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Louisville-Bellarmine preview

Welcome to the 2023 ACC-Atlantic Sun Challenge.

Bellarmine v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Louisville Cardinals (3-3) vs. Bellarmine Knights (2-5)

ACC-Atlantic Sun Challenge

Game Time: 8 p.m.

Location: KFC Yum Center: Louisville, Ky.

Television: ACC Network Extra

Announcers: Kent Taylor (play-by-play) and Jody Demling (analyst)

Favorite: Louisville by 5

Series: Louisville leads, 12-1

Last Meeting: Bellarmine won 67-66 on Nov. 9, 2022 at the KFC Yum Center

Series History:

Projected Starting Lineups:

Louisville:

Bellarmine:

Statistics:

Relevant Videos:

Bellarmine’s Season to Date:

About Bellarmine:

If you’re reading this, you probably don’t need much of an education on Scotty Davenport and his Bellarmine Knights.

A perennial national title contender at the Division-II level since the arrival of Davenport, the Knights made the transition to Division-I three 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 later. They began last season with a historic upset of Louisville at the KFC Yum Center, and went on to finish 9-9 in the Atlantic Sun and 15-18 overall.

Bellarmine lost just one starter from last year’s team, and expects to be more of a factor in the A-Sun this season. They’re off to just a 2-5 start, with only one win over a Division-I opponent, but road losses to Washington, Kansas State, West Virginia and Chattanooga were to be expected.

I said in the preview post last season that Ben Johnson, Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball for 2021, was eventually going to blossom into a mid-major star. That blossoming has started in his sophomore season, as he currently leads the Knights in scoring at 13.0 ppg. Johnson has unlimited range, with U of L fans got a taste of a year ago when he buried two deep treys during a big BU surge in the second half.

Alec Pfriem, Peter Suder, Garrett Tipton and Curt Hopf all started over 25 contests last season, and Pfriem and Tipton are both fifth-year seniors. They all do a little bit of everything to make Bellarmine’s “no dribble” or “pressing on offense” style work.

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. Two years ago, 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 three seasons as a member of the conference.

Bellarmine is trying to make a leap on the defensive end this year, and so far, things have been a bit better. What makes life hard for the Knights is that none of their main contributors are taller than 6’6. The direct result of this is that opponents are shooting 56.7 percent against them from inside the arc, putting Bellarmine at 317th in the country in two-point percentage defense.

Louisville has a massive, massive size advantage in this game. They didn’t utilize it last year, and they got beat. If they don’t utilize it this year, well, it’ll be just the latest piece of evidence that things around here aren’t getting much better.

Bellarmine’s going to take a healthy amount of threes and they’re going to back cut you to death. Somehow, Kenny Payne’s team seemed unprepared for that in last year’s season-opener. Hopefully, 12 months later, they’ll come out with a better handle on the scouting report.

Notable:

—Louisville leads the country in free-throw attempts per game (30.3) and ranks second in made free-throws per game (22.0). U of L’s 132 made free-throws are the program’s second-most through six games since at least 2010, behind only the 2018-19 team. The Cards have made at least 21 free-throws in four of six games this year, shot 58 more than their opponents and have made more free throws than their opponents have even attempted (124).

After going 59-0 in November home games from 1991 to 2021, Louisville is just 3-5 in November home games under head coach Kenny Payne.

—Before 2021, Louisville’s last November home loss had come in 1972.

—While Louisville’s “official” record against Bellarmine is 12-1, 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.

—After allowing UMBC and Chattanooga to make 25 of 55 combined 3-pointers (45.5%) in the first two games, the Cardinals have held their last four opponents to a combined 11-for-63 from 3-point range (17.4%).

—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.

—U of L’s 36 made free-throws and 49 attempts against New Mexico State were the program’s most since 2018. Skyy Clark’s 15 made free-throws were the most by a Cardinal since Samardo Samuels vs. Notre Dame in 2010, and his 16 attempts were the most since Russ Smith at Rutgers in 2014.

—Louisville is 9-3 all-time against current members of the Atlantic Sun. It lost both games against A-Sun opponents last season.

—Louisville has won 92 of its last 99 non-conference games at the KFC Yum Center, a mark which spans over the last 11 seasons.

—Despite going 2-5 last season and being 3-1 so far this year, Louisville has still won 94 of its last 104 non-conference games at the KFC Yum Center, a mark which spans over the last 11 seasons.

—Inside the KFC Yum Center, Louisville has a 101-14 record in non-conference games.

—Louisville is 221-15 over the last 20 seasons and 18-3 over the last three when scoring 80 points or more. The Cards are 2-1 in such games this season.

—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.

Ken Pomeroy Prediction: Louisville 74, Bellarmine 69