After a year apart, Syracuse and Louisville will rekindle their relationship in 2015 as the Cardinals become members of the ACC.
We are all familiar with Rick Pitino, and although it is a name that makes those who bleed orange cringe, you can't help but admit he possesses a great basketball mind. His team's are always well-coached, ready for anything and anyone in their way. This year will be no different.
The Orange-Cardinal rivalry could be one of the best, if not the best, that the Orange have participated in during the 2000s. As Big East opponents, the Cardinals won nine of the 13 meetings, including a seven game winning streak that spanned from February 2007 until February of 2012. 10 of those games were decided by 10 points or less. The Orange have dropped the last two meetings, the most recent being the final Big East championship game in 2013.
It is safe to say Pitino and the Cards have the Orange's number. Now, in a different conference, is their chance to turn the tides of the rivalry in their direction. Here's a look at what the Orange will be up against when they meet the pesky Cardinals on February 18th, 2015.
2013-14 Record: 29-5 (13-3 in the AAC)
Last Time We Saw Them: March 2013, the final Big East game. At our home away from home, Madison Square Garden. The Orange were seeking their sixth conference title in its final season, but failed to do so against the mighty Cardinals, who captured their third Big East title followed by their third national title later that year.
Season Summary: The Cardinals were ranked third in both the AP and Coaches' preseason polls to start off the 2013-14 season. They won their first five games before following to an ACC opponent in North Carolina. They finished non-conference play at 11-2, losing to in-state rival Kentucky in December.
Their first and final year in the American Athletic Conference started off with two victories followed by a loss to Memphis in the third game. The loss made the Cardinals 0-3 against ranked opponents at the time. In their last 13 conference games, they went 11-2, splitting with Cincinnati and falling to the Tigers once more. They took a two game win-streak in the conference tournament and won the next three to claim the conference title, good enough for a number three seed in the NCAA tournament.
The Cardinals won their first two games before losing to Kentucky for the second time that year, being one of multiple victims to an Aaron Harrison dagger in the tourney.
Montrezl Harrell (14 PPG/8.4 RPG/1.2 APG): The 6-foot-8, 240 pound monster has a fond memory of playing against the Orange, willing his way to a 20 point, seven rebound performance in the aforementioned 2013 Big East championship. As a junior with one more year of experience under his belt, Harrell will be better than ever. He could have been a first round pick last year, but now returns to the Cards as one of the best players in all of college basketball.
Wayne Blackshear (8.2 PPG/3.1 RPG/.7 APG): Another familiar face, entering his fourth and final season in Louisville. Blackshear had a solid year as a junior, boasting career-highs in points per game and three-point percentage (39.4 percent). Look for him to come out better than ever on offense and just as intense on defense. Time will prove to be a friend of his.
Chris Jones (10.3 PPG/2.3 RPG/2.9 APG): The 5-foot-10 point guard is also a senior. He was fourth on the team in scoring last season, and despite his below average 39.5 percent shooting from the field, he managed to knock down 37.7 percent of his shots from long range. Unlike the first two guys we talked about, Jones is not a familiar face for the Orange. Jones' junior year was his first with the Cardinals after spending two years in junior college. This guy is a late bloomer, but he is quite talented and will cause some problems for a lot of teams.
Personnel Changes: They lost Chane Behanan, who played in only 12 games in the 2013-14 season before getting kicked off the team for violating university policy. He would have been a senior this season. Russ Smith, the four year guard who led the team in scoring the past two seasons, has moved on to the NBA. They lost three-point sniper Luke Hancock and big man Stephan Van Treese to graduation as well. Kevin Ware, who played in nine games last season coming off of that horrible leg injury suffered during their championship run, has transferred to Georgia State to complete his career.
The Cardinals made up for all of those losses by bringing in six recruits from the class of 2014, good enough for the fourth best class in the nation according to ESPN. Four of the players are top 100 recruits, led by Shaqquan Aaron, a small forward from Seattle. Quentin Snyder, a hometown kid from Louisville, is the fifth ranked point guard in the class. They also added two top 100 big men, Riverdale Baptist High's Chinanu Onuaku and the seven-foot-one giant Anas Osama Mahmoud.
2014-15 Potential: They're ranked ninth in the preseason Coaches' Poll, fourth highest amongst ACC teams and higher than the Orange's 24th. They have five players returning that played in at least 30 games and 15 minutes per game combined with a top recruiting class that boasts more depth than talent. They will be well-coached and well-prepared, but I think they will lose more than the five games they lost last season over the course of this season. However, even though they will have more losses they will be more battle-tested, giving them a good shot at being even better than last year.
Orange Match-up: As usual, the Cardinals will be good. Luckily the Orange only have to play them once and it is in the friendly confines of the Carrier Dome. Despite all of those losses in recent years, they are 2-2 at home against the Cardinals with Pitiino as the opposing head coach.
Expect to see the patented full court pressure after every made Cardinal basket, a key matchup being the senior Jones pinned against the Orange's freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph. How he reacts to the defense, takes care of the ball and what he is able to do when the Cardinals aren't in the press to help his team will be a key component in the outcome of this game. Your defense is your best offense against a team like Louisville, taking rebounds and turnovers into transition opportunities for easy buckets, making sure they don't have a chance to set up their defense. Hopefully by the middle of February the Orange will have some fast break tricks up their sleeves.
Another important factor of the game will be how the Orange handle Harrell, who is a lot better now than he was in his Big East title game performance a year and a half ago. Rakeem Christmas, Chris McCullough, Chinoso Obokoh and hopefully a healthy DaJuan Coleman will be there to try and stop him, and being armed and ready to do will be of huge benefits to the Orange. If this guy starts grabbing offensive boards and making easy buckets, he will get amped up. Once he is amped up, there is no stopping him. If the zone collapses to help tame the beast, three-pointers will become more frequent and less difficult for the Cardinals. We will call this the Harrell effect. They can not let this guy get going.
i can't state enough how difficult this game will be. This will not change, at least as long as Pitino is strolling the sidelines of the Yum! Center. This does not mean the Orange don't have a good chance to win, because they aren't too bad eiher. Winning this game at a key point in the season will not only help them in the short term, but a victory can help them in the long term as well, reversing recent struggles against this prestigious program.