With Chris Jones probably returning, hopefully, so too can the winning for the No. 12 Louisville Cardinals (20-6, 8-5 ACC) as they return home to take on Miami (17-9, 7-6). Following a 69-59 defeat at the hands of Syracuse, Louisville needs to regroup soon if it hopes to make a run in March. Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier held a players only meeting following the loss to the Orange, hoping to reverse the fortunes of a program which has normally begun its late season surge in February–as opposed to this team, which continues to lower its NCAA Tournament seed with each lackluster loss.
Cardinal fans are beginning to grow restless with a team that has been overly reliant on its ‘Big Three’–Harrell, Rozier, and Jones–for production this season. With no guarentee that Senior Wayne Blackshear or one of Rick Pitino’s younger players will emerge as a fourth scorer to take pressure off the Big Three, Jones’ suspension felt like a last ditch effort by Pitino to get this team ready for March–and the precedent is that it might work. Pitino benched Jones earlier this year following the Cards’ loss to Kentucky, and the result was production from Jones unparalleled by his previous play as a Card. Jones averaged 17.1 ppg and 5.9 apg in January following the benching, but has backslide lately with selfish play. Jones was playing like one of the best guards in the country before Louisville’s road loss to Virginia, and if he can return to that form, Louisville’s shot at a Final Four remains intact.
Miami, on the other hand could really use a marquee road win to boost its tournament resume. But if Miami expects to leave the Yum! Center with a win Saturday, it will need to care much better care of the ball against Jones, who had six steals in the teams’ first matchup. Miami guard Angel Rodriguez was visibly upset during the game when he was clearly outplayed by the mercurial Jones. I would expect Rodriguez to have a chip on his shoulder for this game. Rodriguez will start alongside three other guards for the third straight game, a move which Hurricanes coach Jim Larranaga made in order to prevent opponents from spreading the Canes out with three point shots. Against Louisville, Miami will need to worry about its own shooting as opposed to that of their offensively challenged opponents. While guard Davon Reed hit 5 of 6 from beyond the arc against the Cards, his teammates combined to go 11 of 24 overall and 1 of 13 on threes. As Louisville showed in their victory earlier this month, they’re clearly the more talented team in Saturday’s clash. Unfortunately, that hasn’t meant much for the Cards in their past two games.
*Section Photo credit to Andy Lyons, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Timothy D. Easley, Associated Press.