Last season, the similarities between Maryland and Louisville were hard to ignore.
While the Terrapins witnessed the resignation of coach Mark Turgeon on their way to their first losing season since 1992-93, the Cardinals fired Chris Mack en route to posting their first losing mark since 2000-01.
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So far this season however, the fortunes of the programs have diverged. While No. 22 Maryland (6-0) has rebounded under new coach Kevin Willard, Louisville (0-6) has continued its stunning free fall in the debut season of Kenny Payne.
Tuesday night when the teams meet in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge at Louisville, a game that once figured to pit teams on common ground now finds a mismatch.
Maryland’s perfect record isn’t the product of a cupcake schedule. Last weekend, the Terps captured the title in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off, dominating previously unbeaten teams Saint Louis 95-67 and Miami (Fla.) 88-70.
Maryland is coming off a 95-79 win Friday over Coppin State in another demonstration of the progression of forward Julian Reese, who scored a career-high 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.
After averaging 5.7 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last year in 18 minutes a game off the bench as a freshman, Reese is averaging 15 points and 8 boards while hitting 80.4 percent of his shots from the floor.
“He was a monster. He’s really being aggressive on the offensive glass,” Willard said. “He’s not going once or twice. He’s going there every time.”
Also in the win over Coppin, Hakim Hart had 22 points and eight rebounds while Jahmir Young tallied 21 points, five assists and five rebounds. It was the first time since 2002 that the Terps had three players score at least 20 points in a game.
The winless mark for Louisville is the result of both poor play and misfortune. The Cardinals’ first three losses came at home to mid-major squads, all by a single point.
But then in games in the Maui Invitational against No. 9 Arkansas, No. 21 Texas Tech and unranked Cincinnati, Louisville lost by an average margin of 25.7 points.
The Cardinals struggled defensively in Hawaii, as opponents made 51.2 percent of their shots. Of the 84 field goals opponents made in the tournament, 50 were from in the paint.
“We saw some of the best teams in the country and we learned from them,” Payne said. “We learned that Arkansas rebounds, forces turnovers, fights on every possession. We learned from Texas Tech that you can win by being a great defensive team and it’s about your will, not your skill.”
Louisville is not starting from scratch. Holdover El Ellis leads the Cardinals in scoring (17.2 points per game) and assists (3.5 per game). Another returner, Jae’Lyn Withers is second on the team in points (8.7 per game) and rebounds (5 per game).
Sydney Curry, who emerged as a force late last season, averaging 17.6 points and 9 rebounds in Louisville’s final five games, has struggled early in this one, posting 1.7 points and 4.5 rebounds in 16 minutes per game.
Louisville and Maryland have met eight times with the Cardinal winning six, including last November in the title game of the Bahamas Championship, 63-55. Six days later, Turgeon quit eight games into his 11th season with the Terps.
–Field Level Media
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