For the first time in the 2023-24 season, the No. 19 Texas Longhorns are set to face a Power Five opponent with Sunday’s matchup against the Louisville Cardinals at Madison Square Garden in the Saatva Empire Classic, the first of two games for the Longhorns in the Big Apple.
While Texas is off to a solid start with three double-digit wins to open the season, the Louisville season started in crisis mode under second-year head coach Kenny Payne after the Cardinals went 4-28 last season, the program’s worst record in modern history. In preparation for the current campaign, Louisville played an exhibition game against Division II Kentucky Wesleyan and lost 71-68 after shooting 34 percent from the field. The official season opener barely went better in a 94-93 win over UMBC before suffering a 10-point loss to Chattanooga at the KFC Yum! Center.
The good news, comparatively? Louisville handled Coppin State by a 20-point margin in a type of win that classified as uncommon in recent history for the Cardinals.
Louisville wins and covers as a home favorite for the first time in nearly 22 months. The last time was a 67-54 win vs. Boston College on Jan. 19, 2022 as a 7.5-favorite at the KFC Yum! Center.— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) November 16, 2023
The flip side is that Coppin State is ranked No. 360 by KenPom.com, ahead of only new Division I members Le Moyne and Mississippi Valley State.
In the same adjusted efficiency metrics, the Cardinals rank No. 174 overall with the No. 169 offense and the No. 172 defense. From the three-point line, Louisville is off to a slow start, hitting at only 26.4 percent, have a 0.6 assist-to-turnover ratio thanks to an assist rate of 33.3 percent, and opponents are scoring more points off turnovers than the Cardinals.
Redshirt sophomore guard Mike James is leading Louisville in scoring at 18.0 points per game with a team-best five made three-pointers on 38.3 percent shooting from distance while showing an ability to get to the free-throw line with 20 attempts at the charity stripe in three games. At point guard, sophomore guard Skyy Clark is the team’s primary playmaker with seven assists, but he’s struggled from the field in shooting 35.1 percent and has missed all eight of his three-point attempts this season.
Offensively, the Longhorns are playing at a high level through the first three games, averaging 84.7 points per game on 54.3-percent shooting from the floor, including 45.7 percent clip from beyond the arc with double-digit made three-pointers in every game. On the other end of the court, Texas is defending the three-point arc effectively with opponents shooting only 20.4 percent.
Turnovers have been a problem offensively, however, with junior guard Tyrese Hunter currently possessing a 13-10 assist-to-turnover ratio and sophomore forward Dillon Mitchell experiencing some growing pains as he increases his usage rate with 10 assists and 10 turnovers. Together, Hunter and Mitchell have combined for over 20 percent of the team’s giveaways.
The Longhorns have made six prior appearances in the Empire Classic, competing in the event in 1997, 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, and 2019. A 71-55 victory over California in 2014 won the event for Texas. In the all-time series between the two programs, the Cardinals lead 4-1 with the last matchup coming in 1997.
On Monday, Texas will face UConn or Indiana at 3:30 p.m. Central or 6 p.m. Central on ESPNU, depending on Sunday’s results.
How to watch
Time: 2:30 p.m. Central
Odds: The Longhorns are 17.5-point favorites at DraftKings.
Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.