The Louisville Cardinals (12-0, 5-0 ACC) are ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in program history. As you can see from this tweet, they were really anxious for the rankings to come out:
But Louisville has actually only faced one ranked opponent this season: the No. 18 DePaul Blue Demons on Dec. 4.
The Cardinals won that game in convincing fashion, 116-75, but have yet to face a ranked ACC team. They will get the chance to do that on Thursday night at 9 p.m. ET when they take on the No. 23 Syracuse Orange (7-1, 4-1 ACC).
Syracuse will get a shot at No. 1 in a nationally televised game on ESPN2. The Orange went from Dec. 20 to Jan. 17 without playing a game, but have won two games recently (on Sunday and Tuesday) to get into a little bit of a groove.
Our first Top-25 matchup of the season is a big one— #23 'Cuse Hoops (@CuseWBB) January 21, 2021
ESPN2 tonight at 9pm ET pic.twitter.com/4MXYetLvbb
Louisville has cruised through most of its schedule, but had a close call at the Virginia Tech Hokies on Jan. 7. The Cards won that game by just four points and also only beat the Northern Kentucky Norse by 10 on New Year’s Day. The Orange hope to take advantage of any signs of vulnerability on Thursday.
Syracuse was blown out by the North Carolina Tar Heels on Dec. 17 by a score of 92-68. It was a loss that dropped the Orange four spots in the rankings from No. 18 on Dec. 14 to No. 22 on Dec. 21. However, the Orange have managed to remain ranked every week this season with their lowest ranking (No. 24) coming on Jan. 4 and Jan. 11 during their long layoff.
The Orange have returned with a 99-64 win over the Miami Hurricanes on Sunday and a redeeming 88-76 win over UNC on Tuesday.
The Cards have a better No. 1 scorer than the Orange in Dana Evans, who is first in scoring in the ACC with 19.4 points per game. Syracuse is led in scoring by 6-foot-7 freshman Kamilla Cardoso (14.9 points). Emily Engstler and Cardoso are better individual rebounders than anyone on Louisville with 10.2 and 9.3 boards per game, respectively.
Kianna Smith (13.3), freshman Hailey Van Lith (12.8) and freshman Olivia Cochran (12.6) join Evans in double-figure scoring for Louisville. Cochran and Van Lith are the top two rebounders for the Cards with averages of 6.7 and 6.3, respectively. Evans is the team’s best distributor with 4.4 assists per contest.
Kiara Lewis (13.4), Tiana Mangakahia (12) and freshman Priscilla Williams (11.6) round out Syracuse’s double-figure scorers. Williams led all scorers in the Miami game with 26 points. Meanwhile, Mangakahia is averaging an incredible 7.1 assists per game (fourth in the nation).
No. 23 Syracuse Orange (7-1, 4-1 ACC) vs. No. 1 Louisville Cardinals (12-0, 5-0 ACC)
When: Thursday, Jan. 21 at 9 p.m. ET
Where: KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, KY
Key to the matchup: Free throw shooting. Louisville is 19th in the nation with a free throw shooting percentage of 77.7. Syracuse is tied for 274th with a 63.5 percent clip. The Orange make 12.4 free throws per game, though, close to the Cards’ 12.5. That means Syracuse gets to the line more frequently. It will be interesting to see who walks away with more made free throws in this one and Syracuse certainly needs to shoot a better percentage if it wants a shot at upsetting No. 1.
Reason to watch: This is the Cards’ first game ever as the No. 1 team in the nation. See if a rejuvenated Orange team can upset them.