Louisville, the NCAA tournament's top overall seed, made easy work of North Carolina A&T in its March Madness opener. Now the Cardinals shift their attention to Colorado State, which knocked off Missouri in the round of 64.
The Cardinals are riding an 11-game winning streak, which includes winning the Big East tournament title. There were some question marks about the team earlier in the season, especially after a three-game skid in January, but they appear to be peaking at the right time.
They face a Rams squad that excels on the offensive end of the floor and can crash the boards with any team in the nation, ranking fourth overall. Colorado State has four players averaging more than 11 points per game, putting the Louisville defense in the spotlight.
Let's take a look at all the key information for Saturday's game, followed by players to watch and a prediction for which team will punch its ticket to the Sweet 16.
Which team will advance to the Sweet 16?
Where: Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky.
When: Saturday, March 23 at 5:15 p.m. ET
Live Stream: March Madness Live
Betting Line: TBA
Injury Report (via USA Today)
Louisville: Mike Marra (out, knee)
Colorado State: Jesse Carr (out, knee)
What's At Stake?
Louisville is one of the top contenders to win the tournament. Not only would a first-weekend loss bust a whole bunch of brackets around the country, but more importantly, it would be a massive disappointment for the program.
Colorado State is going to make them work. The Rams can't match the Cardinals' talent level, but they are a high-energy squad that's going to fight for every rebound and attack the rim. Unlike the opening round, when the top seed was basically in cruise control, it can't afford anything less than max effort.
As for the Rams, a victory would be huge for the program. It would also open the door for a deeper run since they would be taking over the No. 1 seed's path. There should be no shortage of motivation when they take the court on Saturday.
Players to Watch
Louisville: Russ Smith
Smith got his tournament off to an encouraging start. He hit 10-of-16 shots en route to 23 points. He also helped show why the Cardinals are one of the best defensive teams in the nation with an eye-popping eight steals.
The junior guard has been Louisville's most reliable player all season. The team wouldn't be nearly as dangerous without his ability to create shots for himself, and the energy he brings on the defensive end is irreplaceable.
If there's one weakness for the Rams, it's their on-ball defense. Smith must take full advantage of that, especially in the first 10 minutes when his team is looking for a spark. Anything less from him would be a surprise and provide a boost to the underdogs.
Colorado State: Dorian Green
Green was the driving force behind Colorado State's triumph over Missouri. He led the way with 26 points, more than double any other Ram, thanks to clutch shooting from beyond the arc and connecting on 11-of-12 free throws.
If the Rams are going to make a serious run at the upset, they need another game like that from him. He must remain aggressive, take the ball to the rim at every opportunity and getting to the line. He can't back off because of the tougher opponent.
On the defensive end, he'll probably spend a lot of time guarding Peyton Siva. He must make sure the talented yet inconsistent guard doesn't go off. The Rams will have enough trouble slowing down Smith. They can't have Siva scoring big too.
Key Matchup: Gorgui Dieng vs. Colton Iverson
The battle in the paint between Dieng and Iverson should be fun to watch. Dieng is more of a defensive presence, as illustrated by his more than two blocks per game, while Iverson is Colorado State's leading scorer at over 14 points per contest.
Dieng is a key piece of the puzzle for Louisville. Smith is going to get his points, Siva is going to have games where he carries the team and the squad has depth. But when the junior center is on the top of his game, that's when the Cardinals look like potential national champions.
Iverson is an interior scorer. He's not a hybrid forward who can step outside and knock down threes. To score, he'll need to go head-to-head with Dieng and beat him in the post. If he can do it consistently, Colorado State has a chance.
The Rams should be able to keep it close for awhile. Their versatile group of scorers and ability to rebound are enough to put a scare into Louisville. That said, the Cardinals' talent should eventually take over the game.
Between Smith, Siva and Dieng, they should be able to find enough holes in the shaky Colorado State defense to pull away in the second half. It would set up a matchup with the winner of the Saint Louis vs. Oregon game in the Sweet 16.
Louisville 74, Colorado State 60