Four Thoughts on Memphis Beating LouisvillePosted by CD Bradley on January 10th, 2014
Four Thoughts is our way of providing some rapid reactions to some of the key games involving AAC teams throughout the season.
- Josh Pastner shouldn’t have to hear about how he can’t win big games anymore. He snapped his streak of never beating a ranked team earlier this season against Oklahoma State, and then on Thursday night, on the home court of the defending champions and in front of the ESPN cameras and Dick Vitale, the Tigers claimed a bigger scalp. This win over Louisville was even more important after Memphis had been throttled at home by Cincinnati over the weekend; with a loss, the Tigers would have already been two games back in the AAC standings after three games. Instead Memphis added a great road win to its resume, with its next road game against the top half of the league some three weeks away.
- Louisville’s problem remains the same. The team that has finished in the top three in defensive efficiency each of the past three years can’t get stops. With Gorgui Dieng now in the NBA, the Cardinals have proven incapable of protecting the rim and have given up an alarming number easy buckets in the paint. An unusually curt Rick Pitino appeared at his wit’s end in the postgame press conference. “We probably can’t play as many defenses, and we only play two,” said Pitino, who cited confusion over the defensive call as the culprit for a couple of key late Memphis baskets. “We’re not a good defensive basketball team. Our basketball IQ is just not that good this year. […] You can’t give up 51 percent at home and expect to win.” Not only did the Tigers shoot 50.9 percent from the field, but most of it came from very short range, including a 24-of-44 mark on two-point field goals, for 54.6 percent. That’s not only better than their season average of 53.6 percent in that regard, but substantially better than the 43.5 percent Louisville had been allowing.
- Louisville’s drop from phenomenal defense to a merely good one has been overcome this year by an improved offense, but that too deserted the Cardinals on Thursday. They got decent to good performances from Montrezl Harrell (14 points, 11 rebounds), Luke Hancock (20 points, five rebounds, five assists) and Russ Smith (19 points, five rebounds, three assists, four steals), but the rest of the team combined for 14 points on 6-of-22 shooting (they shot only 39.1 percent as a team) and 12 rebounds. Memphis has played five teams in the KenPom top 50 this season, going 2-3, but Louisville was the first to score lower than 1.0 points per possession.
- As has been continuously pointed out on social media and beyond, Louisville has no signature win this season. The Cards are 0-3 against top 35 teams in the KenPom rankings; against teams rankded #40 to #355, they’re 13-0 and winning by an average of more than 24 points per game. After a weak non-conference schedule during which they failed to take advantage of their few opportunities, they now have just a handful of chances left to earn a decent NCAA tournament seed. Memphis, on the other hand, already has two fantastic wins (at Louisville and Oklahoma State on a neutral court). It’s a stretch to call a game for the defending champs in January a must-win contest, but things could get ugly if Louisville can’t defend its home court on Sunday against SMU.