LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) -- In the first two weeks of the college basketball season, Louisville hasn't done anything to distinguish itself from the top 100 teams or so, let alone make a case for being a top 25 candidate.
That could change this week in the sun-splashed Bahamas, where the Cardinals (3-1) will be trying to shed some light on their prospects for a successful season with two games against teams that will offer their toughest tests so far.
Despite playing all four games at home, the Cards have gotten off to a ho-hum start against teams of inferior talent. They turned in an relatively solid performance in a win over Navy, but endured a puzzling loss to Furman and had uninspiring wins over Southern and winless Detroit Mercy. Since beating UofL Furman has fallen to Belmont and Navy.
Louisville will face Mississippi State (4-0) at 9:30 Thursday night (CBSSN) in the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship at the Baha Mar Resort's Convention Center in Nassau. The winner will play either Richomd (3-2) or Maryland (4-1) for the title at 10 a.m. Saturday, followed by the third-place game at 12:20 p.m. The Terripans were ranked No. 21 in the AP and Coaches preseason poll, but dropped out of the Top-25 after a loss to George Mason.
Mississippi State, which has beaten its four opponents by an average of 24 points, is ranked No. 43 nationally by KenPom.com, while Maryland is No. 41 and Richmond No. 63. Louisville's highest-rated foe so far has been Furman at 112th (the Cards are No. 51).
Mississippi State is coached by Ben Howland, who took UCLA to three Final Fours and has been a head college coach at 22 years.
"I don't know that we're gonna win the coaching battle," Pegues said, laughing. "He's done this a lot longer than me. He's got a much better feel for it. But it's not a coaching game. The players decide the game, and I'll try not to get in the way of our guys winning."
Pegues noted that the Bulldogs start two ACC transfers – guard Shakeel Moore from N.C. State and power forward Garrison Brooks from North Carolina – and have “a force at almost every position,” with the best being 6-3 junior guard Iverson Molinar. Pegues said Molinar (15.8 ppg, 5.2 apg, 4.0 rpg, .522 FG%) is “like a baby Russell Westbrook – with a better jump shot.” The Bulldogs have held their four victims to 34.2 percent shooting, 14th in D-I.
This will be the first of four straight games away from home for UofL and the final two without head coach Chris Mack, whose six-game suspension will be over when the Cards return home to prepare for their Dec. 1 game at Michigan State in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge. Then comes a trip to NC State on Dec. 4 to open ACC play.
"I think it can change the arc of our season dramatically," Pegues said Monday afternoon, a day before the team's departure for the Bahamas. "It's a journey, it's not a sprint. The season is a marathon and this team hasn't been together for one or two years like some of the ones we have faced or will face. So going down to the Bahamas and playing two games against really good teams should help this team in terms of building camaraderie and trust. I think the guys would be really excited about the fact that, 'Hey, we beat two really good teams. We can beat anybody.'"
UL, BELLARMINE TO MEET
Louisville and Bellarmine, which moved up to Division I last season, have agreed to play each other in the KFC Yum! Center in 2022-23 and 2023-24.
"I know this: it's great for our players," said Bellarmine coach Scott Davenport, a former UofL assistant under Denny Crum and Rick Pitino. "It's tremendous for our university and I know it's great for this community, and that's important to me."