Louisville Joins UNC on the Early Bubble. Seton Hall 80, Louisville 77. We realize of course that Louisville has had a tendency in the Pitino era to start off slowly and finish strong, but we have a feeling that isn’t going to happen this year. The problem is with a Pitino staple, their defense, the efficiency of which is currently the worst in the last five years for his teams. The Cards allow a very average 46% from two and 35% from three, which mitigates the robust amount of turnovers that they force in their trapping defense. And tonight’s game against Seton Hall is a good example of the defensive struggles that Louisville is enduring this year — the Pirates shot 53% from the field, put all five starters in double figures, and even the human cannon known as Jeremy Hazell (25/5) hit a good percentage (9-12 FG) against the Card defense. So what’s the answer? We’re not sure that there is one with the personnel Pitino has at his disposal. In the last three games (all losses), the Cards have given up greater than 1.15 points per possession against teams that do not typically do that well in that regard. This loss puts Louisville at 12-7 and 3-3 in the Big East, but we could easily see seven or eight more losses in the conference for the Cards should they not tighten up that defense in the next few weeks. An 8-10 record, even in the loaded Big East, may not be enough given that really hasn’t beaten a “good” team all season (and only three in the KenPom top 100!). Seton Hall should be proud of itself for stepping up to take this game, which they very nearly let get away from them in the last few minutes. Having lost four of five, the Pirates could have easily folded up the tent and allowed Louisville to steal a much-needed road win, but Bobby Gonzalez’s group instead showed their mettle and put came out with a win in one of their best performances of the season.
Um, Who? UCLA 62, Washington 61. Someone named Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, a reserve guard who had taken only 22 shots all season coming into tonight’s game, received the ball at halfcourt with three seconds remaining on the clock and does what all players who are thrust in that position do: three dribbles, rise and fire. His shot from the top of the key at the buzzer was all net, and UCLA earned a hard-fought win over what has to be one of the most disappointing teams (other than these very Bruins) in the country in UW. (see below at 1:00) We’ve stopped trying to predict the crazy Pac-10 this year, but given just how poorly UCLA has played on both ends of the floor this season, Washington has no excuse for dropping this game, even in Pauley Pavilion. Quincy Pondexter had 23/6, but he didn’t get much help with Isaiah Thomas only adding 11 and nobody else in double figures. For a team averaging nearly 80 PPG, they were well below their normal offensive output. As for UCLA, all we can say is that when a player like Abdul-Hamid is taking your game-winning shots, even if he’s making them, you have tremendous problems to solve. All that said, it wouldn’t shock us if Washington ran off ten straight in this league now that we’re piling on them here.
Super Mids Keep Rolling. #10 Gonzaga and #20 Butler got scares in their respective conferences tonight, but as usual, they both came out with another win.