LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Entering their matchup with Boston College on a three-game losing streak, the Louisville men's basketball program was able to take a step back in the right direction, defeating the Eagles 67-54 at the KFC Yum! Center.
Next up for the Cardinals (11-7, 5-3 ACC), they are staying at home to host Notre Dame (11-6, 4-2 ACC) for a game where the Cardinals will be retiring former All-American Russ Smith's No. 2 jersey. Tipoff is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 22 at 4:00 p.m. EST.
Here are a few of the more significant storylines to follow ahead of the Cardinals' matchup against the Fighting Irish:
Outkicking the Coverage
Prior to the 2021-22 season, not a lot was thought of Notre Dame. Despite retaining a bulk of their talent from the year before, with their only real notable loss being Juwan Durham, the Fighting Irish were only selected to finish eight in the ACC preseason poll.
Fast forward to mid-January, and Notre Dame is making a real case to be considered a top five team in the conference this season. Sure, the ACC as a whole being extremely down does help, but the Fighting Irish do have a solid resume thus far.
They had a rough patch right out of the gates, starting the season with a mark of just 4-5 including a three-game losing streak to Texas A&M, Illinois and Boston College.
However, they did have a big home win against Kentucky sandwiched in that stretch, and have looked much improved over the last month. The Fighting Irish have won seven of their last eight games, including victories over North Carolina and Clemson
The Mike Brey Experience
Throughout his tenure as the head coach of Notre Dame, Mike Brey has been known as an offensive guru. While that is something that still rings true, their overall efficiency this season isn't the cream of the crop of the ACC like we're accustomed to.
According to KenPom, the Fighting Irish have the 41st-ranked offense in Division I and the fifth-best in the ACC. They average "just" 71.0 points per game and connect on 45.2 percent of their field goal attempts, both of which rank outside to top 120 in D1. Though these numbers are "down" by Notre Dame standards, I'm sure Louisville would love to have them.
Instead of the scoring being evenly spread amongst the starting lineup, Notre Dame has relied mainly one two guys to get them going offensively. Dane Goodwin leads the charge with a team-best 15.0 points per game, with Blake Wesley right behind him at 14.3 point. Paul Atkinson Jr. is the lone other player to average double figures, putting up 11.7 per game.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Mike Brey coached-team with out three things: below average defense, above average ball security, and a surprising lack of fouls.
The Irish have the 100th-ranked defense according to KenPom, and surrender 66.4 points per game. They only turn the ball over 10.5 times per game, which comes in at No. 22 in D1. Finally, they commit only 14.3 fouls per game, which is 47th in D1 and third in the ACC behind Virginia and Duke.
Living on the Edge
Notre Dame has a fair amount of length on their team, as their 78.2" average height places No. 32 in D1 according to KenPom. But even with the size they have, they're surprisingly inefficient with it.
The Fighting Irish average just 33.4 rebounds per game, a mark that is 283rd in D1 and 12th in the ACC, and their offensive rebounding rate is just 22.3 percent which is 328th in the nation according to KenPom.
Because of their deficiencies down low, most of Notre Dame's offense comes from beyond the arc on three-point shots, as they shoot 38.1 percent on three-point attempts. Five players for the Irish have connected on at least 20 threes, and four of those five are shooting at a 34.0 percent clip or better.
In fact, 44.2 percent of their total field goal attempts are of the three-point variety, and 37.6 percent of their scoring comes on those shots - ranking 52nd and 41st in D1, respectively.
Russdiculous to the Rafters
In case you didn't know already, former guard Russ Smith - one of the top players in the storied history of the Louisville men's basketball program - will have his No. 2 jersey permanently retired at halftime against the Irish.
Smith will be the fifth player in Louisville history to have their jersey number retired. He joins No. 8 Charlie Tyra, No. 31 Wes Unseld, No. 35 Darrell Griffith and No. 42 Pervis Ellison.
Known for his wild and reckless playstyle, the 6-foot-0 shooting guard is Louisville’s fifth all-time leading scorer with 1,908 points, and is the Cardinals' career leader in steals with 257. He is also second in career free throws made with 488, and is tied for ninth in career three-pointers with 180.
The Brooklyn, N.Y. native helped lead the Cardinals to the 2013 national championship - their third in school history - averaging 18.7 points, 3.3 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.1 steals as a junior that year. His 2013-14 senior season was his best in a Louisville uniform, putting up 18.2 points, 4.6 assists, 3.3 rebounds and 2.0 steals per game, and was named a consensus First Team All-American for his efforts.
(Photo of Malik Williams: Matt Cashore - USA TODAY Sports)
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