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Louisville Cardinals
First, I want to thank you for subscribing to my newsletter. At Hoops Insight, I hope to use data to find insights that reveal things you didn't realize about the Louisville Cardinals. I'm using play-by-play data to track what's happening, who's doing it, and who is in the game, in order to show you things the box score can't. For a primer on the stats I like to use, click here: If you'd like to take a look at previous newsletters I've sent, check out my archive.

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The Louisville Cardinals were riding high a few weeks ago, headed for a possible top 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and bracing for the toughest stretch of their schedule. Today, they are trying to regain their focus after a series of discouraging performances that have fans and media uncertain of what to expect. When looking into UofL's decline from a possible top-10 team to one struggling to stay off the NCAA bubble, an unexpected factor emerges: UofL's 3 guard lineups. Before I get into the numbers, here is the stats profile for UofL in their 2 latest games:

Stats Profile for UofL vs Virginia and Boston College

What You Should Know: During UofL's stretch of 5 losses in 6 games, they have been playing 3 guard lineups more often than at any point this season. These lineups played very well for UofL during their mid-season surge, but have been disastrous over the last 6 games. Their extreme drop in performance and increase in workload has been a double whammy, hurting the Cards. Take a look at the performance of 3 guard lineups, split into 3 segments of the season:

They barely played early in the season. As ACC play began, they started playing more and posting strong results, especially offensively. During the last 6 games, their workload has doubled but they've been getting blown off the court. 

What Is Happening? Watching recent film of UofL, a few things stood out about 3 guard lineups.  I’m defining 3 guard lineups as lineups with 3 of Cunningham, Perry, Fore, or McMahonThe Boston College game was a good example of some of the issues with these lineups. First, these lineups are running into issues on defense. Only Fore and Perry are strong defenders, and they are even prone to lapses. With smaller lineups, UofL runs into issues when help defense is required. This tends to pull a bigger player away from the rim and open up the Cards to opponents shots in the paint. When playing Sutton and Nwora up front with a traditional center,  UofL can contest shots in the paint a little better. If a big man gets pulled away from the basket, UofL is giving up more offensive rebounds as well. Sutton and Nwora are excellent defensive rebounders, and sitting one of them weakens UofL’s defense considerably.

On offense, the 3 guard lineup is not presenting many advantages. These lineups usually offer a chance to either have a lot of strong drivers, or good shooters. But UofL’s guards are not proficient at beating their man off the dribble, even if guarded by a bigger player. This means that the defense doesn’t have to shift to help on the ballhandler, so there are fewer open threes. Additionally, 3 guard lineups mean one of Sutton or Nwora is benched. Those are 2 of UofL’s 3 best shooters, so UofL is actually losing some shooting when going to 3 guards.

During UofL’s hot streak, their biggest success came when using pick and roll with Cunnigham as the ballhandler. It looks like the heavy minutes he has played this year is taking a toll, as he is struggling much more to turn the corner as a ballhandler in the pick and roll. UofL needs him to get into the lane and collapse the defense creating jumpers for players like McMahon. That hasn’t been happening in the last few games.

What Does This Mean? UofL is at their best with Nwora and Sutton playing together, and 3 guard lineups are eating into that. UofL probably needs to dial back the minutes given to these 3 guard lineups, as they are simply not effective. The Cards also need to find ways to get Cunningham more rest as they head into the postseason. UofL still has the capability to play like a top-4 seed, but they need Cunningham, Nwora, and Sutton to be at their best to do so. Perhaps UofL can manage Cunningham’s minutes over the next couple games to get him back to the pick-and-roll force he was during January. If UofL needs 3 guard lineups to get rest for these players, maybe a Fore/Perry/McMahon trio is worth trying. They have played very little, but may offer enough defense and driving ability to make a positive impact.

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