No. 12 Louisville will try to end a three-game skid Monday night, but it won't be easy against a Pittsburgh team whose talent belies its ranking.
Louisville has fallen hard since attaining the No. 1 ranking in the country. It started out not seeming so bad, with a tightly contested loss to Syracuse. But that was followed up with nine-point loss to an unranked Villanova team that went on to beat Syracuse as well, and a failure to score in a one-possession game against Georgetown Saturday continued the skid.
Peyton Siva has struggled, going 1-for-7 against Syracuse and finishing without any points vs. Georgetown, a game where Rick Pitino entrusted him with the team's final shot. It wouldn't be wise to expect the senior point guard to continue disappearing - he had 13 assists against Villanova - and between he and Russ Smith, the Cardinals probably have the best backcourt in the country.
They'll need to learn how to eke out wins on nights where both players aren't dominating. They still have the No. 2 defense in the country, allowing just 81.8 points per 100 possessions thanks to Smith and Siva's ballhawking.
Pittsburgh is by no means a walkover. The Panthers didn't seem like a team with big intentions when they dropped their first two Big East games after starting the year 12-1, but they've had some incredible performances of late, winning four straight. They beat then-No. 19 Georgetown - the same team that just beat Louisville - by 28, holding them to 43 points in a 68-possession game, and are coming off a 38-point win against DePaul. All that leads to them being ranked No. 6 in the country in Ken Pomeroy's system, although they're just creeping into human polls.
The Panthers are sparked by fifth-year senior Tray Woodall, who is second on the team in scoring with 10.5 points per game and also adding 5.8 assists, while leading scorer Talib Zanna and legit seven-footer Steven Adams power the team up front. For a team that doesn't shoot particularly well - or often - from beyond the arc, Jamie Dixon's squad is incredibly efficient, hitting 53.8 percent of their twos and rebounding 42 percent of their misses - the fourth best rate in the country. They've had no trouble winning on the road, beating Georgetown and Villanova handily - something Louisville can't say.
Pittsburgh doesn't turn the ball over often, which throws a kink into Louisville's habit of winning through steals. Whether Gorgui Dieng can keep the Panthers' bigs off the board could also be a big factor.
Here's the info on the game and how to watch it:
When: Monday, January 28, 7 p.m.
Where: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Kentucky