(2) Louisville (3-0) vs. Northern Iowa (3-0) (ET)
GAME NOTES: A pair of undefeated teams make the trip to Paradise Island in the Bahamas, as the Northern Iowa Panthers and the second-ranked Louisville Cardinals take part in the Battle 4 Atlantis at Imperial Arena on Thursday night.
Both teams are away from home for the first time in 2012-13 and the potential for much tougher competition is also in the cards with some of the top programs in the nation having been invited to this event.
For the Cardinals and head coach Rick Pitino, the schedule to this point has been mainly an exercise in pumping up the team's stats. Not only have all three of those contests been played at the KFC Yum! Center, they've all been decided by no less than 26 points. There were lopsided victories over Manhattan and Samford to start, and then last Sunday Louisville dismantled Miami-Ohio in an 80-39 final.
As for the Panthers, members of the Missouri Valley Conference, they managed to pad their stats a bit in the opener against Wartburg (103-50) before having a close call versus Toledo (84-81) in which they needed overtime to come up with the three-point win. Over the weekend, UNI entertained North Dakota and again had an easy time of it in a 72-47 final in order to stay perfect after three games
Both of these teams, meeting for the first time, will be back in action on Friday, with matchups against Missouri and Stanford to be determined based on the outcomes today.
From the opening tip, Louisville had complete control against Miami, limiting the visitors to a mere five field goals in the first half and 29.8 percent shooting from the floor overall. Offensively, the Cardinals took their cue from Russ Smith who scored a game-high 23 points on 5-of-7 shooting behind the three-point line, his efforts out on the perimeter easily topping that of the RedHawks who made good on just 4-of-20 on the outside. Wayne Blackshear, who converted 4-of-7 on his three-point attempts, accounted for 14 points and Gorgui Dieng chipped in another 11 points. Peyton Siva tallied just six points, but made up for it with 10 assists and four steals. Considered one of the top players in the Big East Conference again this season, Siva is shooting only 31.3 percent from the field as he generates just 7.7 ppg, but clearly his top responsibility is to get his teammates set up for easy baskets, which he has done to the tune of 9.0 apg. Smith (21.3 ppg) and Blackshear (10.7 ppg) have been the recipients of several of those helpers already.
For their third and final home game to kick off the 2012-13 season, the Panthers had the luxury of hosting North Dakota and feasted on the visitors with a 25-point win last weekend at the McLeod Center. Northern Iowa held UND to just 32.7 percent shooting from the field and 5-of-22 behind the three- point line, but then again the Panthers had their own issues out on the perimeter (9-of-24) as well. Jake Koch heading a list of three double-digit scorers with his 16 points, adding eight rebounds, four assists and a couple of blocked shots for good measure, followed by Chip Rank off the bench with 13 points and Matt Bohannon with 11. Although he was limited to just eight points against UND, Deon Mitchell is still the top scorer for the Panthers with his 17.7 ppg as he shoots 66.7 percent from the floor. Seth Tuttle (12.0 ppg) and Koch (11.7 ppg) also supply plenty of offensive punch, the latter leading the team with 9.7 rpg as well.
The Cardinals have to be careful not to take Northern Iowa too lightly because it is one of those programs that doesn't back down from tough competition. As long as Siva can stay in control and not over-extend himself, this is still a game that Louisville should pull out.