Louisville Cardinals (7-3, 1-0) at Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (7-4)
Game Time: 3:10 p.m.
Location: E.A. Diddle Arena: Bowling Green, Ky.
Announcers: Rich Waltz (play-by-play), Steve Lappas (analyst) and Jenny Dell (reporter)
Series: Louisville leads, 42-39
Last Meeting: Louisville won 75-54 on Dec. 1, 2020 in Louisville
Probable Starting Lineups:
Western Kentucky’s Season to Date:
About Western Kentucky:
As has been the case with every game against Western Kentucky during the Rick Stansbury era, Louisville will be facing a Hilltopper team with the size and skill necessary to compete in just about any power conference league. They’ll also be facing a team with a reputation for playing up or down to the level of its competition. While that might be good news for some of the members of Conference USA, it’s not particularly comforting for the Cardinals.
Western is led by senior forward Jairus Hamilton, who comes into Saturday averaging 16.8 points and 6.4 rebounds. If that name sounds familiar to you, it’s probably because Hamilton spent the first two seasons of his college career at Boston College. He scored three points in both of his games against Louisville as a freshman, and then dropped 13 on the Cards a year later. He spent last season as a reserve at Maryland.
Sophomore returnee Dayvion McKnight, a former Collins High star who was Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball for 2020, has upped his production pretty much across the board. McKnight dropped 34 on Minnesota in the second game of the season, and heads into the Louisville game with stellar averages of 14.2 points, 6.7 rebounds and 6.2 assists per game.
Perhaps the Hilltopper you’ve heard the most about this season is center Jamarion Sharp. At 7’5, Sharp is the tallest player in college basketball and the tallest player in the history of the WKU program. He leads the nation in blocks percentage (20.4%), total blocks (54) and blocks per game (4.9). Since entering the starting lineup seven games ago, Sharp is averaging 9.7 points, 9.0 rebounds and 6.3 blocks per game while shooting 31 of 40 (77.5%) from the field.
Senior guard Camron Justice, whose college career began at Vanderbilt in 2015-16, is rock solid and has made at least one three-pointer in every WKU game so far this season. Louisville defenders will need to know where he and fellow sharpshooter Luke Frampton are at all times. Frampton, who a few years ago became the only Davidson player besides Stephen Curry to make at least 100 three-pointers in a single season, started this year in an awful slump. He went 1-for-19 from beyond the arc in Western’s first three games, but has gone 23 of 52 (44.2%) over the last eight.
Josh Anderson (10.8 ppg) remains one of the best athletes in all of college basketball and has worked hard to make himself more of a legitimate threat as a jump shooter. A fifth-year senior using his extra year of Covid eligibility from the NCAA, Anderson is about to become the first five-year letter winner in WKU history.
Overall as a team, the Hilltoppers rank third in the country in total blocks (75), fifth in blocks per game (6.8), 20th in total steals (105), 23rd in total assists (138), 24th in field goal defense (37.8%), 27th in defensive rebounding (29.2), 31st in assists per game (16.6), 33rd in steals per game (9.5), and 36th in field goal % (48.1%). They struggle significantly with turnovers, free-throw shooting, and — like Louisville — are fairly streaky from beyond the arc.
Defensively, Western plays more zone than any team Louisville has faced so far this season. I would expect Stansbury to up that zone usage against a Cardinal team that has struggled with its outside shot so far this season. That will force U of L to either knock down shots from the outside or take their chances trying to score around the rim against the best shot blocker in the country.
It’s always a wild environment when Western gets the opportunity to host Louisville, and after the events of the last week, it should be expected that the scene inside Diddle will be especially emotional on Saturday afternoon. The Cards will need to play something resembling their A game in order to return to the Derby City with a W.
—At 81 total games, Western Kentucky is the Louisville’s third most played opponent in program history. Only Cincinnati and Memphis have faced the Cardinals more times on the hardwood.
—This game has been marketed by WKU as a “Red Out,” and every fan at Diddle Arena will receive a free retro Red Towel in honor of the 50th anniversary of the logo.
—Louisville has won nine straight games against Western Kentucky. The Cardinals own longer active winning streaks over just 10 other opponents. U of L has not lost to the Hilltoppers since Nov. 30, 2008, when it dropped a 68-54 decision to WKU in Nashville.
—Louisville’s last loss to Western Kentucky in Bowling Green came on Feb. 3, 1950. The Cards have won seven consecutive road games in this series.
—WKU junior center Jamarion Sharp is the tallest player in college basketball at 7’5. He’s also the tallest player in the history of the Hilltopper program. Sharp leads the nation in blocks percentage (20.4%), total blocks (54) and blocks per game (4.9).
—Chris Mack is 3-0 all-time against Western Kentucky. In addition to his two wins at Louisville, he also beat the ‘Tops 90-64 on Dec. 5, 2015 when he was at Xavier.
—Western Kentucky head coach Rick Stansbury is 0-2 all-time against Louisville.
—WKU is coming off back-to-back 20-plus point wins – the first time the program had done that since the 2017-18 season – with a 90-52 win over Centre, and a 71-48 victory over Ole Miss in Atlanta at Holiday Hoopsgiving.
—Western Kentucky is 58-63 all-time against current members of the ACC. Head coach Rick Stansbury is 5-10 against the conference.
—According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Louisville is a 2.5-point favorite in this game. The Cardinals are 5-2 straight up as a favorite so far this season, but this will be the first time this season they’ve been favored to win a game away from home.
—Louisville is 140-80 all-time against current members of Conference USA.
—Louisville has an all-time 23-7 record in games played on Dec. 18, winning its last four games played on that date.
—Louisville is 6-0 when out-rebounding its opponents this season.
—Louisville is 216-12 over the last 20 seasons and 13-0 over the last three when scoring 80 points or more.
—Louisville is 166-7 over the past 20 seasons when shooting 50 percent or better and 13-0 over the last three.
—Louisville has a 49-14 record in the month of December over the last eight years.
—Louisville is 33-2 over the last three seasons when scoring at least 71 points.
—Louisville is 14-0 over the past 10 seasons when limiting opponents to no more than one three-point field goal.
—Since 2004, Louisville is 130-0 when leading by more than 10 points at halftime.
—Louisville has won 162 consecutive games when holding an opponent under 50 points.
—Louisville has won 156 consecutive games when scoring at least 85 points in regulation.
—Louisville is one of only five schools to be ranked in the AP Top 25 poll at least once during each of the last 18 seasons (others: Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, & North Carolina).
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 70, Western Kentucky 68