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If we get anything close to the first games these two teams had, we'll be in for a fun one. Saint Louis scored 18 points in the final two minutes of regulation to force overtime, and then topped NC State in the extra period. Louisville's game was not at all what it was expected to be and Manhattan actually had it tied with two minutes to go, although the Cardinals prevailed in the end. Louisville is still getting all the love and is a heavy -9 point favorite here.
Is Louisville as good as we think they are? That's the question everyone seems to be asking right now. They have known commodities like Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock, but is that enough in this tournament? Their bench only had eight points in that first game and Chris Jones shot 2-of-11 from the field. They won the rebound and free-throw battle, but it was still a close game.
Saint Louis was the team everyone was down on entering the tourney, and they definitely didn't change anyone's minds after that first game. Much like the Cardinals, the Billikens don't have much else outside of their top few players. Rob Loe dominated in the first game with 22 points and 15 rebounds, but he's going to have a real problem going against Harrell if that's the matchup, although Stephan Van Treese may be asked to guard him.
That's where the mismatches come in for Saint Louis. Dwayne Evans is one of their best scorers and Louisville doesn't really have an even matchup. Anyone from Hancock to Harrell could be forced to guard Evans. Although on the other end, who is going to stop Harrell? With his muscle and athleticism, SLU could have some trouble.
Another advantage for the Billikens will be their experience from having played VCU's full-court press two times this season. Louisville's main weapon of attack on defense is their press, but if Saint Louis can beat that consistently, they'll have the edge. SLU wasn't immune to VCU, having trouble breaking VCU in both games they played each other, but the experience is there.
The backcourt battle will be tight with Russ Smith and Chris Jones against Jordair Jett and Mike McCall Jr. Smith will probably be matched up with McCall because Jett is the bulkier of the two. Jett can get to the hoop against anyone in the country and having someone like Harrell in the paint will be vital for Louisville. The problem for the Billikens is that their offense lacks consistency, although we could probably say the same about Louisville after their game on Thursday. And since Saint Louis plays great defense, it's unlikely the Cardinals will suddenly figure out their scoring touch again.
Looking at the line for this game, most people are just assuming Louisville will figure things out and blow out this Saint Louis team that got lucky to win their last game. That may not be the case though. Each team has advantages, but none of them are all that overwhelming. It may come down to bench support with Louisville as Terry Rozier and Wayne Blackshear need to do a little more.
Smith, Harrell and Hancock have the edge and experience on Jett, Loe and Evans, but it isn't by much.
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