No. 6 Louisville opens ACC play against No. 12 Virginia (Dec 28, 2016)
No. 6 Louisville will host No. 12 Virginia Wednesday night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky., in the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for both teams.
The Cardinals (11-1) boast the best defensive efficiency rating in the nation, according to Ken Pomeroy's advanced metrics.
Virginia (10-1) leads the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 47.2 points per game, and are second in field goal percentage defense (34 percent).
What do you get when the nation's No. 1 defense plays the No. 2 defense?
"It will be a low scoring game," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said, smiling.
The Cavaliers are No. 2 in Ken Pomeroy's defensive rankings. Virginia is among the slowest-paced teams in the nation.
"It's a polar opposite (from Louisville's 73-70 win over Kentucky)," Pitino said. "We'll try to run, and they'll fast break sometimes as well, but you will find this is going to be a low-scoring game. It is just going to be. Two very good defensive teams and no matter how much we both try to run, it's going to be a low-scoring game."
When Louisville and Virginia meet it is typically a grind. The Cardinals and Cavaliers, locked into a home-and-home series per ACC rivalry pairings when Louisville entered the lead two years ago, have played four times the last two seasons.
Average score? Virginia 60, Louisville 50. The last time either team scored 75 points in the series was an 98-81 Virginia win in 1983.
For all their recent success, the Cardinals haven't had much success against Virginia. The Cavaliers have won three out of four, including 16- and 22-point wins last season. But Louisville's offense may be better this season with more scoring options.
"They look like the players they have have developed from last year," Virginia coach Tony Bennett said Monday. "... They look a little more potent offensively. They're playing faster than they have. With that length and blocking ability, it's very impressive."
The Cardinals' scoring average is up to 78.0 points per game, up from 75 points per game last season and 69.0 points per game in 2014-15. Louisville has four starters averaging between 11.9 and 9.8 points per game: junior guard Quentin Snider at 11.9, sophomore wings Donovan Mitchell at 11.8 and Deng Adel at 10.4 and power forward Jaylen Johnson at 9.8. Louisville's fifth starter, senior center Mangok Mathiang, is averaging 6.3 points and 7.0 rebounds per game.
"Virginia is a very tough game to prepare for, very difficult, all phases of the game," Pitino said. "You know it's going to be a close game. You know it's going to be difficult to score. You know you have to be as good as they are defensively. Virginia is always difficult to play against."
Only one of Virginia's starters averages more than eight points per game -- senior guard London Perrantes at 10.0 points per game. The Cavaliers have faced just one other team of Louisville's caliber this season, a 66-57 loss to then-No. 19 West Virginia. Virginia is coming off its best win of the season, a 56-52 win at California last Wednesday.
As for Louisville, the Cardinals have passed several strong tests -- a 62-52 win over Wichita State, a 71-64 win over No. 15 Purdue and a 73-70 win over No. 8 Kentucky. The Cardinals' lone loss, a 66-63 loss to No. 4 Baylor in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, saw Louisville give up a 22-point lead.
The Cavaliers have won eight straight ACC openers. The Cardinals have been in three different leagues in recent years -- the Big East, the American Athletic Conference and the ACC -- and have won seven out of the last eight openers.
Pitino said this year's ACC will be a battle.
"Pass the Pepto Bismol," Pitino said earlier this season when asked about Louisville's schedule.
The Cardinals will face Virginia, then No. 16 Indiana on Saturday before traveling to No. 24 Notre Dame next Wednesday night. Virginia is in a similar boat with ACC road games at Louisville, at Clemson, at Notre Dame, at Virginia Tech and at North Carolina as well as a nonconference showdown at Villanova on Jan. 29.
NOTES: Louisville junior G Quentin Snider was honored as ACC Player of the Week Monday after he led Louisville with 22 points during a 73-70 win over Kentucky last Wednesday. ... Virginia beat Louisville 63-47 in their trip to the KFC Yum! Center last season. ... Tony Bennett is 3-1 vs. Louisville as Virginia's coach. ... Louisville sophomore G Donovan Mitchell leads the ACC in steals at 2.3 per game.