The best game of the sweet 16 is Louisville vs. Washington. This is going to be real basketball – presses, fast breaks, dunks, long range snipers. There are other games that will be great over the next two days, but they won’t have all of those elements.

Louisville and Washington will score points, and that’s not say there won’t be defense. Francisco Garcia’s influence on the defensive end might end up being the difference.

For those of you unfamiliar with one or both of the participants, here’s a breakdown in various categories with national rank:

              Louisville   Washington
           OE  117.4(7)     119.6(4)
           DE   88.3(12)     94.9(64)
        Tempo   68.7(122)    73.2(17)
         3FG%   40.0(7)      38.9(23)
     3FGA/FGA   41.9(16)     29.3(246)
     Opp 3FG%   31.3(19)     33.3(92)
          OR%   38.4(39)     42.0(3)
          DR%   68.1(64)     64.6(243)
B-ball Shrink  Villanova   Wake Forest

Louisville and UW are two of the most skilled offenses in the nation. Part of this is because they have multiple shooters that are accurate from long range. But Louisville is much more dependent on the long-ball than Huskies. A chunk of UW’s effectiveness is also due to crashing the offensive boards.

UW is also one of the weakest defensive teams still playing. Their style puts them in similar company with Gonzaga. Due to the aggressive offensive rebounding, the Huskies give up their share of fast breaks which contributes to the weak defensive numbers. But UW’s defense isn’t as bad as the ‘Zags, so their comp in the Basketball Shrink turns out to be Wake Forest (while Gonzaga is 6th in the list). Louisville on the other hand is great at preventing offensive boards and three-point accuracy, so UW’s strengths will get a serious test.

Now the key players…

First, the four Cardinals most involved in the offense…

Player       Off Rtg. %Poss  PPG  3P%  TO% FTA/FGA  OR%
Garcia, F..... 120    24.5  15.9 .361 20.3  .422    4.7
O'Bannon, L... 130    20.3  14.9 .435 16.5  .404    2.8
Dean, T....... 126    22.1  14.1 .456 17.6  .209    3.3
Myles, E...... 106    22.7  10.3 .000 26.3 1.018   13.4

The guard trio of Garcia/O’Bannon/Dean is the engine that makes this offense go. Ellis Myles in the middle is an interesting character. He’s shot more free throws than field goals. He nearly leads the team in assists, but he’s also a turnover machine. Louisville is one of these teams that gets a lot of assists per field goal (about 60%), but that’s mainly due to the bizarre fact that threes are more likely to be assisted than twos and this is likely what inflates Myles rating. Make no mistake, the three guards have to be effective shooting from long-range for Louisville to be effective.

It’s a tough formula to work for the six consecutive games needed for a national championship, as Pitino’s seemingly loaded Kentucky teams proved all but once. And indeed while Louisville just pummeled Georgia Tech, let’s not forget their first round game was a six-point win over Louisiana Lafayette when the GOD trio combined for a less-than-heavenly 6 of 21 (29%) from three.

Washington’s offense is more diverse…

Player         Off Rtg. %Poss  PPG  3P%  TO% FTA/FGA  OR%
Robinson, N..G.  129    22.6  16.6 .397 15.6  .414    5.5
Simmons, T...G.  119    24.9  16.2 .415 17.5  .221    7.7
Roy, B.......G.  126    21.9  12.7 .368 16.2  .377    9.7
Jones, B.....F.  126    19.0  11.3 .508 15.6  .463   10.7
Williams, J..F.  111    24.5   9.6 .000 18.2  .272   10.0
Conroy, W....G.  113    18.4   9.2 .290 27.8  .379    2.9
Jensen, M....F.  105    16.4   6.4 .321 22.8  .238   10.1

Conroy is usually the point guard, and plays it in a more traditional way than Garcia, who is mainly responsible for the Cards’ ball-handling. While Roy, Simmons, Robinson, and Jones can all shoot it, only Simmons and Robinson do so in bulk – Roy has only taken 19 3s all year. This is where the 6-7 Garcia comes in to play. He would seem to be best suited for the assignment of shutting down the 6-5 Simmons, which opens the door for Robinson to put the team on his back as he did in Alaska.

This game won’t be the score-a-thon that a now impossible Washington/Wake Forest game would have been, but it should be the one most worth watching Thursday.