Louisville Looking Ahead to Tough Big East

K.C MynkCorrespondent IJanuary 5, 2009

The preseason is over for the Louisville Cardinals and now the real test begins.

After the erratic Cardinals (9-3) late game victory over arch rival Kentucky, the Cardinals will finally begin Big East play on Wednesday at South Florida.

Looking ahead at the Big East slate and the powerhouse teams in the conference, here is what Cardinal fans need to look at as the real season begins.

Pittsburgh (14-0)

The Panthers will find themselves ranked number one on Monday afternoon and with good reason. Pitt's crushing victory over Georgetown on Saturday was a statement win worthy of the nation's top ranking.

Pitt is led by the best frontcourt in the Big East featuring forwards Sam Young and DeJuan Blair who have combined to average 34 points and 18 rebounds a game.

Not only are the Pitt big men skilled, but big and rugged as well causing match-up problems for teams like Louisville with a more finesse oriented frontcourt.

Adding to coach Jamie Dixon's arsenal is point guard Levance Fields who averages 10 points a game and has an unreal 6-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio this season.

UCONN (12-1)

No team might be as strong at all five positions as the Huskies.

While the frontcourt of Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrian (both of whom are averaging over 14 points and nine rebounds a game) get the headlines, the Huskies are just as strong and more deep in the backcourt.

Starting guards Jerome Dyson, A.J Price, and Craig Austrie have been causing havoc all season combining for 35 points and 10 rebounds a game. Adding to opponents misery is sixth man Kemba Walker who coming off the bench is scoring more than Price and Austrie.

Perhaps no team provides more match-up problems for the Cards than UCONN who not only have a 7'3'' eraser in Thabeet for the erratic Samardo Samuels to deal with in the paint, but also a group of guards who have proven to be more consistent and deep than the Cardinals backcourt.

Georgetown (10-2)

Terrance Williams will have his hands full with Hoyas' forward DaJuan Summers when the two teams meet on February 23. Summers is proving himself to be one of the best small forwards in the Big East as the Hoya's leading scorer averaging 15 points a game.

The meeting will also be a battle of the top two freshmen big men in the conference as Samardo Samuels will duel with Georgetown freshman Greg Monroe. Monroe is averaging nearly 13 points a game, shooting over 56% from the field, and is second on the team in assists.

Also, in a close game, it's worth noting that Georgetown has all five starters shooting over 73% from the free throw line.

Syracuse (14-1)

No team has dealt with more turmoil (Eric Devendorf) and embarrassment (Cleveland State) this season than the Orange, yet they still find themselves with only one loss.

The Orange are led by one of the best guard tandems in the conference with the reinstated Devendorf and flashy two guard Jonny Flynn. The backcourt duo is averaging a combined 30 and 8.5 assists per game.

However, the Cards may take solace in the fact that despite the production of Devendorf and Flynn they also average nearly seven turnovers per game, and have been rattled by the Cardinal's defense in the past.

Leading "The Cuse" in the frontcourt is Paul Harris who is averaging nearly 13 points and 8.5 boards a game; however, the lack of a true big man like Thabeet, Monroe, or Blair may be an advantage for the Cards.

Notre Dame (10-3)

There is no debate that the best player in the Big East resides in South Bend.

Luke Harangody is making a case for not only Big East, but also National Player of the Year honors putting up unreal numbers this season, averaging 23.5 points; 12.5 rebounds; shooting 51% from the field and 77% from the line.

Sharpshooter Kyle McAlarny will give Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles fits in the backcourt. The six-foot senior is averaging 16.3 points a game and leads the Big East in both three-point and free throw shooting this season.

Adding to the Irish strong backcourt is steady point guard Tory Jackson who is a great distributor of the ball averaging six assists a game with a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio on the season.

Marquette (13-2)

Aside from Pitt, no team in the Big East is playing better basketball right now than the Golden Eagles. With a win at midweek over a tough Villanova club and a 30-point trouncing of Cincinnati, Marquette is starting to put things together as conference play begins.

The Eagles have a backcourt that rivals that of UCONN and Notre Dame with Wesley Matthews, Jereal McNeal, and Dominic James providing a three-headed monster making up two-thirds of the Marquette offensive production this season.

The three starting guards are averaging a combined 48 points, 11 assists, and have a cumulative assist-to-turnover ratio of 4-to-1. The veteran trio defend well and make good decisions with the ball causing match-up problems for teams with their quickness and athleticism.

If Marquette has a weakness it's the lack of frontcourt presence outside of undersized power forward Lazar Hayward (17 points, 9 rebounds a game), and have no real low post presence to deal with Samuels or the other top Big East big men.

Villanova (12-2)

The Cards will get their first real Big East test Saturday in Philly against the Wildcats.

Six-eight senior forward Dante Cunningham has been the biggest bright spot this season for the Cats averaging 17 points and 7.5 rebounds a game as one of the few top rate frontcourt players on the roster.

As erratic as the Louisville guards have been this season they may only be rivaled by Scottie Reynolds. The ultra-talented Reynolds has as much skill as any guard in the conference, however he has been plagued this season by shooting woes (38% from the field) that need to be corrected before 'Nova gets deep into Big East play.


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