No. 5 Tennessee (3-0) will take on the Louisville Cardinals (3-0) in the first round of the NIT Season Tip-Off in Brooklyn, New York on Wednesday at 5:00 PM Eastern. The Cardinals will be the Vols’ toughest test to date, and Louisville’s match-up with Tennessee starts a brutal stretch for the Cardinals.
Louisville will face No. 5 Tennessee today, then they will face either No. 2 Kansas or a talented Marquette squad on Friday. Their next game after this tournament sees them play No. 11 Michigan State before going on the road to play Seton Hall. Louisville also plays Indiana and No. 10 Kentucky before conference play starts in January.
For the Vols, Wednesday’s match-up will be their second straight game against an ACC foe. Tennessee hosted Georgia Tech last week and defeated the Yellow Jackets 66-53 in a foul-heavy game.
The Cardinals are led by Chris Mack, a first-year head coach at Louisville. Previously, Mack spent nine years at Xavier and earned a 215-97 record there. He took the Musketeers to the NCAA Tournament in eight of his nine seasons there, and that includes five Sweet Sixteen appearances and an Elite Eight run in 2017.
Tennessee head coach Rick Barnes said on Monday that reigning SEC Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner is expected to play on Wednesday. Turner has yet to play this season as he’s recovered from offseason shoulder surgery.
Here are the most important things you need to know about No. 5 Tennessee’s match-up with Louisville in the NIT Season Tip-Off today.
History Hasn’t Been Kind
Tennessee hasn’t had much luck against the Cardinals on the basketball court.
The Vols have lost their last five match-ups with Louisville in basketball, and Tennessee’s last victory against the Cardinals came in 1985 when the Vols took down the Cardinals by a score of 100-84 in the NIT Tournament. Ironically enough, that game was played in the state of New York as well.
This will mark the sixth time the two teams have played since the new millennium kicked off. Louisville won a thrilling 73-72 contest in 2001 in Louisville, edged out another win in 2003 in Knoxville by a score of 72-69, and most recently they bounced Tennessee out of the NCAA Tournament in 2008 with a decisive 79-60 victory. The Cardinals also won in 2004 and 2005.
Tennessee is 7-12 all-time against Louisville, and six of UT’s seven wins against the Cardinals came before 1922.
Lots of Length
The Vols may have a lot of strength and girth, but they don’t have a ton of length on the court. Louisville, however, does.
The Cardinals have three players who measure in at 6-foot-8 or taller. Malik Williams (6-foot-11), Steven Enoch (6-foot-10), and Jordan Nwora (6-foot-8) all bring a lot of height to the court, and Enoch is a boulder of a man, weighing in at 250 pounds to go along with his 6-foot-10 frame.
For all their height, though, Louisville isn’t all that proficient at rebounding.
Louisville is averaging just 35.3 rebounds a game through three games on the season. Tennessee is averaging 44.3 rebounds a game. The Cardinals average just 8.7 offensive boards a contest while the Vols pull down 34 defensive rebounds per game.
Strength vs. Strength
So far this season, Louisville has been lighting up the scoreboard. Tennessee, meanwhile, has been clamping down defensively on opponents.
The Cardinals are averaging 91.7 points per game through three games this season. That’s the 15th-best scoring average in college basketball. Granted, those offensive outbursts have come against the likes of Nicholls, Southern, and Vermont, but that’s still an impressive output.
Tennessee has averaged 79.7 points per game, but they’ve been a defensive juggernaut so far. The Vols are giving up just 53 points a game through three games, good for eighth in Division I basketball.
One of those will have to give on Wednesday.
Just like with Tennessee, Louisville has started the same five players through the first three games this season. But the Cardinals, once again just like Tennessee, have a pretty good bench as well.
Jordan Nwora is Louisville’s leading scorer, but he’s a bench player for them. The 6-foot-8 forward is averaging 18 points and 23.7 minutes per game. He’s actually averaging the third-most minutes a game of any Louisville player despite not starting a single game for them this season.
Malik Williams will play down low too, but he only averages 16 minutes a game. He’s averaging 8.7 points and five rebounds, though. Richmond grad transfer Khwan Fore — who committed to Tennessee before decommitting and deciding to sign with Louisville — is playing 17.3 minutes a game and is putting up 3.7 points a contest. Ryan McMahon (8.0 points, 3.0 assists) is Louisville’s other main bench player.
Try Not to Foul
Tennessee likes to play physical, and sometimes that can get them in trouble. Against Louisville, they need to be wary of fouling too much.
The Cardinals are shooting 78 percent from the free throw line as a team, the 28th-best free throw percentage in the country. They’re averaging an astounding 42.3 free throw attempts per game as well, so they know how to get to the line.
The Vols, meanwhile, have shot just 66.2 percent from the charity stripe and are averaging just 23.7 free throws a game.