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College Basketball Preview: Louisville rounding into form in time for Cincinnati

Russ Smith

Russ Smith

Louisville has a knack for heating up as the calendar turns to March. It happened last season, as the Cardinals didn’t start to look like national championship contenders until weeks before the Big East Tournament.

The Cardinals are in that form again, but you can’t blame fans if they haven’t noticed. Louisville has pounded the teams in the bottom half of the American Athletic Conference. A rematch with Cincinnati could be the turning point.

The Bearcats, though, know what they’re getting when they face Louisville again. The Cardinals are a little more balanced than the first time around, a little more consistent.

But Cincinnati leads the American right now and could take a major step to winning the league with a season sweep of its Ohio River rivals.

What’s on the line for Louisville
The Cardinals are looking to re-announce themselves as a Final Four contender. Since the last time Louisville faced Cincinnati, a 69-66 loss, Louisville has faced the dregs of the American Athletic Conference. Louisville hasn’t had much trouble with teams ranked outside of the RPI 150, defeating them by an average of 26 points per game since the start of February.

What’s on the line for Cincinnati
The Bearcats are looking to complete a season sweep of Louisville after defeating the Cardinals 69-66 at the KFC Yum! Center on Jan. 30. With a victory, Cincinnati will have a three-game edge in the win column in the American. Cincinnati lost to New Mexico and Xavier in the non-conference schedule, so a win over Louisville could be a boon to Bearcats’ NCAA Tournament seed.

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Louisville at Cincinnati
Saturday, noon Eastern, CBS

About Louisville
Record: 22-4, 11-2 American
AP: 11
RPI: 36
KenPom: 3
Sagarin: 10

About Cincinnati
Record: 24-3, 13-1 American
AP: 7
RPI: 14
KenPom: 21
Sagarin: 21

Athlon Editor Picks
David Fox: Louisville 71-63
Braden Gall: Cincinnati 68-62
Mitch Light: Louisville 60-58

You’ll tune in to watch: Russ Smith vs. Sean Kilpatrick

Two of the most dynamic veteran guards in the country will meet at least one more time this season Kilpatrick led the way in the first meeting with 28 points against the Cardinals while Smith had 14 points and four turnovers. This is the point last season when Smith began to carry Louisville to the national title.

Pivotal players: Louisville’s point guards

Chris Jones and Terry Rozier are key cogs in Louisville’s pressure defense, which for the second consecutive season is second only to VCU in turnover rate. Since the first meeting, the freshman Rozier has become more and more involved in the offensive end. Rozier shot 11 of 24 from the floor in Louisville’s last two games, home routs against Rutgers and USF.

Biggest question: Who wins the frontcourt matchup?

Cincinnati senior Justin Jackson is the top shot blocker in the American at 3.1 blocks per game. He’ll be tasked with limiting contributions from Louisville’s improving duo of forwards in Montrezl Harrell and Mangok Mathiang.