Rushed Reactions: #19 North Carolina 70, #14 Louisville 60

Posted by Matt Patton on March 12th, 2015

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways.

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

The UNC Defense Shut Down Louisville in the Second Half (USA Today Images)

  1. North Carolina struggled early against the Louisville zone. Roy Williams pointed to better movement in the second half by the North Carolina bigs as a reason for its game-winning 38-23 performance, but it also helped that the Tar Heels were shooting the ball much better. North Carolina isn’t known as a good jump-shooting team, but it has shot over 40 percent from deep in the last few games. In part that’s because they don’t take many threes (Williams noted that his team finished last in the ACC in three-point attempts this season), but even though they only converted two of five attempts in the second half, it felt like much more. That speaks to the Tar Heels’ patience. Even more important than that was that Williams’ team knocked down 15 of 17 free throw attempts. That’s how you close out games — something North Carolina struggled with this season. Stay patient and make free throws. The last time North Carolina beat a higher-seeded team in the ACC Tournament was way back in 2003, so don’t underestimate this win from a confidence standpoint.
  2. North Carolina needs better rebounding to feed into its offense. North Carolina never got any flow going in the first half, not only because it struggled against Louisville’s defense, but also because the Cardinals’ shooting and rebounding took the Tar Heels out of their secondary break. The Heels only ended the game with eight fast break points, but even the threat of the secondary break stops opponents from adequately setting up their defense. Brice Johnson runs the floor as well as any big man in the country, and Paige should be a shooting threat on the wing. If this team makes a run in this tournament or later in March, it will be because they do a better job of playing to their strengths over the next few weeks.
  3. Louisville is liable to take a loss during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament if they can’t solve these zones. Rick Pitino intimated that the Cardinals would try starting Mangok Mathiang at the five to get more offense, but that won’t help with simply making wide-open jump shots. The Cardinals were 4-of-22 from three and 1-of-14 if you remove Wayne Blackshear. That won’t beat anyone. Louisville played well in the first half with Terry Rozier carving up North Carolina’s defense, but Louisville never controlled the game. Some of that was due to the Tar Heels never getting too far behind, but there was also a sneaky suspicion that Louisville’s jumpers would eventually stop falling.

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ACC Regular Season Superlatives

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 9th, 2015

The ACC regular season has come to a close, which means it’s time for conference tournament play and postseason dreams that stretch deep into March. For now, though, it’s a great time to look back at the standout performers and performances of the regular season that was. Here are your 2014-15 ACC superlatives:

RTC All-ACC Team

  • Jahlil Okafor, Duke. Okafor lived up his immense preseason billing and single-handedly turned a dangerous Duke team into a dominant one. Okafor was the conference’s second-leading scorer (17.6 PPG), third-leading rebounder (9.2 RPG) and top shooter by field goal percentage (66.8%). His ability to make the team a dual threat instead of the perimeter-reliant teams of yore means these Blue Devils have a very high ceiling come NCAA Tourney time.
  • Jerian Grant, Notre Dame. The remarkable year that the Fighting Irish enjoyed can be traced to the return of Grant from a suspension related to academic improprieties. In addition to his highlight-reel dunks and numerous clutch baskets, Grant was a stat-sheet stuffer for a vastly improved Notre Dame team, logging 16.8 PPG, 6.7 APG and 1.8 SPG on the season. He also shot an outstanding 49.4 percent from the field.
  • Rakeem Christmas, Syracuse. The Orange ultimately had little to play for because of their self-imposed postseason ban, but they may have produced the best on-court individual success story of the year. Christmas’ amazing improvement from his junior to senior season (17.5 PPG, +11.7; 9.1 RPG, +4.0) proved he could flourish as the team’s primary option. He served as the lone bright spot in an otherwise disastrous season for Syracuse hoops and has positioned himself for a bright future in the professional ranks.
Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

Rakeem Christmas was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak Syracuse season (USA Today Images)

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Virginia. Brogdon’s inclusion on this list speaks to his ability to play whatever role Tony Bennett asks of him. With Justin Anderson stealing the early headlines, Brogdon was content to act as the team’s best on-ball defender and late game shot-maker. When Anderson fell to injury, Brogdon resumed his role as a primary offensive weapon. He averaged nearly 14 points per game while shooting 34 percent from three and 86 percent from the line. Traditional statistics never do Virginia players much justice, though, but Brogdon’s intangible ability to meet the demands made of him showed his true value to the ACC regular season champs.
  • Olivier Hanlan, Boston College. Hanlan played on a mediocre Boston College team but his offensive prowess was rivaled by none in this year’s ACC. The conference’s leading scorer at 19.4 points per game, he remained a deadly offensive weapon despite playing the point guard position for the first time in his career. He scored 30 or more points four times, including a stellar 39 points on just 20 shots against Pittsburgh.

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ACC M5: 03.09.15 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on March 9th, 2015

morning5_ACC

  1. Syracuse.com: By now, most people know that Jim Boeheim skipped the postgame press conference after Syracuse wrapped up their 2014-15 season with a loss at North Carolina State on Saturday. Instead, the embattled coach sent out long time assistant Mike Hopkins to face the media rather than have to personally take questions in public for the first time since the NCAA announced their findings and punishments for the Syracuse program after a lengthy investigation. Most basketball media viewed Boeheim’s refusal to appear as cowardice, but this article claims that Syracuse’s administration told him not to attend. Perhaps they recognize that Boeheim has a tendency to be confrontational and defiant when faced with harsh questions about how his program is run, and sometimes says more than he should – like his initial reaction to the Bernie Fine situation.
  2. Stateoftheu.com: If Miami can get past the winner of Wake Forest/Virginia Tech they would be a formidable match-up for third-seeded Notre Dame in the ACC Tournament quarterfinals. The Hurricanes and the Irish are similarly constructed as both are perimeter oriented offensively. So that game could come down to who makes the most 3-pointers, and don’t be surprised if that team is Miami, after they drilled 15-of-25 from deep against Virginia Tech in Saturday’s regular season finale. This article wonders if the Hurricanes are actually better off without injured point guard Angel Rodriguez, who has been in an icy shooting slump for quite a while. While it’s true that his replacement, Manu Lecomte is clearly the superior shooter, the Hurricanes probably still need Rodriguez’s defense and creativity to beat elite teams.
  3. Fox Sports Carolinas: In this piece, Lauren Brownlow has a pretty good take on the current status of North Carolina State, as the Wolfpack head into Greensboro as a very dangerous 7-seed. As she points out, sophomore center BeeJay Anya is a big key to the Wolfpack’s success. When he is playing well – protecting the rim, grabbing offensive boards, and finishing alley-oops, N.C. State has shown they can compete with elite teams. When Anya is not as aggressive, or in foul trouble, the Wolfpack is more vulnerable in the paint to teams with good interior players. Another interesting factoid presented here is that Mark Gottfried and N.C. State have amassed an impressive 4-and-1 record this season in games against teams with active Hall-of-Fame coaches.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: Probably the most surprising hero in college basketball this past weekend has to be Louisville‘s Mangok Mathiang, who knocked down the game-winning jumper to take out Virginia. Afterwards, Rick Pitino joked that “Mangok was the 64th option” on the play, but when the Cardinal’s Terry Rozier got trapped and passed him the ball, Mathiang calmly knocked in only his second field goal in the last month. Unlike the first meeting between the two teams – when Virginia only committed two turnovers – this time the Louisville pressure defense forced 13 Cavalier miscues. That defensive effort, and a big game from Montrezl Harrell were enough to send the Cardinals into postseason on a much higher note than seemed possible just two weeks ago, when Chris Jones was dismissed from the squad.
  5. USA Today: It certainly has been the season of good will in what is widely acknowledged as the best rivalry in college basketball: Duke and North Carolina. First came the moving tribute to Dean Smith in the first match-up in Durham in mid-February, when the coaches/players locked arms and knelt together in a moment of silence. Then before Saturday’s rematch in Chapel Hill, Roy Williams and his team captains – Jackson Simmons and Marcus Paige – met Mike Krzyzewski at midcourt to honor him for becoming the first coach to reach 1000 career wins. In his postgame press conference, Krzyzewski discussed the uniqueness of the rivalry with the level of respect between the two programs. By comparison, think how laughable it is to imagine Nick Saban being honored by Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium, or Urban Meyer receiving a standing ovation at the Big House.
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Battle in the Bluegrass: Previewing Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by Lathan Wells & David Changas on December 27th, 2014

Kentucky, the undisputed No. 1 team in the country, faces perhaps its last truly tough test of the regular season when it enters Louisville’s Yum! Center today with both teams unbeaten and carrying designs on a second national title in the last four years (a notion that sounds crazy in December, but probably true). John Calipari has won six of seven match-ups against the Cardinals since taking over in Lexington, but Rick Pitino is on the other sideline with home court as well as the best player on the floor wearing red and white. SEC micrositer David Changas and ACC micrositer Lathan Wells got together to break down the biggest game of the college basketball weekend, and quite possibly, the entire regular season.

DC: One of Kentucky’s biggest strengths this season is its ability to grab offensive rebounds. The Cardinals, on the other hand, have struggled on the defensive glass. What can they do to neutralize this Kentucky advantage and keep the Wildcats from getting too many easy putback baskets?

Montrezl Harrell living up to his pre-season accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance (AP Photo)

Montrezl Harrell living up to his preseason accolades is imperative for the Cardinals to have a chance today. (AP Photo)

LW: This may seem perfunctory, but Louisville needs to do an incredible job of blocking out. No one in college basketball can match Kentucky’s size, so the Cards will need all of their big men to keep their assigned Wildcats on their backs. Montrezl Harrell also has to stay out of foul trouble, and Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang have to avoid the tendency to be overaggressive in a big-time situation so that they can stay on the floor as well. Another key against Kentucky is finding some rebounding help from the backcourt, so players such as Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will need to contribute in that department as well. Kentucky’s top-rated defense is so incredibly stifling that the Wildcats have coasted to most of their wins this year, but Louisville is bound to be hyped from the opening tip in this one. How would John Calipari’s team handle an early deficit, and who do you think is the one player the Wildcats absolutely need a phenomenal performance from to ensure they stay undefeated?

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ACC Preview: Louisville’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Louisville win the ACC crown in its inaugural season?

Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals have won conference championships in two different leagues over the past two seasons. On its way to the NCAA title in  2012-13, the Cardinals shared the Big East regular season championship (with Georgetown and Marquette), and won the conference tournament. Last season Louisville enjoyed a one year stopover in the American Athletic Conference, resulting in the same outcome — a share of the regular season crown (this time with Cincinnati) and another conference tournament championship. Now the Cardinals will try to make history by grabbing both prizes for the third year in a row in yet another league — the ACC, historically the best college basketball conference of them all.

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Rick Pitino becomes the fourth Hall-of-Fame Coach in the ACC this season. (Getty Images).

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC now boasts four current head coaches who are already members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. The only other current NCAA coach with that honor on his resume is SMU’s Larry Brown, who has spent the majority of his coaching days in the NBA. It’s therefore fair to say that the ACC can lay claim to the four most accomplished college coaches in the country. A look at the chart below shows how those four compare in several key areas of achievement. Due to their additional seasons as head coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim have gathered significantly more wins then North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Pitino, but the younger duo stacks up very well in overall winning percentage, Final Four appearances and National Champioinships. As the youngest member of the group, Louisville’s leader may also have the best chance of substantially adding to his resume over the next 10 years. After all, Pitino is currently the hottest of the bunch, boasting three consecutive 30-win seasons. Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 10.27.14 Edition

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 27th, 2014

morning5_ACC

  1. ESPN: North Carolina played an exhibition game Friday night — a 111-58 rout over Fayetteville State — but the headline continues to be all the fallout from the Wainstein Report released last week. In the postgame press conference, Roy Williams made his first public comments since the release of the damaging report. An emotional Williams acknowledged the pain he’s felt over the scandal at his beloved school, but his comment that “I feel strongly, strongly that we did things the right way” makes you wonder who the “we” is, exactly. As for the game itself, a peek at the box score reveals that Justin Jackson continues to impress, leading the team with 18 points in 22 minutes of action, including a 3-of-4 performance from three-point land.
  2. Durham Herald Sun: Saturday night Duke held it’s annual “Countdown to Craziness” event, and freshman center Jahlil Okafor stole the show during the scrimmage, scoring 27 points and grabbing eight boards in 24 minutes. The drinking word of the article is definitely “dominant” and its other forms – dominates and domination – that are used to describe Mike Krzyzewski’s latest Chicago prodigy. The scarier thing is that, according to the Duke coach, Marshall Plumlee did a pretty good job defending Okafor. Perhaps that is just coachspeak for trying to keep up the confidence level of a reserve, but expect most opponents to have their hands full with a Duke post player for one of the few times in recent memory.
  3. Winston-Salem Journal: Wake Forest‘s latest recruit has a familiar last name to Deacons fans. Current assistant coach and legendary Deacon player Randolph Childress’ son Brandon has pledged to join the program in two seasons. Danny Manning now has three commitments in the Class of 2015 and hopes that Childress, his first commitment from the current junior class, is just the start of great things. Not only is Wake getting a good player and the good legacy feeling of bringing in a legend’s son, Manning also hopes to now improve the Deacs’ position with a certain teammate of young Childress at Wesleyan Christian Academy in nearby High Point.
  4. Louisville Courier-Journal: It appears that Louisville head coach Rick Pitino is happy with the progress being made by his young center Mangok Mathiang. The wiry sophomore appears to be following a similar career path of former center Gorgui Dieng, a key member on the Cardinals’ 2013 National Championship team. Like Mathiang, Dieng came to school as an unknown and was expected to take a long time to become a high-level college player, but he became a poster child for Pitino’s well-respected player development system, and ready for the NBA after only three years in the program. While no one is saying Mathiang will progress at the same rate, he certainly has a great role model to follow.
  5. Hurricanes Sports: This is a very good read on Miami‘s new point guard Angel Rodriguez. It tracks his path from his native Puerto Rico to Miami for high school, Manhattan, Kansas, to play for Kansas State, and finally back to Miami as a transfer. It seems that Rodriguez has made the best of his redshirt year, immersing himself into practice. Jim Larranaga is counting on the junior point guard to be the prime leader for the young Hurricanes even though he’s yet to play a game yet in a Hurricanes uniform.
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Does Chane Behanan Take Cards’ Repeat Hopes With Him?

Posted by CD Bradley on December 31st, 2013

The Louisville career of Chane Behanan, which has veered from troubled (multiple suspensions) to exultant (2012 West Region MVP, 15 points and 12 rebounds in last year’s title game), ended on Monday.

WDRB.com Last season, Chane Behanan and Rick Pitino celebrated a national title. On Monday, Pitino announced the forward has been dimissed from the team.

WDRB.com
Last season, Chane Behanan and Rick Pitino celebrated a national title. On Monday, Pitino announced the forward had been dismissed from the team.

In a hastily called press conference, an evidently disappointed head coach Rick Pitino announced that Behanan had been dismissed from the team by the university. The nature of the junior forward’s violation was undisclosed, but Pitino explicitly ruled out academics as well as anything related to basketball or the near-auction of his Final Four ring. He also explained that he couldn’t talk about anything related to a personal medical situation. Multiple observers, including former Louisville beat writer and current Louisville resident Pat Forde of YahooSports, interpreted that comment as something related to drug-test results. In any event, Pitino said that he could not envision Behanan returning to the team, and that he would advise him to transfer to a school where he could play after the first semester next season. Adam Zagoria tweeted on Monday afternoon that at least eight schools had already been in contact with Behanan.

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AAC M5: 12.27.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on December 27th, 2013

AAC_morning5_header

  1. AAC Basketball resumes Saturday after a five-day holiday break with one the last and the biggest non-conference game for one of its teams: Louisville visits Kentucky in the annual renewal of the sport’s best rivalry. Everyone in the commonwealth has had the date circled since the schedules came out for obvious reasons, but hoops fans everywhere were also eyeing the match-up when both schools started in the preseason top three after splitting the last two national championships. A bit of the shine might be off the game with the two teams entering with four losses between them, but that actually makes it more important; neither has yet notched what would be considered a marquee win, and there are limited opportunities for both going forward. So what we have here are two teams in a must-win game for each; plus it’s the biggest game for both fan bases all year; plus the coaches don’t like each other; plus there will be numerous future NBA players on both sides. Yeah, you probably want to watch this one.
  2. Among the players who will play key roles in deciding Saturday’s Bluegrass Showdown is Mangok Mathiang, Louisville’s Sudanese center and one of a growing contingent of foreign players making their mark in US college basketball. Mathiang replaced fellow African Gorgui Dieng, who helped Louisville hang a banner last year before departing for the NBA. NCAA rule changes have made it easier for foreign-born players to become eligible, and various academies have sprung up to help funnel them to American schools. Louisville has recently embraced this trend; in addition to Mathiang and Dieng, they also have forward Akoy Agau on the roster, also from Sudan, and have signed Norwegian big man Matz Stockman for next year’s freshman class. Head coach Rick Pitino repeatedly praised Dieng’s demeanor and maturity, and said those traits made him want to recruit more overseas players, which he obviously has done. So far, it appears to be bringing success; it’s hard to improve upon a first-round NBA Draft pick who helped your team win a national championship. No pressure, Mangok!
  3. SMU coach Larry Brown is known as basketball’s greatest coaching nomad. He’s been the head coach of three college teams, nine NBA teams and even an ABA team. Now in his second season at SMU at age 73, rumors have raged as to how long he would stay on board. Brown said in a recent interview that he will probably never retire. While it’s clear he’s a basketball lifer, it must be said that he is already exceeding all expectations at SMU. The Mustangs are 10-2 this season, have signed a McDonald’s All-American for the second year in a row, and appear poised to make a strong run toward their first NCAA bid in two decades. Given all of that, it seems like the nomad might have found a home for as long as he wants to stay, but then again, that’s always been the question surrounding Brown.
  4. UConn has one of the nation’s best backcourts, but its glaring weakness has been obvious all season: a shallow and inexperienced frontcourt. How did it get that way? The UConnBlog took an in-depth look and identified a few obvious culprits: NCAA problems; the uncertainty over Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun’s future culminating in his retirement; and some misses on the recruiting trial. Perhaps most galling for UConn fans is that former Huskie big man Roscoe Smith, who transferred to UNLV somewhat surprisingly two years ago and now leads the nation in rebounding at 13.8 boards per game, is logging offensive and defensive rebounding percentages in the top 100 among all players nationally. In fact, he averages more boards than UConn’s top two rebounders — Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels — combined. UConn ranks outside the top 200 teams in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, and it is the worst offensive rebounding team in the AAC, a league known for its strong guard play. The team has recently shuffled its starting lineup up front, but it probably lacks the big men necessary to make much noise in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Wally Judge was a highly-touted recruit out of high school when he debuted at Kansas State in 2009, but he struggled there, eventually transferring to Rutgers, and is now fighting through a trying senior season in New Jersey. He played well on Sunday, with 16 points and seven rebounds in a win over Army, but that followed four losses in five games. He said his various struggles have led to a period of soul-searching. Rutgers better hopes he does; he’s perhaps the most talented player on a 6-7 team, and while the NCAA Tournament is out of reach, improved play by Judge and his teammates in conference play might well be enough to earn them some sort of postseason, and perhaps as importantly, a spot in the conference standings above #10.
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What We Learned in the AAC’s First Weekend

Posted by Will Tucker on November 11th, 2013

The inaugural weekend of American Athletic Conference basketball is in the books, and the nine members who kicked off their seasons each emerged from their first contest unscathed. We took a quick look at a couple of the early story lines from around the league.

chris jones pull-up

Chris Jones gives Louisville a major scoring threat at point guard (Brandon Fry/Card Chronicle)

Will: Louisville’s Chris Jones appears to be a more-than-adequate replacement for Peyton Siva. While Siva’s value, particularly as an on-ball defender, was indispensable to the Cardinals’ national championship, Jones looked no less critical to Louisville’s offense than his predecessor in his first game. Racking up 12 points, six rebounds and five assists in 30 minutes during their win against College of Charleston, Jones’ value was most obvious when he was off the court, at which point the Cardinals’ offense seemed stagnant with Russ Smith and freshman Terry Rozier sharing ball-handling responsibilities. In addition to an ability to hit the three in transition, the junior college transfer showed glimpses of a polished mid-range game that Siva never fully mastered in his time at Louisville, hitting a couple of floaters with a feathery touch. And while the Cardinals’ offense still looked like a work in progress on Saturday, their three total turnovers in Jones’ debut was the fewest any Louisville team had committed in a single game since 2007. One game might be a small sample size, but Jones passed his first official test under intense scrutiny.

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