MILWAUKEE -- The environment at the KFC Yum! Center is likely going to be electric, and one of the most talented teams in the nation is going to be fired up.It's not a good recipe for Marquette.
Since taking over as the No. 1 team in the nation, Louisville has lost three of four and the No. 12 Cardinals have had six days to prepare for the Golden Eagles.
Add in a "white out" for the fans and special all-white Louisville uniforms unveiled for the first time, Marquette has to be ready for a firestorm of emotions, especially because nobody thought the Golden Eagles would be the ones in first place heading into this game.
"We know they are coming for us," Marquette senior guard Trent Lockett said. "They have lost three of their last four and they got on the right track against Pitt but at the same time, I'm sure (Louisville coach Rick) Pitino hasn't been happy. They are going to come out with great energy and we're going to have to match that.
Playing a team that has lost three of four is an advantage against some teams, but Louisville isn't like most teams.
The Cardinals return three starters including the preseason Big East Player and Defensive Player of the Year from their Final Four team from a year ago.
The road to the Final Four wasn't easy and twice the Cardinals endured stretches of losing five of seven and three of four along the way.
Its run to the Final Four began with an 84-71 upset win over then-No. 9 Marquette in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament. The Golden Eagles turned the ball over 26 times, one shy of the Big East Tournament record. Point guard Junior Cadougan coughed the ball up eight times himself.
"That was a bad experience," Marquette center Chris Otule said. "A lot of flat ball screens at the top of the key. They had (point guard) Peyton Siva just coming head on toward the basket. We didn't do a very good job of rotating."
While Russ Smith leads Louisville in scoring at 18.5 points per game, Siva makes the Cardinals go. The preseason Big East Player of the Year averages 10.5 points and 6.0 assists per game.
"I think they are as good as anybody in the country," Williams said. "They had a bad week two weeks ago but other than that if you look at their year, they've had as good a year as anybody."
Two major keys to pulling off the upset will be limiting turnovers and preventing offensive rebounds. Louisville scores 32 percent of its points off turnovers and rebounds 42 percent of shots it misses, two staggering stats.
Louisville's defense is tough to prepare for because it does so many different things and is hard to mimic when a team like Marquette doesn't usually play a similar style.
"In a lot of ways I think you have to beat their pressure in the front court and then you have to diagnose whatever obscure zone or matchup or man defense they are playing in the half court in order to get a good shot," Williams said. "If you feed them turnovers and feed them bad shots, they will beat you by 50.
The common belief entering Big East play was that Louisville would be the team in first place in the Big East when these two teams met. Instead, Marquette sits tied with Syracuse atop the league at 6-1 with the Cardinals behind at 5-3.
Williams sat in the basement of the Al McGuire Center on Friday rattling off details and facts about every Louisville game since he took over as head coach many were painful losses.
If Marquette is going to seriously make a run for the conference title, shaking the demons and winning in Louisville for the first time since 2007 would go a long way and make a big statement.
With all the emotion expected to be in the building Sunday, Marquette could easily come out over anxious and get buried early. The veterans are doing their best to make sure the mindset of the Golden Eagles doesn't change.
"We try to approach every game the same way, whether it's Louisville or a team toward the bottom of the Big East," Lockett said. "We understand that we've been doing well and that's because of our approach to every game. We're going to continue that mindset.
"That's a great team. They are a Top 15 team in the country and it would mean a lot to go in there and get a win."
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