AP Preview - Louisville Faces Morehead State Thursday

DENVER (AP) -- They know a little something about hoops history in the Bluegrass State, and Kenneth Faried has a small slice of his own.

Faried plays for tiny Morehead State, located in the northeast corner of Kentucky, and has become the most prolific rebounder in the modern era of college basketball.

He'll try to grab a few more Thursday when the 13th-seeded Eagles play none other than No. 4 Louisville in the Southwest region of the NCAA tournament, an all-Kentucky matchup being played in Denver, about 1,200 miles from home.

Even though he's going against a roster recruited by Rick Pitino, against a team that finished third in the Big East, Faried might just be the most-talented player on the floor -- the man who averages 17.6 points and 14.5 rebounds and is regarded as a first-round NBA draft pick.

None of which, of course, would have been obvious to anyone recruiting him out of Newark, N.J., when he was a scrawny 6-foot-7 and weighed 182 pounds.

"But he played extremely hard," Morehead State coach Donnie Tyndall said. "He would get tired quickly, but boy, when he was fresh, he had a great motor. He wasn't very skilled. To be perfectly honest, we thought he was a guy who maybe could start as a sophomore and be an all-conference type guy his last couple years."

He's been more than that. His 84 career double-doubles are tied for second in NCAA history with Ralph Sampson. His 1,643 rebounds have broken Tim Duncan's record for the "modern era" in Division I, which dates to 1973.

Faried has increased his bench press from 205 to 325 during his stay at Morehead, a 9,000-student school tucked in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. He's grown an inch and put on about 40 pounds.

His work ethic? That was established well before the physical attributes started blossoming.

"When I was young, I wasn't getting enough shots and stuff and I went home complaining," he said. "My mother said, 'Well, go get it. If they miss it, you go rebound it and put it back yourself. Don't worry about getting shots from them or passes from them. Just go get the ball."

Pitino and the Cardinals (25-9) are plenty familiar with Faried. The schools are located only 130 miles apart and this marks the second time in three seasons they've met in the NCAA tournament. In 2009, the Cardinals turned a two-point game at halftime into a 20-point blowout. Faried had 14 points and 11 rebounds that day.

Now he's back for the Eagles (24-9), along with teammates Demonte Harper and Terrance Hill.

Louisville's roster, meanwhile, has been almost completely turned over, one of the reasons Pitino predicted this would be a "bridge season," not one in which Louisville would contend for the Big East title. The Cardinals were picked to finish eighth in their 16-team conference.

"I called it a bridge year, saying we were going to build something special," Pitino said. "I just didn't know when the bridge will be complete."
Maybe this year?

Guard Preston Knowles has led Louisville during a season of magical comebacks and strange moments. Two of Louisville's headline grabbers this season: a comeback from 18 down with 5:44 left for a one-point win over Marquette in January, and a late technical foul called on an overzealous cheerleader that briefly put a victory over Pittsburgh in jeopardy last month.

The Cardinals have also been plagued with injuries. Ten players have missed at least one game, and Pitino said he's spent most of his time thinking not about the big picture but simply piecing together lineups for the next game.

It has never been a big lineup. At 6-9, Terrence Jennings is 5 inches taller than the next tallest starter -- all of which makes a game plan for Faried that much more of a challenge.

"You don't see this anymore," Pitino said of his rebounding. "You don't see a Dennis Rodman come along anymore, a Dennis Rodman with a jump shot, because this man also has a jump shot."

Pitino also threw out Kevin Garnett's name when asked for a comparisons. Faried said he looks up to the Magic's Dwight Howard and Kevin Love, the Timberwolves' double-double king.

A few upsets this weekend and Faried's may become a household name, too.

"Here is a young man who really knows where his bread is buttered," Pitino said of the center's willingness to do the dirty work in the middle. "Most bigs don't understand that."