to out-tough you for every second of every 40-minute game. Defensively, they want to funnel you into their shot blockers in the lane and force you take an extremely low percentage shot on every halfcourt possession.

These are the games Chris Mack loves to coach in.

Notable:

—Louisville has won 56 consecutive home games in November, a streak which dates all the way back to a loss to Vanderbilt on November 30, 1972. The Cards are 43-0 in November games played inside the Yum Center.

—Louisville has won 82 of its last 86 non-conference games at the KFC Yum Center, a mark which spans over the last 10 seasons.

—Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard was an assistant at U of L for six years (2001-07). The Cardinals were a combined 142-58 during Willard’s six years with the Cards, reaching the 2005 Final Four. He guided Louisville to a 64-48 win over Houston (1-28-04) in Freedom Hall when Rick Pitino took a short medical leave

Louisville is 47-15 all-time in games against former Cardinal assistant coaches now serving as head coaches. That record includes a 7-1 mark against Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard.

—It has been 265 days since Seton Hall’s last game.

—Louisville is 7-2 all-time versus Seton Hall in games played in Louisville.

—Louisville is 5-1 all-time in games played on Nov. 27.

—Chris Mack is 7-6 as a head coach in games versus Seton Hall.

—Louisville players are wearing the National Unity Mark on the front of their uniforms this season in support of an initiative born from the NCAA Division I StudentAthlete Advisory Committee, which also created a National Unity Pledge. In addition, “UNITY” is depicted in lettering below the player numbers on U of L’s home white uniforms.

—Approximately 3,000 fans will be allowed to attend Friday’s game, with all seating limited to the lower bowl and premium seating areas.

—Inside the KFC Yum Center, Louisville has an overall record of 155-25, and 90-6 mark against non-conference opponents. The Cards have won 46 of their last 49 home games against non-conference foes.

—Louisville has a 51-6 record during the month of November over the last nine years, winning 31 of its last 35 games in that month.

—Since 2004, Louisville is 124-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.

—Louisville was 18-0 last season when scoring at least 71 points, and just 6-7 when failing to hit that mark. The Cards scored 79 points in Wednesday’s season-opening win over Evansville.

—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 154 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. Gonzaga, Duke and Kansas are the others.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 75, Seton Hall 69