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Louisville-NC State preview: Cards hit the road in search of 8th straight win

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They’ll face a talented Wolfpack team desperate to get its season back on track.

Louisville Cardinals (18-3, 9-1) at NC State Wolfpack (14-7, 5-5)

Game Time: 2 p.m.

Location: PNC Arena: Raleigh, N.C.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Wes Durham (play-by-play) and Sean Farnham (analyst)

Favorite: Louisville by 3

Officials: Ted Valentine, Raymie Styons, Sean Hull

Series: Louisville leads, 12-10

Last Meeting: Louisville won 84-77 on Jan. 24, 2019 in Louisville

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

About NC State:

A team whose NCAA tournament resume seemed to be in solid shape as recently as a week ago, NC State suddenly finds itself in desperate need of a major win after dropping back-to-back games as a favorite against Georgia Tech and North Carolina. The Wolfpack is now 14-7 overall, 5-5 in conference play, and sits at No. 57 in the NET Rankings. That ranking makes this an opportunity for a Quadrant 1 victory for Louisville.

If you’re expecting to see the 40 minutes of full court pressure and constant up-and-down play that Kevin Keatts has made his staple, you might be a bit disappointed this afternoon. Injuries and an overall lack of depth have forced Keatts to temper his team’s tempo. In fact, Monday night against North Carolina, NC State hardly utilized any full-court pressure at all.

Though it has struggled to score over the last couple of weeks, for the season, this is a team that has leaned more heavily on its offense than its defense. That starts with senior point guard Markell Johnson. Johnson is one of the best creators in all of college basketball, and currently ranks 37th in the country in assist rate and second in the ACC in total assists. His biggest issue this season has been not having enough scoring talent around him to create for. This has resulted in him being asked to assume more of a primary scoring role, which he can do adequately well from time-to-time, but isn’t really his game.

Johnson leads the team in scoring at 13.2 ppg, but shoots just 39.9 percent from the field and only 25.7 percent from three. He’s scored in double figures in 15 of State’s last 17 games, but if you can force him to use a ton of possessions to get to that number — he was 6-of-19 from the field against UNC — that’s a win. The other area to keep an eye on Johnson is defensively, where he ranks fifth in the ACC in steals, averaging just under two steals per game.

C.J. Bryce, who followed Keatts from UNC Wilmington to Raleigh, has been NC State’s top scorer for most of the season but has really struggled in recent games. Averaging 13.1 ppg for the year, he didn’t score a single point against Georgia Tech or North Carolina, going a combined 0-for-12 from the field in those games. Even so, Bryce is a guy you have to keep an eye on, especially from beyond the arc. He isn’t the most athletic guy in the world, but he can light you up if he gets a little bit of space. Despite being a 6’5 guard, he also leads the Wolfpack in rebounding at 6.2 boards per game.

NC State’s man inside is 6’10 junior DJ Funderburk. After missing the start of the season because he had four boots placed on his car and drove off with two of them still attached (real story), Funderburk has pieced together a solid junior year. In conference games only, he leads the ACC in field goal percentage at 58.8 percent. He just worked his way back into the starting lineup recently, and has responded by leading the team in scoring in seven of its last eight games. As talented as he is on offense, Funderburk isn’t the best defensive big man in the league, and has allowed guys like Aamir Simms, Garrison Brooks and John Mooney to have big offensive nights against him. We’ll see if Steven Enoch or Malik Williams can continue the trend.

After missing the previous two games because of a concussion, freshman forward Manny Bates returned to the NC State lineup against UNC on Monday. In 16 minutes off-the-bench, he blocked five shots. Bates broke the program record for most blocked shots by a freshman in just 15 games this season. He leads the ACC and ranks 8th in the NCAA with an average of 3.05 blocked shots per game.

Junior guard Devon Daniels has been rock solid throughout his college career — which began at Utah — a trend which has continued in 2019-20. Daniels is a guy who does everything adequately well. He’s almost a lock night in, night out to give you somewhere in the range of 10-16 points and 5-8 rebounds. He shoots the three well enough to force defenders to respect him on the perimeter, and is a solid steal threat (1.7 per game) on the other end of the floor.

The other name Louisville fans likely know is junior sharpshooter Braxton Beverly, who is coming off the bench these days. Like seemingly every other player on NC State’s roster, Beverly has been dealing with some injury issues this season, which might partially explain his career-worst 7.5 ppg scoring average. Even so, he’s an outside assassin who has the potential to change the momentum of a game in just a handful of possessions.

As a team, NC State’s strengths are taking care of the ball, scoring around the rim, blocking shots and generating steals. Their weaknesses are three-point shooting, rebounding, getting to the free-throw line, and in recent weeks, pretty much everything on offense outside of easy buckets in transition and Funderburk scoring in the paint.

Notable:

—Louisville’s 9-1 conference start is its best since joining the ACC in 2014-15. It’s also the first time the Cardinals have started 9-1 in league play since the 2008-09 season.

—Louisville’s current 7-game winning streak is its longest in league play since joining the ACC in 2014-15.

—NC State had won 11 consecutive home games before taking a 75-65 loss to North Carolina on Monday night.

—NC State is 4-5 against top 10 opponents under Kevin Keatts, and 2-1 in those games at home.

—In the first 15 games of the season, NC State only failed to score over 70 points one time (69 vs. Wisconsin), but in the last six games NC State has only scored over 70 points one time and has only scored more than 60 points twice.

—Louisville has made as many as nine three-pointers in a game on 12 occasions this season, including seven of its last 13 games.

—In its last eight games, Louisville has made 43.5 percent of its three-pointers (70-of-161)

—Without Markell Johnson, NC State committed 23 turnovers in last season’s loss to Louisville. It remains the most turnovers NC State has ever committed in the 90 games of the Kevin Keatts era.

—Keatts was a Louisville assistant from 2011-14, helping the Cardinals to the Final Four in 2012 and to the national championship a year later.

—Louisville ranks eighth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (.372), 17th in scoring margin (+12.7), 28th in rebound margin (+6.5) and 35th in scoring defense (62.6).

—Louisville is 4-6 all-time in games against NC State in Raleigh.

—Louisville is 14-0 this season when holding opponents to 68 points or fewer, and 4-3 on the year when teams score more than 68.

—Louisville is 16-0 when leading at halftime this season, and 2-3 when trailing at the break.

—Louisville has blocked at least one shot in 323 consecutive games.

—Louisville has won 161 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.

—Louisville has won 153 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 73, NC State 69