Daily Egyptian

SIU men’s basketball notebook: Scouting the Louisville Cardinals

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Senior guard Mike Rodriguez drives toward the basket as he is guarded by senior guard Gee McGhee, left, and junior guard Jonathan Stark on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, during SIU's 89-85 overtime win against Murray State at SIU Arena. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Senior guard Mike Rodriguez drives toward the basket as he is guarded by senior guard Gee McGhee, left, and junior guard Jonathan Stark on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, during SIU's 89-85 overtime win against Murray State at SIU Arena. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

Senior guard Mike Rodriguez drives toward the basket as he is guarded by senior guard Gee McGhee, left, and junior guard Jonathan Stark on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016, during SIU's 89-85 overtime win against Murray State at SIU Arena. (Bill Lukitsch | @lukitsbill)

By Sean Carley

Saluki fans wanted a tougher schedule and Wednesday will mark the pinnacle of their wish coming true.

SIU men’s basketball will face its final Power 5 opponent of the season at 6 p.m. Wednesday when it travels to face the No. 11 Louisville Cardinals.

Saluki senior guard Mike Rodriguez said this was the first game coach Barry Hinson booked when he asked Hinson to make a tougher schedule.

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This will be SIU’s first non-conference game against a ranked opponent since hosting Xavier in December 2011 and the highest-ranked non-conference opponent since hosting Purdue in November 2011.

Louisville will go into the game with a 7-1 record, losing its only game to No. 4 Baylor in the final of the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament on Nov. 25.

“I watched them play Purdue,” Hinson said. “I didn’t sleep that night at all.”

SIU coach Barry Hinson reacts to a play Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, during the Salukis' 85-64 win over the Missouri Southern Lions at the SIU Arena. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

SIU coach Barry Hinson reacts to a play Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2016, during the Salukis’ 85-64 win over the Missouri Southern Lions at the SIU Arena. (Ryan Michalesko | @photosbylesko)

The biggest challenge Louisville represents will be apparent almost immediately after the opening tip. The Cardinals play lockdown defense. Kenpom.com, a college basketball analytics service, ranks Louisville as the No. 1 defense in the nation so far this season.

Rick Pitino has prided himself for years on coaching defensive-minded teams and this year is no exception. This season’s Cardinals squad is 11th in nation in field-goal defense (36.2 percent) and 13th in scoring defense (59.4 points allowed per game).

Only one team has reached 70 points against Louisville this season: Grand Canyon on Saturday lost 79-70.

All of SIU’s strengths on offense appear to be equalled out by the Cardinals defense.

SIU likes to attack the basket inside, but Louisville is 14th nationally in blocked shots (6.3 per game). SIU can also shoot 3-pointers, but Louisville has a 3-point field-goal defense of 29.1 percent.

Louisville is able to defend so well because of its incredible length on the roster, which Kenpom.com ranks as the 19th tallest in Division I. Its roster consists of five players listed at 6-foot-9 or taller, and each of them have played in at least seven games.

SIU has one player that tall — sophomore forward Rudy Stradnieks.

Sophomore forward Rudy Stradnieks attempts a basket Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, during the Salukis' 57-45 loss to the University of Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

Sophomore forward Rudy Stradnieks attempts a basket Friday, Nov. 25, 2016, during the Salukis’ 57-45 loss to the University of Minnesota at Williams Arena in Minneapolis. (Athena Chrysanthou | @Chrysant1Athena)

The shortest of those five, junior forward Jaylen Johnson, is a tenacious rebounder who has almost as many offensive rebounds (29) as he does defensive (35).

As much of an interior presence the Cardinals have, its guard play is almost equally impressive. Sophomore Donovan Mitchell leads the ACC in steals per game with 2.5, and also leads the team in scoring at 11.9 points per game.

Louisville runs its offense a lot like SIU in that it likes to move the ball and distribute its scoring. Only two players — Mitchell and junior guard Quentin Snider — average double-figures, but eight players average at least five points per game.

Louisville's Donovan Mitchell (45) secures a defensive rebound from North Carolina's Justin Jackson (44) during the second half on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

Louisville’s Donovan Mitchell (45) secures a defensive rebound from North Carolina’s Justin Jackson (44) during the second half on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Ky. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/TNS)

If the Cardinals do have a weakness, it is their offense, which ranks last in the ACC in field-goal percentage at 42.5 percent and 3-point field goal percentage at 32 percent.

The only way it appears SIU has a feasible chance to win is to force the Louisville shooting to a level below its usual level and win a game in the 50-point range.

The task is as tall as it’s ever been in the Hinson-era, but his own outlook on the game may be the best anyone can offer SIU.

“You know what? Let’s lace them up and let’s go,” Hinson said. “We’ve got nothing to lose when we go there and we’re going to play. It’ll be a great opportunity. I’m looking forward to it.”

Sports editor Sean Carley can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @SeanMCarley.

To stay up to date with all your SIU basketball news, follow the Daily Egyptian on Facebook and Twitter.

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