NCAA Basketball

College Basketball Preview: Morehead St. vs. Louisville

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13)Morehead State Eagles vs. (4)Louisville Cardinals
Pepsi Center – Denver, CO
Thursday, Mar. 17, 2011
Time: 1:40 pm EST (approx.)
Television: TBS (Verne Lundquist, Play-by-Play; Bill Raftery, Color)
Radio: 790 WKRD (Paul Rogers, Play-by-Play; Bob Valvano, Color)
Series History: Louisville Leads 31-11

The Morehead State Eagles are making their fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and second in the last three years. They advanced to the NCAA Tournament by defeating Tennessee Tech, 80-73, on March 5 in the OVC title game. Kenneth Faried, their absolute stud big man, led the charge with 24 points and 18 rebounds.

Fifth-year head coach Donnie Tyndall has led the program to three consecutive 20-win seasons. A Morehead State graduate, Tyndall has guided the Eagles to a 95-69 overall record in his five years.

This is an experienced Morehead squad. Remember, two years ago in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, they were in the game against Louisville until midway through the second half. And don’t forget that they know what it feels like to win a tourney game as they downed Alabama State in the play-in game in 2009.

Intimidation should not be a factor for the Eagles. They faced 2-seed Florida and No. 1 overall seed Ohio State in back-to-back games in late November and were competitive in both games. They lost at Gainesville 61-55 and followed that with a 19-point loss in Columbus, 64-45. They may not have won, but they were competitive and their senior leader, Kenneth Faried (6-8, 228), proved he belonged with the big boys. He put up double-doubles in both games, posting 20 and 18 against Florida and then 15 and 12 against Ohio State.

The senior from Newark, NJ leads the team in scoring with 17.6 points and rebounding with 14.5 per game. He’s beast. He’s active. He doesn’t stop. The thing that sums it up for me when thinking about Faried is “jumping jack”. The kid doesn’t stop moving, he’s active around the rim and there may not be a player in the country who comes down and re-jumps quicker than Faried. Point blank, he wants the ball more than anyone and more often than not, because of that, he gets it.

He has 1,643 rebounds in his career, which nearly equates to one rebound in every two minutes of action. He averaged 8.0 a game his rookie year, 13.0 in his sophomore and junior season and then topped that off with 14.5 this year. He has 27 double-doubles in 33 games this season and 84 in his career, which ties Ralph Sampson for second all-time.

In the OVC Tournament it was apparent that Faried was on a mission to get back to the NCAA Tournament as he averaged 18 points and 18 rebounds in two games. He also had 13 blocks in the two games, recording eight in their semifinal win over Austin Peay.

But, it wasn’t Faried who took home OVC Tournament MVP honors. It was senior guard Demonte’ Harper (6-4, 195). Harper put 25 points in their win over Peay and then followed that with 27 points and 11 rebounds in the final.

Harper has scored 1,407 points in his career, which ranks 16th in school history, and is averaging 16.0 points this year, which is second to only Faried. He has recorded three double doubles in his last six games and it appears that something has clicked for the senior as he approaches the end of his career. He has always been a good player, but at times he refused to show the aggressiveness that is necessary to step up to the next level. At the end of the season and in conference tournament play, Harper was that guy.

One issue with the Eagles is that they lack a true point guard. Because of that, Harper is forced to have the ball in his hands a ton at the end of clock situations. He is first on the team in assists (3.4) and turnovers (3.9), so he has the ability to make plays but also has a tendency to force turnovers.

He has the ability to knock shots down from deep. He is second on the team in threes made with 55 and is shooting 40-percent from deep. Louisville perimeter defenders must also be aware of a pair of juniors in Terrance Hill (6-1, 175) who leads the team with 57 threes, while shooting 34-percent, and Ty Proffit (6-4, 190), a transfer out of Notre Dame, who has knocked down 48 threes while shooting 38-percent. Hill is third on the team in scoring with 10.4 points and Proffit is fifth with 7.7.

Also, expect major minutes from senior Sam Goodman (6-2, 190) and sophomore forward Drew Kelly (6-7, 235). Goodman is an athletic guard that provides the Eagles with a spark off the bench. In fact, midway through the year Goodman went to Tyndall and asked him if he could move from the starting lineup to the bench to help provide that spark. The kid can jump out of the gym and is fourth on the team in scoring with 8.4 points.

Kelly moved into the starting lineup when Goodman slid into the sixth man spot. He is a versatile big that provides Morehead with another body underneath, but he also has the ability to slide up and knock down perimeter jumpers.

Defensively, the Eagles play a ton of 2-3 matchup zone and I don’t expect that to change much on Thursday against Louisville. They are aware that the Cardinals are a proficient perimeter shooting team, so I’d look for them to extend that defense to pressure shooters instead of switching to man-to-man.

In Louisville’s losses this season, more often than not, the theme has been rebounding. Drexel outrebounded them 45-25, Kentucky did so 35-23, Villanova 36-19, Notre Dame 38-29, and West Virginia destroyed them on the glass, 48-20. That is a common theme and with Faried and company on the horizon, it has to be a concern. This is a Morehead team that has emphasized rebounding since Tyndall became the head coach. In his tenure, the Eagles are 30-9 when they record 40 or more rebounds.

The Cards have to limit Faried’s touches off the glass and prevent second or third chance opportunities. Nothing is more deflating than offensive rebounds that force you to regroup defensively and to guard for another 35 seconds. This doubles in importance when you are a team like Louisville that wants to move up and down the court. Second chance opportunities will allow Morehead to not only get another chance to score but to slow the momentum of the game.

Still, it is going to take more than just outrebounding Louisville to upset the Cards. Morehead will also have to have success from beyond the arc. The three-point shot is as much as an equalizer as there is in college basketball.

To avoid any thoughts of an upset, the Cards have to rebound, defend the three and take advantage of MSU’s lack of having a true point guard by forcing turnovers. If they do that, they should move on to face the winner of Vanderbilt and Richmond in the second round.

Faried has already etched his name in Morehead State lore  and a win over in-state rival Louisville in the NCAA Tournament would raise his name to god-like levels. I think it’s going to be a close one, but in the end the Cards are just too much.

Louisville 75, Morehead State 68