Sweet 16 Preview: NC State vs. Louisville

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This Friday night Sweet 16 match-up pits two of the five ACC teams left in the big dance.  The Wolfpack won the only meeting of the year in Louisville, 74-65.  In that game, Chris Jones, who has since been removed by the team, led the Cardinals with 20 points. Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier were held to a combined 4-of-16 shooting on the night.

NC State got to the Sweet 16 with a 16-point comeback in the second round against LSU and upsetting the No. 1 seed Villanova in the third round. Louisville made it here by sliding past UC Irvine in the second round and beating Seth Tuttle and Northern Iowa in the third round.

The winner of this game will take on the winner of the Oklahoma-Michigan St. game in the Elite 8 on Sunday.

Match-up to Watch

Harrell, the junior forward for Louisville, is close to averaging a double-double on the year with 15.4 points and 9.2 rebounds per game.  The big man will most likely see action against both of the Wolfpack forwards, Lennard Freeman and Abdul-Malik Abu, as both will match up well in size.  Freeman and Abu split the rebounds between the Wolfpack, while there is a major drop off in rebounds after Harrell for Louisville.  Whoever is able to box out better and win the rebound battle will put their team in a good position down the stretch of the game.

On the offensive side of things, both teams will want to establish their presence down low as NC State ranks 16th in blocks, and Louisville ranks 11th in blocks. The Cardinals also rank in the top 20 in both rebounds and steals per game.

Abu was able to hit the game-winner for NC State in the second round, but he may have a harder time scoring in this one.  The big men for NC State are only averaging 18 minutes per game, but their minutes have picked up significantly in the tournament. Abu has turned in his biggest minutes in back-to-back games averaging 30 minutes the last two outings.  Look for Mark Gottfried to play his forwards as much as he can in this one.

X-Factor

Louisville’s Rozier is coming off of a game where he was able to score 25 points and tally 7 assists in the win against UNI on Sunday.  He led the Cardinals in what Rick Pitino said was their best game of the season.  Rozier was held to 12 points in the game against UC Irvine and the Cardinals only beat the 13 seed by 2 points.  He is able to be more effective when he gets to the free throw line.  Rozier made his only free throw attempt against Irvine while he knocked down 8 of his 9 attempts in the game against UNI.  If Rozier is able to have a big day, then they Wolfpack defense will have to key their efforts on the guard and that will open up space down low for Harrell.

Prediction

NC State has proven that they can’t only hang with Louisville, but they can also beat them.  The last time that NC State beat Duke, UNC, and a 1 seed, they won the national title in 1983 when Jim Valvano was at the helm.  With all that being said though, I just can’t seem to pick against Rick Pitino.  He is one of the winningest coaches in the tournament and brings experience to the table that only a few others can.  Pitino is 11-1 in Sweet 16 appearances, the best winning percentage in the Sweet 16 by any coach left.  Pitino lost his first Sweet 16 matchup last year against Kentucky.  He won’t lose in this round two years in a row.  I am picking the Cardinals to edge the Wolfpack, 62-59.

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