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Louisville-NC State preview: Cards open ACC play in Raleigh

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Chris Mack and company will look to start conference play off on the right foot.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: FEB 01 Louisville at NC State Photo by William Howard/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (5-2, 0-0) at NC State Wolfpack (6-1, 0-0)

Game Time: 2:00 p.m.

Location: PNC Arena: Raleigh, N.C.

Television: ESPN2

Announcers: Anish Shroff (play-by-play) and Debbie Antonelli (analyst)

Favorite: Louisville by 2.5

Officials: Lee Cassell, Pat Driscoll, A.J. Desai

Series: Louisville leads, 13-10

Last Meeting: Louisville won 77-57 on Feb. 1, 2020 in Raleigh

Series History:

Probable Starting Lineups:

Statistics:

NC State’s Season to Date:

Relevant Videos:

About NC State:

Louisville opens ACC play on the road Saturday against a Kevin Keatts led NC State team that is off to a 6-1 start and coming off an emotional 104-100 quadruple overtime win over Nebraska. The Wolfpack have not played an overly challenging schedule (277nd on Ken Pom), but they’ve taken care of business against the teams they’ve been supposed to beat, and their lone loss — by 6 vs. Oklahoma State on a neutral court — was far from a stunner.

Much of the success NC State has enjoyed so far this season can be traced back to one man: 6’7 sophomore guard Dereon Seabron. In the win over Nebraska, Seabron set a new ACC-Big 10 Challenge scoring record with 39 points, and became the first NC State player in 25 years to score more than 30 points and grab more than 15 rebounds in a game. Seabron, who redshirted as a freshman two years ago, currently leads the ACC in rebounding (10.9) and is second in scoring (21.7). He’s always been lethal in transition, but this season Seabron has also become a nightmare in the halfcourt. He may not be the household name that Duke’s Paolo Banchero is, but Seabron is a star.

Virginia transfer Casey Morsell has also provided a major boost for Keatts. He’s averaging 12.3 ppg and shooting just a hair below 40 percent from behind the three-point line. He’s hit at least one three in every game but one so far this season. Backcourt mate Cam Hayes has also been stellar, averaging 11.9 ppg. He has the ball in his hands less than he did a season ago, but his 4 turnovers in 153 minutes of action so far this season is still impressive.

Senior forward Jerricole Hellems is having his best college season to date, averaging 14.9 points and 4.3 rebounds. He’s solid, but not spectacular in virtually everything he does. Promising freshman guard Terquavion Smith is State’s only other major contributor. He started the season red hot, but cooled off in recent weeks, so be on the lookout for him to be the guy who inexplicably lights the Cards up.

This NC State team isn’t as deep as most Keatts has fielded either in Raleigh or at UNC-Wilmington, which is probably why they aren’t playing at the breakneck speed we’re used to seeing from Keatts teams. They’re still going to apply significant pressure defensively, and they’re still going to try to create offensive opportunities in transition, but they rank just 192nd in tempo through seven games.

While NC State doesn’t shoot the ball particularly well, they do one thing that Louisville’s last three opponents have not done well: Take care of the ball. The Cards don’t figure to be gifted with a host of careless turnovers the way they were by Michigan State and Maryland. Against undermanned opponents, the Wolfpack has thrived on second chance opportunities and an extremely high free-throw rate (18th in the country). Louisville will have a size advantage in this game, and its frontcourt has to both clean up on the defensive glass and avoid giving NC State freebies at the stripe.

Defensively, per usual, NC State is looking to turn you over. The Pack is averaging 16.7 points a game off opponent turnovers and has outscored its opponents by 45 points this season in points off turnovers. That’s not great news for a Louisville team that is the second-worst in the ACC when it comes to taking care of the ball. This will be the most pressure the Cardinal backcourt has faced so far this season.

Notable:

—Louisville has won its conference opening game in 11 of the last 13 seasons and eight of the last nine.

—Louisville has won its first conference road game in 11 of the last 14 seasons.

—NC State head coach Kevin Keatts was an assistant at Louisville for three seasons (2011-14) when the Cardinals posted a 96-21 (.821) record, went to two Final Fours and won one national championship.

—Louisville and NC were set to open conference play last season on Dec. 16, but had the game canceled due to Covid issues. The two teams have not met since February of 2020.

—Louisville is 5-6 all-time in games against NC State in Raleigh.

—These two teams enter Saturday with nearly identical offensive numbers through seven games. Unfortunately, that’s not great news for either. NC State ranks 14th in the ACC in field goal percentage at 42.5 percent while Louisville is 15th at 42.3 percent. NC State is 12th in the ACC in three-point field goal percentage at 29.6 percent and Louisville is again one spot behind the Pack in 13th at 29.2 percent.

—NC State is averaging 27.1 free throw attempts per game which ranks as the most in the ACC. For the season, NC State has made 17 more free throws (139) than its opponents have attempted (122). In seven games this season, Louisville’s 123 free throw attempts ranks as the third-fewest in the ACC.

—NC State is averaging 16.7 points a game off opponent turnovers and has outscored its opponents by 45 points this season in points off turnovers. The Pack has won 13 straight games when it outscores its opponents in points off turnovers. In the Kevin Keatts era, NC State is 49-15 (76.6%) when it forces an opponent into 15 or more turnovers.

—Louisville is 14th in the ACC in turnovers per game at 15.0 per contest.

According to DraftKings Sportsbook, Louisville is a 2.5-point favorite in this game. It marks the first time in four games that the Cards have been favored, and the first time U of L has been favored in a game away from home.

—Louisville is 18-5 all-time in games played on Dec. 4, winning its last nine games played on that date.

—Louisville has a 47-13 record in the month of December over the last eight years.

—Louisville is 31-2 over the last three seasons when scoring at least 71 points, but one of those losses came earlier this season against Furman.

—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 128-0 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 155 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: NC State 70, Louisville 69