Before Louisville and Colorado State took the floor on Saturday afternoon, Louisville head coach Rick Pitino called Colorado State, “the best 2nd opponent that he’s played in his life”. Then, Louisville took the court, and blew the Rams out of the water with a decisive, 26-point victory.
The Louisville defense spurred the victory from the opening tip, creating 10 turnovers in the opening half (including 6 in the first 9 minutes), and generating a 14-point half-time lead as a result. It was utterly jarring to see that Colorado State was shooting 56% from the field at half-time and still trailing by 14 points, but 10 turnovers certainly justify that separation, and the Rams never looked comfortable despite efficient shooting numbers.
On the offensive side of the ball, Russ Smith sparked the Cardinals with 27 points on the night, including an ultra-efficient 18-point performance in the first half that included four threes, and the epitome of “Good Russ” showing up for action. Smith has come under fire for the occasional (or not-so-occasional) erratic display, but he was tremendous in this game, and if he’s right, this shows how explosive they are offensively.
For the Rams, it all came down to turnovers, and because they committed 19 of them in the game, they were never able to generate consistent offense. It really seemed as though the Louisville speed/tenacity bothered them, and they couldn’t ride their solid shooting to enough scoring. Colorado State certainly didn’t embarrass themselves, as that’s a talented/disciplined basketball team, but with Louisville firing on all cylinders, they were behind the eight-ball from the opening bell.
It’s not going out on a limb to say that if Louisville shoots 56% from the floor and causes 19 turnovers from their opposition, they are insanely tough to beat. I would stress that this isn’t as simple as “Louisville beats a smaller conference team”, as CSU is actually quite good, and that this sort of coasting victory is insanely impressive. The Cardinals validated their #1 overall seed in a big way on the first weekend, and they’ll be a big favorite when they face off against the Oregon/St. Louis winner in Indianapolis.