A No. 1 seed has never lost its first game in the NCAA Tournament, and despite No. 16 North Carolina A&T’s impressive win over Liberty in the first round of the competition, the odds are against Louisville losing this game.
The Cardinals enter the 2013 tournament as the top overall seed, and Rick Pitino’s team has impressed with a productive offense and an unparalleled defense.
The Aggies certainly proved they were a better team than Liberty, but they are now heading into an unimaginably more difficult challenge.
Here is everything you need to know about the matchup.
Where: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Ky.
When: Thursday, March 21 at 6:50 p.m. ET
Live Stream: NCAA.com
Betting Line: Not currently available
Louisville Injuries (via USA Today): Mangok Mathiang (out, eligibility), Mike Marra (out, knee)
North Carolina A&T Injuries (via USA Today): None
What’s at Stake?
The obvious things at stake in this matchup are the risk of embarrassment for Louisville and the chance to shock the sports world for N.C. A&T. But the chances of the Aggies busting everyone’s bracket are virtually non-existent, and this game is really all about how the Cardinals will set the tone for the rest of the tournament.
No team was able to establish itself as the dominant force in the country this season, but as March Madness got closer, Rick Pitino’s team just got better. Louisville finished the year on a 10-game winning streak, capping it off with a Big East Tournament title.
Beating N.C. A&T won’t be enough for the Cardinals in this game. They need to wipe the floor with the vastly overmatched Aggies, and they need to look good doing it.
If Louisville’s offense is leading to quality shots, and the team’s defense remains at the level it has played at all season, then this game will be a complete blowout, and the Cardinals will have momentum heading into the Round of 32.
Players to Watch
Louisville: G Russ Smith
Defense is the first thing that comes to mind when fans think of Louisville, but the team consistently scores enough points to win games, and Smith deserves most of the credit for this.
He is averaging nearly twice as many points as any of his teammates this season, with 18.1 points per game. He is a streaky shooter who, like his brother J.R., is always a threat to have a big night on the offensive end, as evidenced by his 13 games this season in which he has topped 20 points.
If the Cardinals are going to live up to the lofty expectations set for them in this tournament, then Smith will have to continue leading the way on offense.
Those watching the game should keep an eye on the talented guard, because if he find an offensive rhythm early in the competition, it may not be possible to stop Louisville before it gets to Atlanta.
North Carolina A&T: G Jeremy Underwood
Adrian Powell and Lamont Middleton were the Aggies’ leading scorers during the regular season, but no N.C. A&T player had more points against Liberty than Underwood.
The junior guard proved he is not afraid of college basketball’s biggest stage, and he delivered the second-most productive performance of his career with 19 points off the bench.
Liberty very nearly pulled off a comeback in this game, and every point was needed for the Aggies to advance. Underwood was the X-factor in the game, as the Flames’ bench contributed just one point.
He must continue providing production off the bench for his team against Louisville, otherwise the Aggies will go from having a slim chance at victory to having no chance to win.
Key Matchup: Louisville vs. Lack of Focus
If the Cardinals bring their A-game to the court on Thursday, they will cruise to victory by a comfortable margin. Even if they only decide to bring their “C” game, they should be just fine in this contest.
The only way for Louisville to lose this game is if it lets the top overall seed get to its head, starts looking towards potential future matchups and completely disregards the possibility that North Carolina A&T is capable of winning this game.
Rick Pitino teams rarely show such an egregious lack of focus, and it is extremely unlikely that Louisville’s mental preparation will be poor.
But the Aggies have talent, and after their win, they have confidence. If the Cardinals do not take their opening game seriously, they will be vulnerable.
Prediction: Louisville Wins
It would be incredibly bold to prediction the first ever upset in a 1-16 matchup, and it would also be incredibly stupid.
Unfortunately for the Aggies, they have no chance in this game. Louisville is a fantastic team with few weaknesses, and its stellar defense will clamp down on N.C. A&T.
There is not a single matchup in this game in which the Aggies have the advantage, and in all likelihood, the Cardinals will dominate this contest from tipoff throughout to the final buzzer.
If Louisville does not enjoy a double-digit lead for the vast majority of this game, it will be an extremely surprising result.
Predicted final Score: Louisville 81, North Carolina A&T 54
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