Michigan State Basketball: Behind enemy lines with Louisville expert

LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 13: Jordan Nwora #33 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball against the Southern Jaguars at KFC YUM! Center on November 13, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KY - NOVEMBER 13: Jordan Nwora #33 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball against the Southern Jaguars at KFC YUM! Center on November 13, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Michigan State basketball is looking at a tough matchup with Louisville in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge on Tuesday. What do the Cardinals think?

Who doesn’t want to know what the enemy thinks of a certain matchup? Luckily for you, we went behind enemy lines to speak with Big Red Louie (FanSided’s Louisville site) expert Jacob Lane regarding Tuesday night’s Big Ten/ACC Challenge battle between the Spartans and Cardinals.

Here’s what he had to say.

Q: With everything that went on with the Rick Pitino situation, what’s the feeling surrounding the direction of the Louisville basketball program under Chris Mack?

Jacob Lane: There is a new sense of hope amongst Cardinal fans after a year of so much turmoil and uncertainty. Since being named the head coach in March, Chris Mack has done and said everything correctly. Whether it was recruiting former players to stay instead of transfer, land much needed grand-transfers, open up social media and make the program more accessible and even put together a top-three recruiting class in 2019 after so many people said it would take years to do. This program may struggle this season because of a new system and extremely difficult schedule, but they will be coached extremely well and will have be a tough team every night out on the floor. 

Q: What are the strengths of this young Louisville team?

JL: The biggest strength of this team in my opinion is scoring. Behind Jordan Nwora, Steven Enoch, and Darius Perry – this team is capable of dropping 80-90 points on any given night. Louisville has scored 85-plus points three times this season and has only scored less than 80 one time. There are four players shooting 50 percent or better from the field, and six shooting better than 40 percent from the 3-point line. The scariest thing is, though he’s scored 20-plus points three times already this season, Nwora, who’s by far the best shooter on this team, is only shooting 31 percent from the field. If he gets going from deep, this team can play with anybody in the country in my opinion. 

Q: What would you say are Louisville’s biggest weaknesses this season?

JL: The biggest weakness to me is depth. Louisville lost Deng Adel and Ray Spalding to the NBA this offseason, along with Anas Mahmoud and Quentin Snider (four starters) who were seniors. The team ended up with six open scholarships and decided to only fill three of them, all with graduate-transfers, in order to take a scholarship hit that was apart of their NCAA punishment and plan better for the future. The biggest lack of depth is in post, where Louisville has just two traditional big men, in Steven Enoch (UConn transfer) and Akoy Agau. They do have Malik Williams, Jordan Nwora, and Dwayne Sutton — but all prefer to play out on the wing for the most part. If pressed into foul trouble, like they were against Tennessee, Louisville could struggle to guard the paint and is susceptible to post players having big games.

Q: What concerns you most about this matchup with Michigan State?

JL: I think it has to be matching up with Nick Ward, who is just so dang good. Ward’s demand for attention in the post, along with his size and strength, will likely give Steven Enoch, Akoy Agau, and Malik Williams a lot of problems. If he can get one or two in foul trouble, it could be a long night for the Cards. Louisville struggled to guard Tennessee’s Grant Williams (giving up 24 points, nine rebounds) and even had trouble with Theo John and Joey Hauser for Marquette, so going head to head with Ward and the other big men for Michigan State could be their downfall.

Q: Outside of Jordan Nwora, who should Michigan State keep an eye on?

JL: There are several players that Michigan State should be weary of, one of them being Christen Cunningham, a graduate transfer from Samford, who just put together his best offensive performance of the season against Marquette. Other names are guard Darius Perry, who has taken a huge step as a lead guard from his freshman to sophomore season (similar to what Cassius Winston has done in his career) forward glue man, Dwayne Sutton, and Ryan McMahon off the bench, who is capable of going off from three at any point in time. 

Q: Would you predict this Louisville team in the 2019 NCAA Tournament?

JL: I do think that this year’s Louisville squad is a tournament team, even though they have the toughest schedule in the country. Louisville has already lost two games, Tennessee & Marquette, and still have the likes of Michigan State, Seton Hall, Indiana, Kentucky, and not to mention all the ACC powers this season. Louisville will probably have some nights were they struggle and don’t look quite ready to be in the field of 65, and there will be nights were they are giant killers, playing their best games against some of the best teams in the country. If I had to predict today, I say they are a 10 or 11 seed who go into the tournament with a chance to win a few games. 

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Q: What’s your prediction for Tuesday’s game?

JL: I’d like to think that coming off back-to-back heart breaking losses that the Cards would be focused in and ready to finally get their first big win, but I am not naive. I know that Rome was not built in a day. The Spartans are a tough team with a lot of playmakers and smart, tested players. I think Michigan State wins an extremely competitive game, 82-74.