March S[imulation]adness: Louisville, Walz hope for return trip to Elite 8

Louisville and Mississippi State are set for a Sweet 16 showdown in Fort Wayne

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Two teams who have both had recent runs to the final four and national championship games are set to meet in the Sweet 16 in Fort Wayne, as No. 2 seed Louisville battles No. 3 seed Mississippi State. The Cardinals defeated a game Florida Gulf Coast team in the second round, while the Bulldogs topped Ohio State to reach the regional semifinal.

This game will feature two teams who are in the top-50 in the country in scoring offense. Defensively, both teams can and will bring it. Louisville is 22nd in the country in scoring defense, while the Bulldogs are 85th. While the Bulldogs may be a bit lower in scoring defense, they can really force turnovers and convert on the other end.

Analyst Christy Thomaskutty touted the defensive mindset of both Jeff Walz and Vic Schaefer, which carry over to their teams.

“Both teams look to disrupt/turn over their opponent to create easy scoring opportunities. Miss State is averaging 23.3 PPG off of their opponents turnovers (20.3), while Louisville is averaging 18.2 PPG off of 16.4 opponents turnovers,” she told High Post Hoops.

The defensive end is where this game is most likely to be won, but that doesn’t mean it will be low scoring. Both teams have players who can fill it up on the offensive end. Dana Evans, Jazmine Jones, and Kylee Shook lead the Cardinals offensive attack, with each averaging double figures in scoring. For the Bulldogs, freshman Rickea Jackson has burst onto the national scene. Her 15.1 PPG leads Schaefer’s team, followed closely by Jessika Carter and Jordan Danberry.

VICTORIA , BC – NOVEMBER 30: Rickea Jackson #5 of the Mississippi State Bulldogs looks for a pass against the Stanford Cardinal during the Greater Victoria Invitational at the Centre for Athletics, Recreation and Special Abilities (CARSA) on November 30, 2019 in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kevin Light/Getty Images)

According to Thomaskutty, here are the three matchups for us to watch in the half court: “Jackson vs. Jones, Evans vs. Danberry, and Shook vs. Carter.” Each team’s top-3 players will be matched up in what should be fun and intense battles on both ends of the floor.

Who wins? Why? As usual, a 2 vs. 3 matchup can go either way. This one, in particular, features two head coaches that have been to final fours and national championship games, so the experience factor is there on both sides. Where these two teams differ, is in the experience on the court. Louisville has it and Mississippi State doesn’t.

Thomaskutty agrees. “Unfortunately, I expect Mississippi State’s inconsistency to hurt them during this match-up, despite a big game by Rickea Jackson. In the end, the steady play of Dana Evans on offense and Kylee Shook‘s defense and rebounding will lead Louisville to the victory.”

I don’t expect the bright lights of the Sweet 16 to hold Jackson back at all. She is a star. In the end, I think there’s too much defense and rebounding by the Cardinals. This will be a close one, but I expect Walz’s team to pull away in the last five minutes.

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