The No. 1 overall seed Louisville Cardinals looked the part Thursday night as they destroyed North Carolina A&T, but their second-round opponent, the Colorado St. Rams, easily handled a strong Missouri squad and could spell trouble for the Cardinals.
The Cards coasted behind 23 points and seven steals from Russ Smith, who took a good portion of the night off in a smothering 31-point win over the Aggies. The Rams were in a matchup that was supposed to be somewhat even, although it didn't play out that way. They got out to an 11-point lead on Mizzou in the first half, shooting 7-for-14 from beyond the arc and literally doubling them up on the boards, 36-18. Dorian Green got to the line as he pleased and hit three of his five attempts from deep, finishing with a game-high 26 points.
That sets up Saturday's matchup, which is stylistically quite interesting: Louisville has the No. 1 defense in the country -- they allow 80.9 points per 100 possessions -- but simply playing good defense isn't the whole story against the Rams. They rebound 41.8 percent of their misses, the second-best in the country, thanks to the the strong interior play of Colton Iverson, who grabbed 13 boards in just 23 minutes Thursday against the Tigers. On the other hand, Louisville isn't a particularly strong defensive rebounding team. Although Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan are both strong contributors on the offensive glass, Dieng is more likely to go for the block than sit back and relax for the board, which could spell trouble as Iverson and Pierce Hornung crash when the ball goes up.
That means everything comes down to Peyton Siva and Smith, as it often does. If they can hound Colorado State into a bunch of turnovers -- as they often do, with the Cardinals getting steals on 16.2 percent of opposing possessions, also No. 2 in the nation -- that'll keep shots off the rim and keep the Rams off the glass. The Rams turned the ball over 14 times against just 10 assists Thursday, so they sometimes fall into that trap. And Siva and Smith will be tasked with pacing the offense, with both speedsters trying to score at will against Colorado State guards Wes Eikmeier and Green.
Here's the info on Saturday's game:
No. 1 Louisville (30-5, 14-4 Big East, Kenpom ranking 1) vs. No. 8 Colorado State (26-8, 11-5 MWC, Kenpom ranking 23)
Location: Rupp Arena, Lexington, Kentucky
Time: 5:15 p.m. ET