By Derek DeBurger

Louisville (24-9) has been awarded the No. 6 seed in the Albany 2 region and will face the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders in the first round.

The Blue Raiders are one of the best mid-major teams in the country with a record of 29-4 on the season and a perfect record in Conference USA.

The defense of the Blue Riders holds opponents to 54.3 points per game, the eighth-best mark nationally. MTSU also ranks 20th in blocks per game (4.9), with their leading blocker—Anastasiia Boldyreva—getting the fifth most blocks per game. With such an imposing presence inside defensively, it’s no shock that MTSU is also a dominant rebounding team. As a team, the Blue Raiders grab 38 boards a game; Boldyreva takes 8.5 of them for herself. Louisville has done surprisingly well against great rebounding teams this season, but they will have their work cut out for them against the 6’6” center.

MTSU has a fine offense, scoring 71.8 points per game, but the lion’s share of those points come from their starting five. MTSU’s starters average 66 combined points, leaving just under six points a game coming from a bench that sees minimal minutes. If the Cardinals can use their more apparent athleticism to create foul trouble, then the Blue Raiders may end up relying on a few inexperienced players.

MTSU is a team that cannot be overlooked, a fact that the Cards themselves found out last season when they lost to MTSU by 18 points. Louisville, who are currently trending in the wrong direction after going 6-6 in their last 12 games, has made the National Championship game as a No. 5 seed in the past. The last time the Cards were a No. 6 seed or lower was in 2012 when they lost to Maryland in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Cards can absolutely win this game, but it is no doubt one of the toughest draws in the first round.

Photo Courtesy // Taris Smith, U of L Athletics