NCAA Basketball

2010 College Basketball Preview: Butler Bulldogs vs. Louisville Cardinals

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Butler Bulldogs @ Louisville Cardinals
KFC Yum! Center – Louisville, KY
Tuesday November 16, 2010
Time: 8:00 pm EST
T.V.: ESPN Dan Shulman, play-by-play; Dick Vitale, analyst.
Radio: WHAS 840 AM Paul Rogers, play-by-play; Bob Valvano, analyst.
Series History: UofL trails 4-5 (2-2 in Louisville, 2-2 in Indianapolis, 0-1 neutral)
Officials: John Higgins, Mike Roberts, John Gaffney

Rick Pitino and the 2010-2011 version of the Louisville Cardinals men’s basketball team will open their season, and their new home – the $249 million, 22,000+ seat KFC Yum! Center – by hosting the defending National Runner-Ups, the Butler Bulldogs. This will be the first of 10 strait home games for Louisville, and 15 of their first 16 games this year will be at the Yum! Center.

Louisville said goodbye to its home of 54 years last season in Freedom Hall. Some things will still look familiar – Denny Crum Court, the over-abundance of mock turtlenecks and sweater vests in the crowd – but the Yum! Center is not Freedom Hall. If you haven’t seen it yet, take a virtual tour of the new Arena HERE.

Last season came to a bitter end when the Cards were bounced in the first round by California. Thursday night Louisville unofficially opened the new arena with a 96-54 thumping of Kentucky Wesleyan. The official opening won’t be as easy.

Not only will their opponent be a tad more formidable, the Cardinals are nowhere close to 100% healthy to start the season. Both Jared Swopshire and Russ Smith are out until at least late November and incoming freshman Justin Coleman was declared ineligible by the NCAA. Former Memphis Tiger Roburt Sallie, who was expected to play for Louisville this season and enroll as a graduate student, also won’t be suiting up as planned as he did not graduate.

Nevertheless Louisville has one of the greatest sideline leaders in the history of the game in Rick Pitino and still returns nine players from last year’s squad, though Swopshire was the only returning starter. The Cardinals will likely start Kyle Kuric, Rakeem Buckles, Terrence Jennings, Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva.

Coach Pitino plans to speed up the Cardinals’ playing style this season to the accelerated pace Pitino followers have become accustomed to. Louisville has been practicing with a 24 second shot clock and have considered it a turnover if they do not cross halfcourt within three seconds. The style has been productive in a pair of intrasquad scrimmages, as the teams combined for 237 points in each scrimmage.

The Butler Bulldogs came up two points short in March, losing 61-59 to the Duke Blue Devils in the National Championship Game in their hometown of Indianapolis. That loss ended a 25 game winning streak for the Bulldogs. Butler will look to start another streak in Louisville on Tuesday night after an 83-54 dismantling of Marian on Saturday in their home and season opener.

Butler head coach Brad Stevens, 90-15 in his fourth year as a head coach, is a year older now, though still just 33 years young. He signed a 12-year extension following the loss to Duke and is ready to make another run at the Final Four. How are things different this time around?

“Things are really no different,” Stevens said. “We haven’t changed one thing we’re doing. Everything is staying the same. We were a top 10 team at the beginning of last year and managed and handled expectations.”

The key loss for the Bulldogs is obviously Horizon League Player of the Year Gordon Hayward. You don’t replace certain players and Hayward is one of those players. Butler will look to its eight returning juniors and seniors – including former league Player of the Year (Matt Howard), a leading Player of the Year candidate (Shelvin Mack) and the returning Defensive Player of the Year (Ronald Nored) to help fill the void left by Hayward’s early departure to the NBA.

Mack, a junior, was named to the Wooden Award Preseason Top 50 list, announced by the Los Angeles Athletic Club back in early October. He averaged 15.3 points per game in the NCAA Tournament run and needs just 101 points to break the 1,000-point barrier. Butler’s returning backcourt of Mack, Nored and Shawn Vanzant is one of the best in the country. Stepping off the bench and into the backcourt is senior Zach Hahn, a 3-point marksman who shot 41.4 percent last season.

Howard, at 6′ 8″ is a physical banger underneath and expect Louisville to throw multiple defenders and big bodies his way. 6′ 7″ Junior Garrett Butcher should round out the Bulldogs’ starting five. Expect freshman newcomer Khyle Marshall to contribute as well. Marshall is extremely athletic and earned three strait first-team All-State selections in Florida’s 4A-6A classification, averaging 28 points and 11 boards his senior year.

Butler’s other two key newcomers are guard Chrishawn Hopkins and forward Erik Fromm. Fromm, listed at 6′ 9″ and 220 pounds, should be able to contribute in the paint and on defense. Hopkins was the City Player of the Year in Indianapolis after averaging 25.8 points, 7.4 rebounds, 2.9 blocks and 2.8 steals and connecting on 42 percent from beyond the arc.

Louisville will eventually be a force to be reckoned with, but can they come out of the gates firing on all cylinders? They will have to if they expect to knock off the defending National Runner-Ups. The Cards have won 15 of their last 17 season openers, including six strait – but I think that streak will come to end on Tuesday night.

Butler 72, Louisville 65