Louisville Cardinals (0-0) vs. Bellarmine Knights (0-0)
Game Time: 9 p.m.
Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.
Television: ACC Network
Announcers: Wes Durham (play-by-play) and Dan Bonner (analyst)
Favorite: Louisville by 9
Series: Louisville leads, 12-0
Last Meeting: Louisville won 76-64 on Dec. 10, 2006
Projected Starting Lineups:
Of all the low/mid-major teams Louisville will face in the weeks ahead, I’m assuming this is the one Cardinal fans will need the least educating on.
A perennial national title contender at the Division-II level since the arrival of head coach Scott Davenport, the Knights made the transition to Division-I two seasons ago and have done so seamlessly. BU went 10-3 and finished second in the Atlantic Sun in 2020-21, and then won the league tournament a year ago.
Unfortunately, the NCAA’s archaic four-year probation period for transitioning schools kept the Knights from participating in the NCAA tournament or NIT. As it stands, Bellarmine is once again ineligible from experiencing March Madness this season.
At the heart of Bellarmine’s success under Davenport is his half-court offense, which promotes constant movement — both away from the ball and with it. Unlike virtually every other offense in college basketball, the Knights rarely use ball screens, instead wearing opposing defenses down with a flurry of passes and cuts. Davenport refers to the style as “pressing on offense.”
However you want to describe it, the system works. Six times under Davenport, Bellarmine has led every team at every level of college basketball in field goal percentage. The Knights shot above 50 percent from the field in all 10 seasons of their final decade at the D-II level. And the numbers haven’t dipped dramatically since making the move to the sport’s highest level. Last season, Bellarmine ranked ninth nationally in field-goal percentage at the rim, first in field goal percentage on 2-point jumpers, and seventh in field goal percentage in transition. The Knights have been first or second in the Atlantic Sun in adjusted offensive efficiency in each of their first two seasons as a member of the conference.
While Davenport is certainly a coach who has earned a reputation for always getting the maximum amount out of any roster he’s given, there are reasons to believe that his third season at the Division-I level may be his most challenging.
The Knights lost their two best players from last season’s team in point guard CJ Fleming (15.5 ppg) and do-it-all forward Dylan Penn (16.6 ppg). The former ran out of eligibility while the latter transferred to Vermont largely (and unfairly for all parties concerned) because it was a place where he could actually experience the NCAA tournament. Ethan Claycomb, the team’s third-leading scorer a year ago at 8.6 ppg, is another departure.
The cupboard isn’t completely bare for Davenport and company, though.
Guard Juston Betz, the preseason Atlantic Sun Defensive Player of the Year, is back for his senior season and will likely be asked to shoulder more of the load on offense. Also back is 6’8 sophomore Curt Hopf, a versatile forward who averaged 7.0 ppg and made the A-Sun’s All-Freshman team a year ago.
In Bellarmine’s lone exhibition game — a 71-34 thrashing of Centre — seniors Garrett Tipton and Bash Wieland led the scoring attack with 15 and 14 points respectively. Both players have been in the program long enough for it to be assumed that they’ll be up to the challenge of assuming a larger workload this season.
Louisville may not see him tonight, but long-term, keep an eye out for redshirt freshman Ben Johnson. Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball in 2021, Johnson is a straight bucket-getter who has all the makings of a future low/mid-major star.
As spectacular as they’ve been on offense, Bellarmine has had a rough go of it at times on the defensive end since transitioning to D-I. Louisville has an extreme advantage over the Knights in terms of both size and athleticism. If they don’t accentuate those strengths on the offensive end better than they did in their two exhibition games, Kenny Payne’s debut could turn into a sour one.
—With tonight’s season-opener kicking off the 109th season of Louisville basketball, Kenny Payne will officially become the Cardinals’ 23rd different head coach.
—Louisville has won 18 consecutive season-openers, and 27 of its last 29.
—Louisville has won 21 consecutive home openers.
—While Louisville’s “official” record against Bellarmine is 12-0, the Cardinals and Knights have also met 10 times in exhibition play, including seven straight seasons before BU transitioned to Division-I. U of L won all 10 of those exhibition meetings.
—BU head coach Scott Davenport is a U of L grad and a former Louisville assistant coach, serving on both Denny Crum’s and Rick Pitino’s staffs.
—Davenport’s son, and Bellarmine’s head coach in waiting, Doug, was a member of Rick Pitino’s national championship-winning staff in 2012-13.
—Louisville had won 59 consecutive home games in November, a streak which had dated all the way back to 1972, before last season’s loss to Furman. The Cards are 48-1 in November games played inside the KFC Yum Center.
—Louisville has won 89 of its last 95 non-conference games at the KFC Yum Center, a mark which spans over the last 11 seasons.
—Louisville is the first of three ACC teams the Knights will face in the month of November. BU plays at Clemson the 18th and at Duke on the 21st.
—Bellarmine played the country’s second hardest non-conference schedule (according to NET) last season, and the 2022-23 slate could rival that with road games at iconic venues such as Cameron Indoor (Duke), Pauley Pavilion (UCLA), and Rupp Arena (Kentucky). Only four other schools have played in those arenas (Louisville, Notre Dame, North Carolina and St. John’s).
—Louisville has a 244-64 record (.792) against non-conference opponents over the last 21 seasons (includes post-season), including a 176-17 record in home regular season non-conference games.
—Inside the KFC Yum Center, Louisville has a 96-8 record in non-conference games.
—Louisville is 9-1 all-time against current members of the Atlantic Sun.
—Louisville is 217-13 over the last 20 seasons and 14-1 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 from the field and 13-0 over the last three.
—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: Louisville 75, Bellarmine 62