Finally — Louisville basketball is back in action Wednesday evening. It’s been a while. The Cardinals went on a 16 day pause from game action as they were just entering the main course of ACC competition.
Louisville faces Syracuse, a team fighting for their right to compete in the NCAA tournament. The Orange have won four of their last six games. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi has them as a “Next Four Out” team in his most recent Feb. 16 version of “Bracketology.” That means that Syracuse is projected to be one of the eight closest teams on the outside looking in.
The Cardinals sit as an 8-seed in the same bracket projection despite not playing since the first day of the month. In their last game, Louisville dominated Georgia Tech 74-58 on the back of a huge 20 point, 18-rebound performance by sophomore guard/forward Samuell Williamson.
On Wednesday evening, Louisville will be down two scholarship players and are going to be forced to quickly shake off rust against Syracuse’s athletes.
Let’s preview Louisville’s return to the floor against Syracuse
Who: Syracuse Orange (12-6) at Louisville Cardinals (11-4)
Where: KFC Yum! Center; Louisville, Kentucky
When: Wednesday, Feb. 17, at 6:30 pm eastern time
Spread: Louisville -4.5
TV: ACC Network
Louisville basketball has the opportunity to go up against Syracuse's 2-3 zone on Wednesday. Who is one key player that can break the defense?
Projected starting lineups (via gocards.com)
Louisville Cardinals (11-4, 6-3)
F 11 Quinn Slazinski 6-8 215 So. Houston, Texas
F 14 Dre Davis 6-5 220 Fr. Indianapolis, Ind.
C 24 Jae’Lyn Withers 6-8 215 R-Fr. Charlotte, N.C.
G 1 Carlik Jones 6-1 185 Gr. Cincinnati, Ohio
G 13 David Johnson 6-5 210 So. Louisville, Ky.
Syracuse Orange (12-6, 6-5)
F 1 Quincy Guerrier 6-7 220 So. Montreal, Quebec
F 21 Marek Dolezaj 6-10 201 Sr. Bratislava, Slovakia
G 0 Alan Griffin 6-5 190 Jr. Ossining, N.Y.
G 11 Joseph Girard III 6-1 195 So. Glen Falls, N.Y.
G 35 Buddy Boeheim 6-6 195 Jr. Fayetteville, N.Y.
Players to watch for Syracuse
G Alan Griffin – He does a lot for the Orange from an offensive and defensive standpoint. He’s very skilled as a guard with an NBA scoring mindset. He’s got plenty of athleticism and range as a scorer. On defense, he blocks shots and rebounds very well for a 6’5″ guard.
F Quincy Guerrier – Guerrier is another very good athlete for the Orange. He nearly averages a double-double per game and over one block. He’s a matchup problem. He won’t shoot the lights out from deep, but there’s plenty to worry about with Guerrier.
G Kadary Richmond – Boeheim and Girard will start but there’s an argument to be made that Richmond is better than both. He’s a good athlete and a dynamic defender in the 2-3 zone. Richmond averages just under four steals a game per 40 minutes. When Richmond enters the game, he’s one of the better sixth men in the league even if his numbers offensively don’t show it.
Players to watch for Louisville
G/F Samuell Williamson – We discussed Williamson’s importance leading up to this game when it pertains to breaking Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. He will be an x-factor in this game and may find himself planted at the free throw line to find the gaps in the defense. His ability to shoot mid-range and make smart plays as a passer will be very important.
G David Johnson – Johnson has been streaky as of recent. But, in the latest game, he went for 24 points and 10 rebounds in the matchup against Georgia Tech. With two players out due to Covid protocols Wednesday, David Johnson will be absolutely key.
F Jae’Lyn Withers – He’s had some issues with both sides of the floor and has seemingly hit a bit of a slump after some really impressive performances in the mid-season. He’s still playing out of position, but Dolezaj is one of the few players he might be able to bully in the paint this season.
This game is just difficult to project. We don’t know who will be out for the Cardinals and this team has been hit by Covid for a second time. The last time they returned to action from a Covid pause, they were throttled by a ranked Wisconsin team. Syracuse is certainly no Wisconsin, but it’s still worthy of noting that they struggled so much in a similar situation.
Breaking the Syracuse zone is going to be a really big talking point for this game. The Cardinals have physically been without head coach Chris Mack through game prep as he struggled with a positive Covid test of his own.
How the Cardinals react will be crucial, but a loss could come with plenty of understandable excuses.
Louisville 65, Syracuse 60
Despite the Covid pause, Louisville still feels like the superior team. A Covid-impacted season has made things generally quite miserable for everybody involved including health implications and recovery periods that you may not even see on the court.
If all things are aligned properly and taking health factors out of it, Louisville matches up fairly well with the Syracuse zone with two very good playmaking guards.