Big East M5: 04.02.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on April 2nd, 2013

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  1. Georgetown fans received some measure of consolation after a disappointing Second Round upset when the AP named Otto Porter a first-team All-American yesterday. Tying Trey Burke for the most first-team votes received, Porter became the first Hoya to claim the honor since Allen Iverson did so in 1996, and was the sixth first-team All-American in program history. (Patrick Ewing earned the distinction in three difference seasons, so Porter’s appearance is actually the eighthin Georgetown history.) Joining the Big East’s Player of the Year with AP team honors was Louisville’s Russ Smith (third team), while teammates Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva, Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Notre Dame’s Jack Cooley captured honorable mentions.
  2. Shortly before going into surgery to repair the compound leg fracture he’d suffered against Duke on Sunday, Louisville guard Kevin Ware borrowed a nurse’s cell phone to contact his mother, knowing “she’d be freaking out.” Six hundred miles away in suburban Atlanta, Lisa Junior was just as much in the dark regarding her son’s status as anyone watching the CBS broadcast: “He didn’t even say hello. He just said, ‘Mom, I need you to calm down.’ He knew I’d be a mess. Once I heard his voice, I was better.” Ware was walking with the aid of crutches yesterday after surgeons successfully stabilized his broken tibia with a metal rod and closed the ghastly wound where it had broken skin. He will reportedly travel to Atlanta with the Cardinals this week and sit on the bench for the Final Four match-up with Wichita State.
  3. USF has inked a home-and-home deal with Detroit, to begin in Tampa in 2013-14. Detroit’s visit to the Sun Dome will feature three returning rising senior starters, including star Ray McCallum Jr. (18.8 PPG, 5.2 RPG, 4.5 APG this season). But the return trip to Detroit in 2014-15 will be a homecoming for native sons head coach Stan Heath and incoming guard Byron Ziegler, while freshman JaVontae Hawkins will be playing an hour down the road from his hometown of Flint. It will also probably be a rebuilding year for the Titans, giving Heath a golden opportunity to recruit the area and sell the idea of a non-conference series close to home to Detroit prospects.
  4. Tulsa is slated to announce in a late-morning press conference that it will join the New Old Zombie Big East in all sports. The impending additions of Tulsa and ECU reflect an emphasis on football stature in Mike Aresco’s new lineup, but Rob Dauster points out that Golden Hurricane basketball isn’t a complete disaster, and says “[coach Danny] Manning has the team going in the right direction, despite a depleted roster from transfers.” After winning 17 games in 2011-12, Manning held serve at around .500 in his first year as head coach, going 17-16 before losing to Wright State in the CBI.
  5. Just to salt the wounds from last weekend’s loss, Carmelo Anthony subjected Marquette fans to further indignity yesterday when he shamed Golden Eagles alum and fellow Knick Steve Novak on Instagram yesterday. Novak was apparently on the losing end of a bet on the Elite Eight game between their alma maters, and well, he made good on his wager in this shot:
steve novak carmelo

Carmelo’s Orange got the best of Steve’s Golden Eagles

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.01.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 1st, 2013

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The NCAA Tournament is here and there’s more news, commentary and analysis than any of us can possibly keep up with. To make things a little easier, we’ll bring you a list of daily links gathered about teams in each of the four regions all the way through the Final Four.

Midwest Region

  • Louisville senior associate athletic director for media relations Kenny Klein tweeted a photo of Cardinals guard Kevin Ware moving around on crutches Monday morning, less than 24 hours after suffering a gruesome broken leg in the first half of Sunday’s victory over Duke.
  • An outstanding column from Pat Forde of Yahoo! Sports discussing how the courage and strength shown by Louisville guard Kevin Ware after his horrific leg injury served to inspire the Cardinals to get past Duke and reach the Final Four.
  • Has Louisville forward Gorgui Dieng improved his NBA Draft stock during the team’s NCAA Tournament run?
  • Louisville guard Russ Smith was named Most Outstanding Player of the Midwest Regional. The dynamic junior has dominated the tournament thus far, as he is averaging 26 points per contest.
  • Duke freshman swingman Rasheed Sulaimon was quite emotional after his subpar performance in Sunday’s loss to Louisville and in the process, he left no doubt that he truly cares about success and his teammates.
  • Andrew Jones of FoxSportsCarolinas.com writes that Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski got just about everything he could out of this year’s Blue Devils.

West Region

  • Wichita State is confident that it belongs in the Final Four. The ninth-seeded Shockers are in the Final Four for the first time since 1965.
  • Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall reminded his team to “play angry” at halftime of the Shockers’ Elite Eight victory over Ohio State and after notching the Elite Eight victory, they are playing angry into the Final Four.
  • Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall took Sunday to re-charge after Saturday’s thrilling Elite Eight victory over Ohio State, but he is back at work Monday preparing for Saturday’s Final Four match-up with top-seeded Louisville.
  • Here is an interesting story about a man from Long Beach, California, who put a $10 bet on Wichita State to win the national title. The Shockers had 750-1 odds to cut down the nets at the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, so he would win $7,500 off that bet if they do end up winning the title.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 85, #2 Duke 63

Posted by WCarey on March 31st, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Elite Eight NCAA Tournament game between #1 Louisville and #2 Duke in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Louisville’s mental toughness was incalculable. With 6:33 remaining in the first half, Louisville reserve guard Kevin Ware ran out to defend a three-point attempt from Duke guard Tyler Thornton and what seemed like a routine play turned into a very gruesome sight at Lucas Oil Stadium. Ware’s leg snapped as he landed and he suffered a broken leg. Ware’s teammates were deeply affected by the horrible scene on the court, as both guard Russ Smith and forward Chane Behanan were in tears. As Ware was taken off on a stretcher, Smith, Behanan, and forwards Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell were locked in an embrace near midcourt. The Cardinals led 21-20 when Ware went down and it would have been completely understandable if they had been unable to overcome the emotions that came with the injury. However, the Cardinals recovered in very impressive fashion – finishing the first half with a 35-32 lead and then exploding in the second half to outscore the Blue Devils 50-31 during the second 20 minutes of the game. Louisville coach Rick Pitino, his coaching staff, and senior point guard Peyton Siva deserve a great deal of credit for guiding the team through what was undoubtedly a very tough time.
  2. The Cardinals flat out owned the second half. At the second half’s under-16 media timeout, the game was tied at 42, but from that point forward the game was completely dominated by the Cardinals. After the 42-42 tie, Louisville outscored Duke 43-21. The Cardinals’ defensive effort in the second half was so suffocating that they held a very good offense to just a 32.1% mark from the field over the final 20 minutes of the game. Duke stars Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, and Mason Plumlee were never really able to make a huge impact and its guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon were held to a combined 4-of-21 performance from the field. Siva and Smith took over for Louisville on the offensive end of the court, seemingly getting into the lane at will. After shooting a respectable 46.4% from the field in the first half, the Cardinals were even better from the field in the second half, making 59.3% of their attempts in the second frame. Louisville completely dominated the second half and when it is able to put forth a performance like that, it is an impossible team to beat.
  3. Louisville is the clear favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta. When the Cardinals became the overall number one-seed on Selection Sunday, they were viewed as a definite favorite to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta. Two weeks later, Louisville has advanced to Atlanta and is the only one-seed still alive in the field. The Cardinals are set to play nine-seed Wichita State on Saturday in a semi-final where they will have a definite talent advantage even though the Shockers were able to pull off upsets of West Region one-seed Gonzaga and two-seed Ohio State. In the other semifinal, four seeds Michigan and Syracuse will meet for a right to advance to the national title game. While there will be a lot of talent on display next weekend, no team has as much talent and experience as Louisville and this is why it should definitely be viewed as the clear favorite to cut down the nets when all is said and done.

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Midwest Regional Final Game Analysis: #1 Louisville vs #2 Duke

Posted by BHayes on March 31st, 2013

 

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#1 Louisville vs. #2 Duke Midwest Regional Final (at Indianapolis, IN) – 5:05 PM ET on CBS

Dream materialized into reality on Friday night as Duke and Louisville wins created a must-see Midwest Regional final match-up. In a wacky NCAA Tournament where five of the top eight seeds have already fallen by the wayside, the Midwest region largely held to form. #1 vs. #2 in the regional final feels all to0 appropriate. Louisville will enter Sunday as the favorite, with a 13-game winning streak and Lucas Oil Stadium full of Cardinal Red in tow. They have shown few weaknesses in reaching this moment, but the Duke team standing between them and Atlanta is elite in their own right, and will undoubtedly offer the sternest test yet for the Cards. The Blue Devils were five points better than Louisville back on November 24, but will the presence of Gorgui Dieng (absent from that Battle 4 Atlantis loss) and a constantly growing Cardinal swagger be enough to script a different ending today?

Krzyzewski Has Worked His Magic Again This Year, But Can He Get Duke Back To The Final Four Again?

Even without Dieng, Louisville posted a +6 advantage on the glass in the November game between these two teams. Where his absence was felt was on the defensive end, where a bigger Duke front line was able to attack the rim at will. The Cards managed just one block (Dieng averages 2.5 a game) and Duke went to the line 27 times, where 23 makes helped the Devils overcome a poor shooting night from beyond the arc (5-20 as a team on threes). Having Dieng around now will shore up the interior defense, but Louisville must maintain emphasis on guarding the three-point line, because no team spaces the floor and shoots the three as well as Duke. Louisville may be the best defensive team in the country and grades well in almost every defensive metric, but their defense of the three point line is the weakest of those areas. The manic defensive aggression is a staple of the Cardinal defensive plan, but risks need be well calculated against a perimeter attack as lethal as Duke’s.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Duke 71, #3 Michigan State 61

Posted by WCarey on March 30th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game between #2 Duke and #3 Michigan State in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Seth Curry caught fire. The senior sharpshooter had a game to remember Friday night. He erupted for 29 points while shooting 6-of-9 from the three-point line. He had many open looks on the night, as Duke’s offense did an admirable job of getting him open. Curry has been an offensive dynamo throughout his collegiate career, but he took it to another level tonight. When you score 23 of your team’s first 41 points, you are making a huge impact on the game and that is what Curry did against Michigan State. Curry’s hot hand was never more evident than when he drained three from deep between the 19:18 and 17:12 marks of the second half. While the Duke lead was just three after that barrage from deep, it really forced the Spartans to put more pressure on Curry, which resulted in the rest of the Duke offense opening up.
  2. Duke’s defense was very impressive. Between the 12:05 and 3:32 mark of the second half, Michigan State did not make a shot from the field. Duke’s defense – anchored in the post by forwards Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly –  did an outstanding job on three of Michigan State’s top four offensive weapons. Forward Adreian Payne was limited to just a 3-of-10 performance from the field. Big man Derrick Nix matched Payne’s 3-of-10 performance. Standout freshman guard Gary Harris had a very frustrating evening, as he only managed six points on a 2-of-11 mark from the field. The Blue Devils have now played excellent defense in two straight games – they held Creighton to just 30.2% shooting in their Round of 32 victory – and if they are able to keep that going against Louisville in Sunday’s regional final, there is a strong possibility that they will be playing in Atlanta next weekend.
  3. Louisville/Duke on Sunday for the Midwest Regional title has the potential to be a classic. Louisville and Duke have already met once this season. The Blue Devils topped the Cardinals, 76-71 in the championship game of the Battle for Atlantis on November 24. The major difference between that game and Sunday’s match-up is that Louisville will have the services of forward Gorgui Dieng, who missed the first contest with a wrist injury. Louisville enters Sunday’s regional final as winners of 13 consecutive games and it has arguably played the best basketball in the country over that period. The Cardinals have a dynamic lineup that is very strong in the backcourt and the frontcourt. It has been evident that Louisville has been much more talented than its first three NCAA Tournament opponents – North Carolina A&T, Colorado State, and Oregon – but the Cardinals will be tested by a similarly talented Duke squad when the two meet for a trip to the Final Four. Considering the plethora of talent on both sides, it is very difficult to make a prediction on what may happen on Sunday afternoon, but it is fair to say that it has all the makings of a classic basketball game.

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Rushed Reactions: #1 Louisville 77, #12 Oregon 69

Posted by WCarey on March 29th, 2013

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Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Sweet 16 NCAA Tournament game between #1 Louisville and #12 Oregon in Indianapolis.

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Russ Smith was terrific tonight. The dynamic junior guard led the way for the Cardinals all night on the offensive end of the court. He finished the night with 31 points on an efficient 9-of-16 from the field. His ability to consistently drain free throws – he went 12-of-14 from the charity stripe on the night – was crucial to the Cardinals putting away tonight’s victory. A lot has been made about the “Russdiculous” phenomenon – a moniker Smith earned due to his unpredictability and sometimes erratic play – but Smith showed against Oregon that he is plenty capable of remaining in control and providing the Cardinals with a consistent effort for a full 40 minutes. A strong case can be made right now that Smith has been the Most Outstanding Player of the  NCAA Tournament, as he also put up strong performances against North Carolina A&T in the Round of 64 (23 points) and against Colorado State in the Round of 32 (27 points).
  2. Oregon battled hard, but Louisville proved to be just too much. Oregon could have easily packed it in when it went down by 14 at half and by 18 with 9:02, but the Ducks showed their resiliency by fighting to the very end. It was quite apparent that Louisville was the much more talented team on the court, but the fight put forth by Oregon was essentially the only reason why this game was even somewhat close. Dana Altman‘s squad should be proud of the way it played against the superior Cardinals. While Oregon was never able to really make things that interesting for Louisville, its hard-nosed play prevented the Cardinals from pulling away in the second half. Oregon could have absolutely played better, but it probably could not have played any harder.
  3. Louisville should be seen as a favorite to take home the national title. Louisville’s great talent advantage was on display once again in the win over Oregon. Despite battling foul trouble, point guard Peyton Siva once again showed why he is one of the best floor generals in the country. As previously mentioned, guard Russ Smith was outstanding all night. Louisville’s post play did a fantastic job of ensuring Oregon did not get anything easy close to the basket. Gorgui Dieng, Chane Behanan, and Montrezl Harrell provided the Cardinals with rugged play and a tenacity that very few teams in the country could have matched. While it is probably unfair to declare the Cardinals as the clear favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta, Louisville definitely has the guns to make that a reality.

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How Can Oregon Stay Competitive With Louisville?

Posted by AMurawa on March 28th, 2013

When Oregon takes the floor Friday evening against Louisville, it will do so as a heavy underdog to the top seed. Las Vegas sees the Ducks as 10-point underdogs, while Ken Pomeroy says the Cardinals are 11 points better. But after winning the Pac-12 Tournament and being “rewarded” by the Selection Committee with a 12-seed, the Ducks are used to being counted out. They still think they can win, however, and with head coach Dana Altman pulling the strings, it’s foolish to give up on them, but without question they have their work cut out to knock off the Cardinals.

Dana Altman And The Ducks Have Pulled Off Two Upsets, But A Big Challenge Still Awaits

Dana Altman And The Ducks Have Pulled Off Two Upsets, But A Big Challenge Still Awaits

Priority number one for the Ducks is to take better care of the ball than they did last week. In their upset wins over Oklahoma State and Saint Louis, they did a lot of things really well, but limiting turnovers was not one of them. They turned it over 18 times in each outing, with senior E.J. Singler leading the way with a total of 12. If they are similarly careless against Louisville, those 18 turnovers are liable to turn into 24. And those 24 turnovers could very easily turn into 40 points. And if that happens, even if Louisville struggles shooting the ball — a reasonable occurrence — the Cardinals can still come out of the game with a win by taking advantage of all those Oregon turnovers to earn easy baskets.

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NCAA Regional Reset: Midwest Region

Posted by BHayes on March 25th, 2013

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Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Region correspondent.

The Midwest Regional begins Friday night in Indianapolis with Louisville vs. Oregon followed by Duke vs. Michigan State. The East Region Reset and West Region Reset published earlier today, and be sure to look out for the South Region Reset later this afternoon. Also make sure to follow RTCMWRegion for news and analysis from Indy throughout the week.

New Favorite: #1 Louisville. When you are the #1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament, win your first two games by a total of 57 points, and now have to travel just 115 miles to the regional site, you aren’t going to lose your pole position. The Cardinals are still the team to beat in Indianapolis.

Lucas Oil Stadium Is Where The Midwest Will Be Won

Lucas Oil Stadium Is Where The Midwest Will Be Won

Horse of Darkness: #12 Oregon. It’d be hard enough to make a case for a #1, #2, or #3 seed as a dark horse, and harder yet when the programs occupying those seed-lines are Louisville, Duke, and Michigan State. So while Oregon certainly fits the bill here, they also are winners by default. We knew the Ducks were underseeded and dangerous on that #12 line, and they went out and played like it last week. At this point, nobody would blink an eye if the seed next to the Ducks’ name was a #4 instead.  Louisville would be advised to view Dana Altman’s team through that lens, because Oregon is talented enough to knock off the Cardinals, even in their own backyard.

Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): #4 Saint Louis. Clearly, this wasn’t the good kind of surprise. Saint Louis entered this NCAA Tournament as a legitimate Final Four sleeper. They played along with the hype in the Second Round, where they clinically dispatched New Mexico State in winning by 20. At that point, a deep run still felt very possible and at least one more win a near-certainty, which made the resounding defeat they suffered at the hands of Oregon a bit of a shock. Let’s keep in mind that this was a Saint Louis team that had lost just once in regulation since November, and the 17-point margin of defeat to the Ducks was the Billikens’ largest of the season. 2012-13 was a proud, inspiring season for SLU, but few could have predicted the abruptness with which it would end.

Completely Expected (1st Weekend): #3 Michigan State. Chalk prevailed almost across the board in this region (thank god for Oregon!), so take your pick here, but I’ll go with the Spartans. Armed with a virtual home court advantage in Auburn Hills, Tom Izzo’s crew made quick work of Valparaiso before dismantling Memphis in the Third Round. These wins were completely expected not only because it’s Sparty playing March basketball in its home state, but also because both their opponents loomed as favorable match-ups for this Michigan State team. As expected, Valpo was outmanned and Memphis not tough enough. The result, equally anticipated, is another Spartans visit to the Sweet Sixteen.

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Big East NCAA Tournament Capsules: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by Will Tucker on March 21st, 2013

Louisville notched wins against Memphis, Missouri and Kentucky in their nonconference schedule, and their only blemish before New Year’s Day came against Duke in the Bahamas with an injured Gorgui Dieng on the bench. After dropping three straight losses in Big East play, the Cardinals won their last 10 games through the Big East Tournament, going 6-1 against the league’s top six teams since their January loss to Georgetown.

(credit Brad Penner/USA TODAY)

Rick Pitino enters the Tournament with a deep rotation (credit Brad Penner/USA TODAY)

Region: Midwest 
Seed: No. 1
Record: 29-5 (14-4 Big East)
Matchup: v. North Carolina A&T in Lexington 

Key Player: Gorgui Dieng erases mistakes on the defensive end and facilitates the offense in the half court when opponents key on Louisville’s guards. He’s one of very few Cardinals who didn’t play out of his mind in the Big East Tournament, and he’s the player Rick Pitino can least afford to have struggle in the Big Dance. His unique skillset makes him as much, if not more, indispensible than Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Dieng’s defense is almost always a known quantity, but it’s when he is forcing tightly packed defenses to respect his jump shot that Dieng makes Louisville’s set offense dynamic enough to sustain itself.

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March Madness Serves as an NBA Showcase for Big East Stars

Posted by mlemaire on March 20th, 2013

It’s hard not to feel like performances in the NCAA Tournament tend to artificially inflate players’ draft stock. It’s true that the increased weight of the games and pressure on players can help bring out the best in some prospects, but sometimes it seems like scribes and scouts tend to erroneously overdo it and conflate NCAA Tournament success with NBA success. That said, there will be plenty of NBA eyeballs on the NCAA Tournament this year, and there are a number of Big East prospects with NBA potential hoping to use the Big Dance to boost their stocks. Picking guys like Otto Porter and Michael Carter-Williams is too easy, as they have relatively assured NBA futures. We are more concerned here with the Big East players who truly have something to gain from their performances this March.

A big NCAA Tournament could have Gorgui Dieng shooting up NBA Draft boards.

A big NCAA Tournament could have Gorgui Dieng shooting up NBA Draft boards.

Gorgui Dieng (Louisville): Dieng is already a surefire pro prospect thanks to his NBA-ready defensive abilities, but those who think the junior is a defense-only big man haven’t been watching the Senegal native play this season. Dieng’s progression on offense was slowed somewhat this season by a hand injury, but he is an improved passer, a reasonable free throw shooter, and shows impressive touch from inside 15 feet. Dieng will potentially get an early chance to prove his ability against an old foe if the Cardinals advance to play Missouri and Alex Oriakhi, and there are potential match-ups looming with Mason Plumlee or Adreian Payne down the road. If Dieng helps lead Louisville to the Final Four and plays well in those marquee games, he could slip into the back end of the lottery.

Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati): Kilpatrick is another player who could leave early for the NBA Draft if he thinks he has nothing left to accomplish with the Bearcats, but he may be on the outside looking in as the NCAA Tournament gets under way. There is no doubting his scoring and shooting ability, but his size and length give scouts pause so he will need to work on his ball-handling if he wants to make it at the next level. Kilpatrick has the type of gutsy attitude and moxie that are perfect for the NCAA Tournament, and he has a chance to go toe-to-toe with another NBA prospect in the first round when the Bearcats play Creighton and Doug McDermott. If Kilpatrick can lead the Bearcats past the Bluejays and then play well when matched against another NBA hopeful guard in Duke’s Seth Curry, he may impress enough scouts to earn some looks in the second round for his scoring ability and mature game. Read the rest of this entry »

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The Official RTC Bracket: Midwest And West Regions

Posted by KDoyle on March 20th, 2013

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We released the Official RTC Bracket for the South and East Regions earlier today — be sure to check that out if you need a refresher on our methodology for this exercise — and we’ll save you the fluff this time and cut right to the chase with the Midwest and West Regions. (note: our Final Four selections are after the analyses)

Midwest and West Regions

Quick Hitters From the Midwest Region

  • Advancing to Atlanta: #1 Louisville
  • Round of 64 Upset: #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis
  • Later Round Upset: N/A
  • Three Most Disputed Games: #5 Oklahoma State over #12 Oregon, #11 St. Mary’s over #6 Memphis, #2 Duke over #3 Michigan State

Four Questions About the Midwest Region

Louisville is the odds-on favorite to not just advance out of the Midwest Region, but win the National Championship. Which team has the best chance at dashing Louisville’s title hopes?

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Does Pitino Have Another One of These In His Immediate Future? (Getty Images)

Andrew Murawa: After giving the Cards the nod as the overall #1 seed, the selection committee certainly didn’t do them any more favors, dropping them in, what is to me, the toughest region in the bracket. Once they get out of the Round of 64 in this region, Rick Pitino’s club could be facing nothing but dangerous clubs, from the nation’s best rebounding team in Colorado State, to one of the nation’s hottest teams in Saint Louis, to possibly Michigan State or Duke in the Elite Eight. All of those teams can beat the Cards. But the team with the best chance is certainly the Blue Devils, a squad that has already beaten them this season, albeit without Gorgui Dieng.

The #8 vs. #9 game is usually a coin-flip type of game, but it is a 100% consensus that Colorado State beats Missouri. Are the Rams that much better than Missouri?

Zach Hayes: The Rams are by no means world-beaters, but the consensus opinion probably stems from their ability to compete where Missouri excels: on the boards. Colorado State ranks in the nation’s top two in both offensive and defensive rebounding, a glass-crashing tenacity which should work to negate the rebounding prowess of both Alex Oriakhi and Laurence Bowers. The confidence also resides in how shaky Missouri has been at the tail end of close games despite featuring an elite point guard in Phil Pressey. Most bracket prognosticators would rather go to war with a Rams team starting five seniors over Missouri’s constant unpredictability away from home, where their only scalps came against the dregs of the SEC.

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Louisville Poised to Exploit a Manageable Field With Talent and Maturity

Posted by Will Tucker on March 20th, 2013

With seven regular season games remaining on the schedule in mid-February, Rick Pitino called on his team to win them all. The Cardinals had just lost a demoralizing five-overtime road game to Notre Dame, capping a precipitous three-week fall that saw his team lose four of seven games and drop from #1 in the country all the way out of the top-10. While the Cardinals’ bout with the Irish was heralded by some as the game of the year for its suspense and intensity, Louisville fans shook their heads in resignation after their team choked away an eight-point lead in the final 45 seconds. The team hyped as the strongest national title contender in the Pitino era at Louisville couldn’t seem to generate enough offense outside of Russ Smith, couldn’t seem to generate the fast breaks it desperately needed, and couldn’t seem to close out games.

Chane Behanan was Montrezl Harrell's biggest fan last Saturday, watching from the bench (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

Chane Behanan was Montrezl Harrell’s biggest fan last Saturday, watching from the bench (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

So Pitino made an improbable request, and his team obliged. They built momentum by overwhelming St. John’s, Seton Hall, and DePaul; they subdued arch-rival Cincinnati and achieved redemption against Syracuse and Notre Dame. All the while, their glaring weaknesses slowly gave way to the singular strengths befitting a preseason consensus Final Four pick. The Cardinals’ backcourt, the sum of whose parts had yet to coalesce, came into form once Kevin Ware began playing extended stints at point guard, as he forced turnovers on defense and relieved Russ Smith of the fatigue of ball-handling duties while Peyton Siva was on the bench. Luke Hancock, the embattled James Madison transfer whose rusty early play drew groans even from press row in non-conference home games, quietly developed into a consistent 37% three-point marksman as his ailing shoulder strengthened. Gorgui Dieng fashioned himself into the Big East’s leading rebounder in conference play and proved he could still hit an elbow jumper despite the brace on his left wrist. All the while, the Cards forced opposing defenses to stretch ever further, opening driving opportunities for Siva after months of being thwarted by aggressive hedging and dense zones. Read the rest of this entry »

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