Louisville and Villanova meet in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament Thursday in a rematch of a Jan. 22 upset of the then No. 5 Cardinals. The two teams have had strong guard play all season and their backcourts will be important to the game’s outcome.
Arguably, Louisville’s top two players are point guard Peyton Siva and shooting guard Russ Smith. Siva is its floor general and leader in assists. He spearheads Louisville’s full-court pressing defense, averaging two steals per game.
Smith is one of the best scorers in the country; he is currently second in the Big East with 17.9 points per game. He averages over two steals a game as well, and the players rank third and fourth in the conference in the statistic.
When Siva and Smith are playing well, Louisville is one of the best teams in the nation; they were ranked No. 1 in the country earlier in the season. When they struggle, however, so does the team. Siva averages over nine points per game in conference wins this season, but just five in losses. Smith has shot 39.4 percent from the field in the victories, but only 30.5 percent in the losses.
In the first meeting this season, Smith had one of his worst games of the season. He scored eight points on 2-of-13 shooting from the field with four turnovers. Siva’s performance was solid, but he did not have enough help for Louisville to overcome Smith’s poor performance.
In the regular season meeting, Villanova was led by its trio of guards Ryan Arcidiacono, Darrun Hilliard and James Bell. Arcidiacono led the team with 15 points, and the trio combined for 36 points, 12 rebounds, six assists and six steals in the victory.
The three are still relatively inexperienced, they are all younger than Siva and Smith, but they have played well this season for a team that has upset three top-five squads. They will need to step up again if Villanova hopes to advance to the semifinals.
Louisville lost to Villanova during an eight-day stretch where it suffered three of its five losses during the season. Since then, Louisville has won 10 of 11 games, with the lone loss coming to Notre Dame in a five-overtime thriller. Though Villanova has been a giant slayer this season, expect Louisville to advance to the next round.
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