NCAA Tournament Preview Southwest Region - First Round (13) Morehead State vs. (4) Louisville
Thursday March 17 – 1:40 PM ET
The Louisville Cardinals will face the Morehead State Golden Eagles in an NCAA Tournament Southwest Region first round contest Thursday afternoon at the Pepsi Center in Denver. Thursday’s tilt is a rematch of the 2009 first round when Louisville, a one-seed, defeated 16th-seeded Morehead State, 74-54. Louisville will be making its seventh appearance in the Tournament under Coach Rick Pitino, which includes four straight trips. The Cardinals will be seeking to erase the sting of last season’s first round 77-62 loss to California, just the second first-round loss in Pitino’s tenure at the Big East school.
Led by star forward Kenneth Faried, Morehead State beat Tennessee Tech 80-73 to claim the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship and that league’s automatic bid to the Big Dance. The Golden Eagles will be making their second Big Tournament appearance in three years under coach Donnie Tyndall. Morehead State defeated Alabama State 58-43 in the play-in game before losing to Louisville in the 2009 tournament.
There is no question that the Golden Eagles are Faried’s team. The dynamic 6-8 senior forward, who leads the nation in rebounding with14.5 boards per game, is the primary reason Morehead State is out-rebounding opponents by a margin of 9.2 per game (fifth in the nation). Faried also leads the Golden Eagles in scoring, averaging 17.6 points per game on 64.4 percent shooting. Fellow senior Demonte Harper chips in 16 points per game and shoots nearly 40 percent from three-point range. The Golden Eagles are extremely capable on the defensive end of the court. While they allowed an average of 61.7 points per game, the Golden Eagles held 14 of their opponents to fewer than 60 points and five opponents below 50 points.
As good as Faried is, and as well as Morehead State has played this season, Louisville represents a much stiffer challenge. Dynamic guards Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva helped the Cardinals surmount the loss of star forward Jared Swopshire by combining to score nearly 25 points per game. Knowles led the Cardinals, a very prolific three-point shooting team, with 97 three-pointers on 252 attempts (38.5 percent). While not as prolific from long-range as Knowles, junior guard Kyle Kuric averaged 10.8 points per game, making 44.4 percent of his three-point attempts. The Cardinals average 75.4 points per game and get nearly 35 percent of their scoring from three-point range, which ranks 25th in the country.
Girded by the rugged Big East, the 2011 Cardinals are equally as good on the defensive end as they are on offense. Louisville held opponents to 39.5 percent shooting from the field. Pitino deploys frenetic full-court pressure and a match-up zone, creating immense problems for opponents. The Cardinals force 15.9 turnovers and average 9.2 steals per game. Sophomore guard Siva averages 2.0 steals per game while Knowles averages 1.8.
The Golden Eagles may be better than they were in 2009, but coping with Louisville’s firepower may be asking too much of a team with only three players that score in double figures. Louisville will play full-court defense from the opening tip, seeking to force turnovers and build a virtually insurmountable lead early. If the Cardinals’ frontcourt doesn’t concentrate on blocking out, Faried will feast on offensive rebounds. That will need to carry the day for Morehead, which needs more of everything to keep pace with Louisville in the Mile High City.
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