Louisville Cardinals (0-3) vs. No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks (3-0)
Maui Invitational Quarterfinals
Game Time: 5 p.m.
Location: Lahaina Civic Center: Lahaina, Maui, HI
Announcers: Dan Shulman (play-by-play) and Jay Bilas (analyst)
Favorite: Arkansas by 16
Series: Louisville leads, 4-3
Last Meeting: Louisville won, 96-66, on Nov. 17, 2009 at the Hall of Fame Showcase in St. Louis
Projected Starting Lineups:
Arkansas’ Season to Date:
Fourth-year head coach Eric Musselman has reinvigorated an Arkansas program that had been more down than up since its heyday in the early-mid ‘90s. The Razorbacks have played in back-to-back regional finals, their first appearances in the Elite Eight since going to back-to-back national title games in 1994 and 1995.
Now, the Hogs appear poised to take the next step.
The bad news for Musselman this season is that he has 11 new players. The good news is that those players are comprised of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class and one of the top transfer hauls in the country.
Pound-for-pound, you can probably count the number of teams in college basketball with more talent than Arkansas on one hand. The current 2023 NBA mock draft from NBADraft.net has a whopping four Razorbacks being selected in the first round, and two in the top 10.
The next level conversation in Fayetteville starts with All-American candidate Nick Smith. The freshman star, who has been billed as “the best NBA prospect in college basketball this season,” has yet to see the floor in three games this season as he nurses a right knee injury. He’s still listed as “day-to-day” by the school and there’s no word on whether or not he’ll see the court this week in Maui.
Arkansas’ best player so far this season has been Wichita State transfer Ricky Council IV. The Wichita State transfer enters Feast Week averaging team-bests in both points (18.7 ppg) and assists (3.7 apg). Musselman loves to use the uber athletic 6’6 guard in iso situations, where he is an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses.
Sophomore forward Trevon Brazile, a Missouri transfer, is currently averaging a double-double at 14 points and 10 rebounds a game. Though he’s a few inches taller, Musselman likes using Brazile at the 5 the same he used 6’7 Justin Smith during last season’s Elite Eight run. He’d be a problem wherever Muss put him because he’s capable of doing this:
Davote “Devo” Davis, the rare three-year veteran in this program, is the team’s other double figure scorer at 12.7 ppg. The 6’4 junior guard went from starter to sixth man last season, and the Razorbacks’ season fully hit its stride when he did. Davis is the type of guy that every national title contender has to have: The one who’s willing to do the dirty work while his more hyped and perhaps naturally talented teammates get the attention from the pro scouts. Davis is a dog, and if Louisville doesn’t match his energy, he’s fully capable of eating the Cardinals alive.
After playing two of its first three contest against opponents looking to play a halfcourt game, the Cards will receive a jolt in tempo on Monday. Musselman’s teams always play at one of the fastest tempos in the country, and this Arkansas team will be no different. The Hogs head to Maui playing at the 55th-fastest pace in Division-I.
While slowing Arkansas’ group of freak athletes down in transition will be a task enough for U of L, finding ways to score on the end of the floor might be the toughest assignment the team faces.
The Razorbacks enter this week ranked third in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency. Opponents are shooting just 22.2 percent from three against them (12th-best in the country), and only 40.8 percent inside the arc (29th-best in the country). Arkansas is also turning their opponents over on 28.4 percent of possessions — the 8th-best mark in D-I — and recording steals on 16.9 percent of possessions. For a Louisville team that enters the evening with 50 turnovers against just 27 assists, this is clearly a concern.
Looking for reasons for optimism? There are a few.
For starters, Arkansas does not shoot the ball particularly well from the outside, connecting on just 27.1 percent of their three-point attempts. Also, this is still a team loaded with youth and inexperience playing with one another. It hasn’t seemed to negatively impact them just yet, but they also haven’t exactly played a murderer’s row of opponents in South Dakota State, North Dakota State and Fordham.
The up-tempo style should play to Louisville’s strengths better than the tempo against App State or Bellarmine did, and if the Cards can gain some early confidence and maybe shake the confidence of their youthful opponents, then who knows? It’s certainly easier said than done.
—Louisville has participated in the Maui Invitational three times before in 1989, 2000 and 2004. The Cardinals are 5-4 all-time in the event and 21-11 overall in the state of Hawaii. They have never won the Maui Invitational.
—This is the fourth time Arkansas has played in the Maui Invitational. The Razorbacks went 2-1 in 1991, falling to Michigan State in the championship. In 2005, Arkansas went 1-2 with a second-day win over Kansas. The last time Arkansas came to Maui was 2013 and the Hogs went 1-2 with a second-day win over Minnesota.
—This will be the eighth meeting between Arkansas and Louisville. Louisville owns a 4-3 advantage in the series with five of the meetings coming on neutral courts — the first four during the NCAA Tournament. The teams played a home-and-home series in back-to-back years (1996-97 and 1997-98) with the visiting team winning each time.
—Louisville has won 45 of its last 101 games against AP ranked opponents. The Cardinals are 62-69 against Top 25 teams over the last 12 years, as well as 23-33 against Top 10 teams over that span.
—Louisville is 0-3 to start a season for the first time since 1986-87.
—Arkansas has scored over 70 points in each of the first three games while holding its opponents to fewer than 60 points each time. In Arkansas’ history, the Razorbacks have scored at least 70 points and held opponents to fewer than 60 points in the first three games of the season just two times in 100 years.
—Louisville is the first team since at least 1980 to lose its first three games of a season all by one-point. The Cardinals are also the first team since Stetson in 1981-82 to lose four consecutive games by a single point.
—Through three games, the Cardinals have been outscored by a combined 113-92 in the first half, but have outscored their opponents 106-88 in the second half.
—Louisville guard El Ellis’ 72 points are the most by a Louisville player in the first three games of a season since Wes Unseld had 101 points against Georgetown College (45), Kansas (20), and Northwestern (36) to open the 1967-68 season. Ellis is the first Cardinal to score at least 29 points in back-to-back games since Reece Gaines (current team video coordinator) did it against TCU and Marquette on March 6-7, 2002.
—Arkansas’ 76 wins since Eric Musselman’s arrival in 2019 are the most of any SEC team over that span.
—Louisville is seeking its 32nd regular season tournament championship in program history. The Cardinals won the Bahamas Invitational last season.
—Louisville has a 244-67 record against non-conference opponents over the last 21 seasons (includes post-season).
—Arkansas has six players with wing spans over seven feet. The Razorbacks’ team wing span average is 6-9.
—Louisville is 217-13 over the last 20 seasons and 14-1 over the last three when scoring 80 points or more.
—Louisville’s loss to Wright State last week was its first in four seasons when shooting better than 50 percent from the field. U of L is 166-8 over the past 20 seasons when shooting 50 percent or better from the field.
—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 131-0 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.
Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Arkansas 75, Louisville 62