Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - Coming off their first loss in some time, the ninth-ranked Louisville Cardinals welcome the Southern Miss Golden Eagles to the KFC Yum! Center for a non-conference matchup on Friday evening.
The defending national champs opened the 2013-14 campaign with five straight wins, but had a school-record 21 straight victories come to an end in the championship game of the Hall of Fame Tipoff last weekend in Uncasville, falling 93-84 to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Rick Pitino's squad begins an extended homestand with this game that will last unit Dec. 21, a span of five games.
Donnie Tyndale's Golden Eagles are off to what looks to be another highly successful campaign. The team went 27-10 a year ago and has begun the season with wins in all six of its games thus far. USM made light work of cross-town foe William Carey last Sunday, 99-54.
These teams are non-conference foes now but were members of the Metro Conference and Conference USA together. Louisville holds a 30-11 all-time record against USM and is 18-3 in games played at home in the series.
The Golden Eagles simply overwhelmed William Carey last weekend, as they shot just under 70 percent from the floor in the first half and took a 61-27 lead into halftime, before putting it in cruise control the rest of the way. Overall, Southern Miss shot .641 from the field and forced William Carey into 27 turnovers. Six Golden Eagles notched double digits in the win, led by Matt Bingaya and Chip Armelin, who netted 16 points each. Neil Watson finished with 14 points in the rout, followed by Michael Craig (12 pts), Daveon Boardingham (11 pts) and Aaron Brown (10 pts).
Southern Miss has played excelled in just about every facet of the game early on, shooting an efficient .482 from the field and averaging 74.0 ppg, while holding foes to just 60.5 ppg. The team also boasts of a +9.0 rebounding margin and is forcing just under 19 turnovers per game. Brown leads a trio of double-figure scorers with 11.7 ppg. Watson (10.7 ppg) and Boardingham (10.5 ppg) are close behind. Further depth comes in the form of Craig (9.8 ppg) and Jerrold Brooks (9.2 ppg).
The defending champs had no answer for UNC guard Marcus Paige, who torched Louisville for 32 points in leading the Tar Heels to a nine-point upset. UL's own offensive force Russ Smith matched Paige's explosiveness with a game-high 36 points. Chris Jones poured in 20 points, while Luke Hancock added 10 off the bench. Still, collectively, the Cardinals shot under 40 percent from the floor (.388), were outrebounded 40-35 and committed 14 turnovers.
Not many teams will get the better of Louisville this season. The Cardinals come into this contest with a +23.2 scoring margin, averaging 84.7 ppg, while allowing just 61.5. Smith has played lights out in the early going, pacing the team with a hefty 20.2 ppg. Jones add to the backcourt depth with 14.5 ppg, while forward Montrezl Harrell has been a force down low, boasting a near double-double of 12.5 points and 9.8 rebounds per game. Hancock, last year's Final Four MVP adds 9.3 ppg off the bench and Wayne Blackshear chips in with 9.3 ppg to give Louisville even more options.