#5 New Mexico Lobos vs. #4 Louisville Cardinals -1
New Mexico did a nice job in the opener corralling Long Beach State’s electric point guard Caspar Ware. Ware scored a team high 17 points, but did so on just 5 of 19 shooting, including 2 of 9 from behind the arc. Lobo coach Steve Alford will take that type of defensive efficiency any night of the season with a smile. Things will be a little different tonight against Louisville, as the Cardinals have a much more diversified offensive attack. Led by point guard Peyton Siva and wings Kyle Kuric and Craig Smith, the Cardinals get minutes and offensive contributions from seven or eight players most nights. While it will be key to limit the penetration of Siva, it isn’t possible to focus on just one Cardinal and shut down their offense like it was against “The Beach.”
Louisville only beat #13 Davidson 69-62, but the game wasn’t actually as close as the score. While Louisville never completely buried with Wildcats, they weren’t ever truly threatened by them either. It was the textbook NCAA Tournament opening round win; do enough to survive and advance comfortably, if not spectacularly. It will take a slightly better effort to do the same against New Mexico, but the Cardinals certainly have it within their ability.
Louisville is as hot as any team in the country fresh off their charge from the #7 seed to win the Big East conference tourney. For everyone down on the Big East this season, it is pretty fun to note that the Cardinals have a better seed in the NCAA Tourney than they do in their own conference tourney. You don’t see THAT every day. Tom Izzo gets the most recognition for it, but I’m not sure there are many March coaches I’d choose over Rick Pitino. Dating all the way back to his magical run to the Final Four at Providence with point guard Billy Donovan in 1987, Pitino has made a consistent habit of getting his teams deeper in March than their seed line might dictate.
I like this Louisville team; they are peaking at the right time and have a nice blend of quickness and athleticism as well as a veteran backcourt. Peyton Siva can be exasperating at times, but there is no point guard in the country better at creating a one-on-one clean look for himself if the time and situation dictate it. He did it earlier this season to create a buzzer-beating layup against Vanderbilt, and he did it all throughout the Big East Tournament, especially in the last four minutes against Cincinnati in the Final.
I think Louisville has a little too much firepower for the good, but not great New Mexico Lobos. I think tomorrow is the end of the line for them, capping off a disappointing March for the optimistic Mountain West.