SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) When Louisville coach Rick Pitino gathered his players for a team dinner before a game against Syracuse in mid-February, he told freshman Quentin Snider he would be starting in the Carrier Dome.
Pitino had suspended standout senior point guard Chris Jones, an offensive catalyst and fierce defender, for one game for violating an unspecified team rule and tabbed Snider to take his place.
''I wasn't shocked,'' Snider said Saturday. ''It was like, `Wow! It's my time now. I've got to show coach what I can do.''
Following in the footsteps of former stars Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, Snider has fit right in. Although he admits to having a case of jitters before that opening tip against the Orange, he responded with this statistical line: 13 points, 3 of 9 on 3-pointers, three rebounds, four assists and zero turnovers in 38 minutes.
Louisville lost the game but found its new point guard.
Snider has scored in double figures six times since that first start, and half of those have come in the NCAA Tournament. He had a season-high 16 points against UC Irvine in the round of 64, followed with 10 points in the Cardinals' victory over Northern Iowa, and 14 in Friday night's Sweet 16 win over North Carolina State in the East Regional.
''I'm kind of amazed at what Quentin has done, being just unflappable and thrown into a situation he didn't expect,'' Pitino said. ''But he didn't miss a beat.''
Now, the Cardinals (27-8), the fourth seed in the East, will face No. 7 Michigan State (26-11) on Sunday with a berth in the Final Four at stake.
Snider, a Louisville native, was on the recruiting radar of several teams, including Michigan State. Kentucky's Mr. Basketball while starring at Ballard High School, Snider had a combined 64 points in the two games of the Kentucky-Indiana All-Star Games. That's tied for the third-most in the history of the event, which dates to 1940, behind only George McGinnis in 1969 and the great Oscar Robertson in 1956.
As a starter this year, Snider has played 547 minutes and committed only 28 turnovers, or an average of one every 19.5 minutes. He only has 45 assists but expects that to increase as he settles firmly into the position.
''I'm getting real comfortable on the court,'' Snider said. ''At first, I wasn't because I didn't know how they (teammates) wanted the ball. I feel like it's going to come in time when teams start keying on me. Right now, teams are not keying on me. That's what's leaving me wide-open for my shots.''
And that leaves Michigan State coach Tom Izzo with another thing to worry about.
''He's good. He's solid. He kind of knows, it seems like, who he is, and he's got a jet alongside him (guard Terry Rozier),'' Izzo said. ''He's the facilitator and not taking chances and doing what a freshman should do. He's taking advantage. I think he's going to be a great player someday.''
While Jones is fighting legal issues away from school - the team still speaks or texts him daily and his work ethic in practice helped transform Snider into a better player - Pitino and the Cardinals have turned the void Jones left into a positive.
''Snider has just gotten better with the more minutes he's had,'' North Carolina State coach Mark Gottfried said. ''He's more comfortable now. He's playing with confidence. You know, they had a guy in there (Jones) that was capable of getting 20, 25 on a given night. When that guy then leaves, players understand it. They know, for us to win, we all have to be better. We all have to score more and be more efficient.''
Follow Kekis on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/Greek1947