Hoosiers, Cards continue series on Saturday

Until this week, Chris Mack didn’t know much about Indiana.

During his nine seasons as Xavier’s head coach, he never scheduled IU or matched up with the Hoosiers during pre- or post-season tournaments. His only working knowledge of this year’s Indiana team came from channel surfing through college basketball games on nights when Louisville wasn’t playing.

But Mack understands at least a couple things about IU basketball.

During his time in the Atlantic-10 Conference, Mack’s Xavier teams matched up with Indiana coach Archie Miller’s old Dayton squads on a handful of occasions. Mack won three of the five conference meetings. Mack also formerly worked as an assistant coach to Miller’s brother, Sean, at Xavier before taking the Musketeers’ job as his own in 2009. So Mack understands what it means to plan for and face a Miller-coached team.

He also knows what it’s going to take for his Louisville team to pull out a victory in Bloomington. Mack has never stepped foot inside Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall, but as a college basketball fan, he recognizes the venerable venue for what it is.

And for a Louisville program that hasn’t visited Indiana since 2002, the Cardinals’ first-year coach is trying to prepare his team for one of their toughest road assignments of the year.

“It’s one of the loudest arenas in the country and, obviously, they have a very passionate fan base,” Mack said Friday. “I’ve heard the stories.”

For both Indiana and Louisville, there is at least some shared familiarity on both sides of this three-game series, which concludes with Saturday’s 2:30 p.m. tipoff. Not only do the coaches have a history, but the teams have played in each of the previous two seasons. Both of those contests ended with Louisville victories.

But at the same time, there’s plenty new for each side to learn about the other on Saturday.

For Indiana, it will be facing a new-look Louisville team, which is off to a strong 6-2 start under Mack. The Cardinals are no longer operating with the full-court pressure installed by former coach Rick Pitino. Under Mack, they’re transitioning to the pack-line.

“I think over a 15-, 16-year period of time under Coach Pitino, the size and the pressing and the matchup zones and some of the things that they were known for will now change,” Miller said. “Chris is bringing more of the man-to-man defensive principles to the table. And then offensively, they’re a lot different just in terms of the philosophy.

“It’s a more four-around-one look. Chris does a great job. He’s probably as good as any coach in the country in terms of being able to get their bigs the ball for buckets, not just catches but actually throw it to them and you get baskets.”

Indiana is also preparing for a far different Louisville lineup than the one it faced last December in Louisville. The Cardinals return only one starter from last year’s team — V.J. King, who’s come off the bench in each of Louisville’s last three games. Louisville also added three graduate transfers in Samford’s Christen Cunningham, Richmond’s Khwan Fore and Akoy Agau, who played his freshman year at Louisville and now returns after stints at Georgetown and SMU.

Junior center Steven Enoch also has two years to play for Louisville after sitting out last season following his transfer from UConn.

Mostly, the Cardinals are led by forward Jordan Nwora, who’s operating as the team’s top scorer (17.0 points per game) and rebounder (7.0 boards per contest). Nwora is enjoying a Juwan Morgan-like jump in production after averaging merely 5.7 points and 12.0 minutes as a freshman.

The 6-foot-7 sophomore forward is coming off a 21-point performance on Wednesday against Central Arkansas and has spent the first month of the season as the first option inside of Louisville’s offensive approach.

“He’s just been real efficient,” Morgan said. “He’s getting to his spots. He’s a great player, and I just think it’s going to be a team approach (to guard him). I don’t think it’ll be like so simple as putting one guy on him and making sure that guy stops (him). I think just being in gaps, making every catch, every shot, every pass tough for him, I just think doing those things will really help us pull out the win. I think there are some similarities (between he and I). He just really stuck to his script and waited for his time to come.”

While Nwora is at the top of IU’s game plan, Morgan is at the top of Louisville’s.

The senior forward has wowed Mack as the Louisville coach has prepped for the Hoosiers this week, looking the part of a player who could be one of the best the Cardinals face all season.

“I can’t believe how talented Juwan Morgan is,” Mack said. “Asking our staff, like where is he projected in the NBA Draft — middle second round? I don’t get it. People are insane. He has unbelievable feel. He’s like Draymond Green to me, only he’s a little bit taller. Great passer. Can shoot it, can post, plays a tough mismatch position for most teams because he’s at the five 90 percent of his time out there. If he’s not a first-round pick, I understand why some of these guys get fired at the next level. I really believe that. He doesn’t have maybe NBA All-Star ceiling, but that boy can play.”

As important as Morgan is to IU’s lineup, Miller wants another Hoosier frontcourt player to establish himself in this matchup.

Last season, De’Ron Davis totaled 14 points and seven rebounds against Louisville’s length, adding three blocks during his 23 minutes on the floor.

Recently, Miller has mentioned his desire to get Davis more involved. This could be the game to do so.

“He’s getting better,” Miller said. “He’s getting in better shape. He’s practicing more consistently right now. I think he feels better about himself. He’s starting to get through some of the hard body aches and whatnot. Foul trouble limited him a little bit this past Tuesday at Penn State. He got himself a couple quick ones and never really got into the flow of the game. But we’re going to need De’Ron. I talked to him yesterday. We’re going to really need his presence on both ends of the floor.”

It’s an important game for both teams, a December resume-builder that could come in handy by March. For the Hoosiers, a win would be their fourth over an opponent rated inside the KenPom.com top 50. For the Cardinals, a win would complement the ACC/Big Ten Challenge victory they scored over Michigan State last week.

“This is going to be a game coming back in March that both teams will look at and say that was a heck of an opportunity for us to play a quality non-conference game,” Miller said. “For us, we’re excited.”

One comment

  1. Terrific piece of writing. Enjoyable and informative. Lots about the changes both coaches have had to make taking over stressed programs. Like Mack bringing in a bunch of transfers and making them blend together. IU vs L’Ville a must every season.

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