Temple Preview: Louisville (Feb. 14)

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Anthony Bellino (@Bellino_Anthony)

Temple guard Will Cummings will have the task of guarding Louisville's Russ Smith(Photo: Tug Haines)

Temple guard Will Cummings will have the task of guarding Louisville’s Russ Smith(Photo: Tug Haines)

Temple (6-16, 1-9) vs. Louisville (19-4, 8-2)
When: Thursday, February 14, 6 PM
Where: The Liacouras Center, Philadelphia, PA
KenPom: Temple 173, Louisville 6
In a Sentence… The defending national champions come to the Liacouras Center for a matchup against the struggling Owls.

Getting to know the Cardinals
Rick Pitino is coming off a national championship victory and once again has his team in the hunt despite losing Peyton Siva to graduation and Chane Behanan who was dismissed from the team. Behanan has since announced that he will transfer to Colorado State.

“Everybody’s going to be watching the game since they’re the defending national champions you just have to come out and play real hard,” Temple guard Will Cummings said. “You want those big games on TV against the big opponents that everybody claims to be really good, it’s an opportunity to come out and get a good victory.”

The preseason polls selected Cardnials guard Russ Smith as the American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and he hasn’t disappointed. Smith comes into the matchup with the Owls averaging team highs in both points (18.3 ppg) and assists (4.7 apg). Smith, a senior, had originally declared for the NBA draft before electing to return to Louisville for his senior year. Smith is shooting 45.3 percent from the field and 39.7 percent from beyond the three-point line.

“He’s a good guard, there’s a lot of good guards in this league that we’ve played against,” Cummings said of Smith. “I’m just preparing like I would for any other game, I’m approaching it as a normal game, they’ve got a lot of good players.”

Smith isn’t the only option Pitino has to score the ball, including Smith the Cardinals have four-players averaging double-figures scoring. The Cardinal’s second-leading scorer is sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell. Harrell stands at 6-foot-8 and averages 12.6 points to go along with team-high 8.2 rebounds per game.

“Keeping him out of the paint is one thing, keeping him off the glass is another,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said of Harrell. “He’s just a really good player and he’s very good in transition, he can run up and down the floor, it’s going to be important for us to monitor where he is.”

Senior Luke Hancock (11.5 ppg) and junior Chris Jones (10.9 ppg) round out the main scoring threats for Pitino’s squad. Hancock, who showed his three-point abilities at the end of last season has struggled from behind the arch this year shooting just 30 percent from three-point range. Jones, a junior college transfer has appeared in 19 game this year and is second on the team to Smith in both assists and steals.

Three Keys to the Game
1. Play like there’s nothing to lose
Temple’s season isn’t going anywhere fast but they have a huge opportunity with the defending national champions coming to the Liacouras Center. If the Owls want to be in the game with Louisville they’ll have to do all the little things right, not committing foolish fouls, closing out on rebounds and most importantly leaving it all out on the court. They’ll have to win all of the hustle plays and capitalize on every one of Louisville’s mistakes.

“This is as tough as it gets but this is what you want,” Dunphy said of facing the Cardinals. “This is what your kids come to Temple University for, you want to go up against the very best people and for us we have a great challenge in front of us tomorrow.”

2. Shot Selection and Ball Control
Louisville’s defense is very good at defending the three-point shot. Opponents are shooting just 30.4 percent from beyond the three-point line against them. Three of the Owl’s four leading scorers, Dalton Pepper, Will Cummings and Quenton DeCosey are guards. They’ll have to look to get to the rim or enter the ball into the post to Anthony Lee as the Cardinals are very good at closing out on the three-point shot. They’ll show different defenses throughout the game and will look to confuse Temple; they’ve forced 398 turnovers and committed just 243.

3. Stopping Smith
Smith has been in double-figures scoring in each of the Cardinals games this season. He’ll have the ball in his hands more than any Cardinal and will look to make plays. Most likely the Owls with throw Cummings and freshman guard Josh Brown at Smith for the majority of the game. Smith is ultra-quick and does his damage both off the dribble and on spot-up jump shots. If the Owls let Smith get loose they’ll be in for another long night at the Liacouras Center.

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