Louisville scouting report: Russ Smith, Siva, Dieng carry short-handed Cardinals

Leading scorer Kyle Kuric sprained his ankle on the first play of practice Friday and missed the DePaul game and is questionable for Monday. If he does play, he’s sure to give Marquette all it can handle. The 6-foot-4 shooting guard is hitting on over 49 percent of his shots and can get hot from outside at a moment’s notice. He takes care of the ball and plays solid defense, making him one of the Cardinals’ most efficient players. He is making an astonishing 65.8 of his two-point shots (in comparison, Davante Gardner leads Marquette with a 60.6 field goal percentage from inside the arc).

Maybe no sophomore in the Big East has made quite the jump from one year to the next has been guard Russ Smith. Averaging 11.4 points, Smith is taken 35.9 percent of his team’s shots while he is on the court. That number is the 11th highest of any player in the nation and his possessions used stands at 31.2 percent, 23rd in the nation. His 2.3 steals per game are second in the Big East and his steal percentage (6.6) is second in the nation. He makes shots, plays outstanding defense and gets to the free throw line. His one downfall is that he is averaging 6.0 fouls per 40 minutes and has picked up four fouls in five of his last nine games. That being said, Smith has been outstanding in 2011.

Maybe the biggest x-factor Monday will be 6-foot-11 center Gorgui Dieng. The sophomore has been a force in the paint, averaging 9.0 rebounds and 3.2 blocks per game, both of which rank third and first in the Big East, respectively. Against a similarly built St. John’s team to Marquette, Dieng had 12 points, nine rebounds and seven blocks. He plays exclusively in the paint and has nice touch on short jumpers but his real worth is defensively. He should thrive against the Golden Eagles, both on Davante Gardner and penetrating guards.

Gorgui Dieng is every bit as good as advertised inside for the Cardinals. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Point guard Peyton Siva can make an All-American play one possession and a bone-headed play the next but is still one of the top court generals in the conference. His 5.6 assists per game is fourth in the Big East but he he has 17 turnovers in five conference games. He does an excellent job penetrating into the lane and finding open teammates and getting to the lane but sometimes that gets him into trouble, making bad passes and turning the ball over.

He isn’t a threat from the outside (20.0 percent on 3-pointers) but initiates Louisville’s offense in a good way and can score in bunches. Defensively, there are few better point guards. His 3.5 percent steal rate is 12th in the Big East and he uses quick hands to force turnovers.

High-flyer Chris Smith has been the glue guy for Pitino’s team, much as he was last year. His numbers are down in almost every category for the senior but he will come into Monday’s contest with some momentum, averaging 18 points on 60 percent shooting after his past two games. The 6-foot-2 guard has good size, takes care of the ball and plays good defense.

Freshman forward Chane Behanan rounds out the starting five for the Cardinals. He has done an excellent job on the glass, averaging 7.4 rebounds per game in just over 24 minutes per game. He isn’t terribly efficient offensively but is relied upon in the Cardinals’ offense, using a versatile inside-out game that makes him a difficult matchup. He is drawing 4.9 fouls per 40 minutes, which ranks him in the top 20 of the Big East.

Forward Rakeem Buckles has been worked back slowly in 2011 after a torn ACL ended his junior year. Still, the 6-foot-7 forward provides good size on the interior for the Cardinals. He has done well on the offensive glass and can provide scoring from time-to-time and is the spark plug off the bench for Louisville.

Junior forward Jared Swopshire and, at times, freshman guard Kevin Ware round out the rest of Louisville’s injury-ridden, shallow bench. Siva missed time with a concussion, forward Stephan Van Treese is out with a knee injury, freshman Wayne Blackshear is battling back from a shoulder injury and forward Mike Marra, who crushed Marquette in last year’s Big East Tournament, is out with a torn ACL.

Where the Cardinals are good

The Cardinals have lost plenty of offense due to injury, but thanks to Dieng, Siva and the Smith’s they are one of the best defensive teams in the nation. With an adjusted defensive efficiency of 88.0 (No. 14 in the nation), an efficient field goal percentage defense of 42.0 (No. 6) and allowing just 61.1 points per game, the numbers speak for themselves. Russ Smith and Siva rank toward the top of the nation in steals and Dieng’s interior defense has held opponents shoot 38.2 percent from inside the arc, the fourth best mark in the country. Points are hard to come by against the Cardinals.

Russ Smith has the second best steal percentage (6.6) in all of college basketball. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Thanks to Dieng, the Cardinals are one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the nation. They average 12.6 boards per game, 4.1 of which come from Dieng, and have helped a Louisville team that has struggled from the outside at times. Behanan has been equally impressive, averaging 2.6 offensive rebounds per game. The Cardinals are physical and use their size well, leading to plenty of second chance points. Their 36.2 offensive rebound percentage is 59th in the nation, but it is worth noting that number has decreased to 30.2 in conference.

Where the Cardinals can be beat

For as good as Dieng can be inside, teams are still getting to the free throw line against the Cardinals. Opponents are averaging 22.6 free throws per game and, in Big East play prior to DePaul’s five attempts, opponents were getting to the line 26.8 times per game. Russ Smith, Buckles and Dieng have below average foul rates and opponents are scoring 24.7 percent of their points off free throws, one of the highest rates in the nation.

Much like St. John’s, the Cardinals have little depth on their bench and are relying on good minutes from their starters each night. If Kuric can’t go Monday, Louisville will be going seven players deep. That’s risky business on the road in the Big East.

The Cardinals have solid passers but are below average holding onto the ball, averaging 14.2 turnovers per game. Its 20.8 turnover percentage is, again, middle of the pack. Siva has been the biggest culprit, averaging 3.4 turnovers per game and a 29.2 turnover percent rate.

Three keys to the game

1. 1-2-2 press: It’s too early to tell whether the Golden Eagles’ press will stick, but it’s worth trying against a Louisville team that has had problems taking care of the ball. The Cardinals have slowed their pace in Big East play and, as Marquette did against Pittsburgh, taking seconds off the shot clock with the press will be important.

2. Ball movement: Buzz Williams expects Louisville to play zone against his team, meaning getting the ball into the paint will be key. It might not result in points with Dieng patrolling the interior, but caving in the zone will open up outside looks and force Louisville into likely foul situations, two areas where Marquette will need to be good to score against the Cardinals.

3. Limit Dieng: Against Chris Otule, Dieng averaged six points, two rebounds and one block in 11.5 minutes in two games last year. Without its interior stopper, Louisville will look to find Dieng early and often. In four losses this year, Dieng has averaged 6.8 points and 5.5 rebounds compared to 10.1 points and 9.3 rebounds in 14 wins. Granted, those numbers in losses have come against excellent interior teams (Kentucky, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Providence) but it remains that keeping Dieng limited inside will go a long way toward a Marquette victory.

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