Game time: 1 p.m., Sunday.
Site: KFC Yum! Center, Louisville, Ky.
Spread: Louisville opened as a 14-point favorite.
Series: Louisville leads, 10-9, Louisville won the only meeting last season (77-72 in Raleigh).
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Television: WRAL. Radio: WRAL-150; SiriusXM channel 81. Internet live-stream: ESPN3.com, WatchESPN app.
1) Withstand the pressure
Louisville’s a tough, defensive-minded team and the Cards will press and use some junk zone and do just about anything to harass N.C. State’s guards. Freshman Dennis Smith Jr. struggled with these defensive concepts earlier this season but both guards Markell Johnson and Torin Dorn can be used to break the press and then have Smith get the ball at halfcourt and initiate the offense from there.
Two years ago at Louisville, N.C. State was patient, broke the press, used some clock in the halfcourt and then had guards Cat Barber and Trevor Lacey use ball-screens to get to the basket or create for others.
The way Smith played in the second half at Duke, with 14 points and six assists, was similar to the set coach Mark Gottfried used at Louisville in 2015. Maverick Rowan and Abdul-Malik Abu set high ball-screens for Smith and then Smith was able to find them at the rim (Abu), on the 3-point line (Rowan) or take the ball to the basket.
Duke did not protect the basket on Monday like Louisville will. Louisville’s bigs aren’t going to win a talent contest but they are long and effective. The Cards rank second in the ACC, and sixth in the country, with 6.2 blocked shots per game.
The Cards also rank in the top 15 in the NCAA in scoring defense (62.2), field-goal percentage defense (37.5)
“They’re a terrific defensive team,” Gottfried said. “They get a lot of deflections, they turn deflections into fastbreaks.”
2) Challenge Louisville’s depth
The Cards have plenty of bigs and size and talent (sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell is a pro) but they have been hit recently with injuries at guard. Junior point guard Quentin Snider suffered a hip flexor in a win over Duke on Jan. 14 and has missed the past three games (The Cards are 2-1 without him).
Tony Hicks, a graduate transfer from Penn, was starting for Snider but broke a bone in his right hand in Tuesday’s blowout win at Pittsburgh. Neither Hicks nor Snider are expected to play against State.
That leaves redshirt freshman Ryan McMahon, who had 15 points and five assists at Pitt, and walk-on David Levitch. Most N.C. State fans can predict that means either will be the designated “Wolfpack Hero for a Day” and turn in their career scoring performance.
Or coach Rick Pitino can go with a super-sized lineup with Mitchell, Deng Adel (6-7), Ray Spalding (6-10) and any combination of Jaylen Johnson (6-9), Anas Mahmoud (7-0) or Mangok Mathiang (6-10).
3) Move on
I like to make a big deal about N.C. State’s problems after a win over either Duke or North Carolina. Since the 1990-91 season, the Wolfpack has a 2-19 record in its next ACC game after a regular-season win over either blue behemoth.
There are multiple reasons for this. Controlling the emotions after a big win is a big part of it, although some of the losses can be explained by N.C. State’s overall strength during that stretch.
Still, it has been five days since the Duke win and that is more time than any other of Gottfried’s teams has had to get over a win over Duke or Carolina. Of course, Louisville is a 14-point favorite, so if State loses — I will add it to the chart — but it won’t exactly be a surprise.
The real question for State was two years ago it won at Louisville in February and saved its season. Will the Duke road win (the first since 1995) have a similar effect on this team?
▪ Scouting Louisville: The Cards boat-raced Pittsburgh 106-51 on Tuesday. It was the third 50-point win in conference play this season (UNC beat State by 51, Duke beat Georgia Tech by 53) but first by a road team.
While short on 3-point shooting, this is a classic Pitino team with depth, size and athleticism and it wins with defense and toughness.
Oh, and Anton Gill is still safely in Nebraska.
Projected starting lineups
N.C. State (14-7, 3-5 ACC)
G Dennis Smith Jr. 19.5 ppg, 6.5 apg
G Terry Henderson 14.5 ppg, 3.0 rpg
G Maverick Rowan 11.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg
F Abdul-Malik Abu 11.7 ppg, 7.4 rpg
F Omer Yurtseven 6.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg
Louisville (17-4, 5-3 ACC)
G Donovan Mitchell 14.1 ppg, 4.8 rpg
G Ryan McMahon 2.6 ppg, 0.4 rpg
G Deng Adel 10.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg
F Jaylen Johnson 8.2 ppg, 6.6 rpg
F Anas Mahmoud 6.6 ppg, 3.8 rpg
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio