Bracket Prep: Akron, Louisville, Northwestern State, Montana, Oregon, Pacific & New Mexico State

Posted by BHayes on March 17th, 2013

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Saturday’s flurry of bid snatching wound down out West and left us with a near-complete picture of the puzzle. Just four automatic bids remain to be earned on Selection Sunday. As we have for each of the 31 automatic qualifiers to play their way into the Dance, we’ll take some time to give you an analytical snapshot of each team that you can refer back to when you’re picking your brackets this week.

Akron

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

Zeke Marshall And Akron Overcame Late-Season Drama To Reach The NCAA Tournament

  • MAC Champion (26-6, 16-2)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #49/#54/#62
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +10.7
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #12-#13

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Last year’s Tournament darlings, the Ohio Bobcats, saw their shot at a return bid die on Saturday night, but don’t be surprised if their conquerors put some of that MAC mojo to use again this year. The Akron Zips turned in one of the most impressive performances of the day, comprehensively picking apart a good Ohio team en route to the MAC Tournament title. A pair of late regular season losses had recently killed the bubble talk surrounding the Zips, but let’s not forget how they entered the conversation in the first place. Keith Dambrot’s club ripped off 19 straight wins between December 15th and March 2nd in what still measures up as the longest winning streak in all of college basketball this season.
  2. Akron is as well-rounded a mid-major as you will find, but the Zips truest strength lies in a tougher-than-nails frontcourt. Demetrius Treadwell is the team’s second leading scorer at 11.4 PPG and leading rebounder at 7.9 RPG. His crafty, below-the-rim game may not be the sexiest, but it’s a great complement to the other important Zip on the interior, 7’0” Zeke Marshall. Marshall is the team’s leading scorer (13 PPG) and one of the nation’s leaders in FG percentage at 66%, but the big senior truly excels on the defensive side of the ball. He boasts the 4th best block percentage in the country (14.1%), and is, quite literally, a huge reason why Akron is one of the 20 best teams in the country in effective field goal percentage defense.
  3. The March suspension of point guard Alex Abreu (for drug charges) momentarily shook the team, but back-to-back good wins provide Keith Dambrot with some hope that his team has moved on, however much the loss of Abreu (10.3 PPG, 6.0 APG) hurts on the floor. Freshman Carmelo Betancourt has seen his minutes rise from 10 to 26 a game since the Abreu suspension, but the youngster will certainly not be asked to replicate Abreu’s production. The Zips have won with a balanced, team approach all season long, and the “next man up” attitude should come naturally for Betancourt and others. Dont overlook that even before that 19-game surge, the Zips beat Middle Tennessee State, pounded Penn State (by 25) and took OK State to overtime. Could a MAC team crash the Big Dance for the second straight season?

Louisville

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

A Decisive Second Half Surge Made The Cardinals Big East Tournament Champions For The Second Straight Season

  • Big East Champion (29-5, 17-4)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #3/#2/#1
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +19.2
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #1

 Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

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Rushed Reactions: Louisville 78, Syracuse 61

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 17th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Louisville’s second consecutive Big East championship game victory on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden.

Three key takeaways:

Pitino Was All Smiles After Notching Back-to-Back Big East Titles

Pitino Was All Smiles After Notching Back-to-Back Big East Titles

  1. Two words: Pressure defense. Louisville turned a 45-29 deficit into a 78-61 victory over the last 16 minutes of the game. The 49-16 run to close the contest was one of the more impressive feats I’ve seen in my years watching college basketball. After a few turnovers, it was clear Syracuse was rattled by the relentless Louisville pressure. It’s Rick Pitino’s calling card and it came through when the Cards needed it most. Louisville was awful defensively in the first half and that continued out of halftime as Syracuse hit four of its first five shots out of the locker room. That’s when everything (and I mean EVERYTHING) changed. Syracuse made just one field goal over the next 14 minutes as Louisville ran away with the game. People talk about VCU’s havoc defense but there is no team in the country that pressures the ball as hard and as efficiently as Louisville.
  2. Syracuse got flustered. Even while playing in front of a decidedly pro-Orange crowd (75-80%), Syracuse let the suffocating pressure get to them in the worst way. Nobody was more affected that Michael Carter-Williams, who until midway through the second half had played one of the finest games of his young career. Carter-Williams’ body language went south and his play suffered, culminating in a flagrant one foul call that was likely the result of pent-up frustration. The Orange were never able to regroup despite the partisan Madison Square Garden crowd and Louisville simply took it to them over the balance of the game.
  3. Louisville adjusted its offense and Syracuse failed to do the same defensively. Pitino’s team shot a robust 53% overall in the second half, including an impressive 12-of-19 shooting mark from inside the arc. Louisville worked the ball inside all second half against a Syracuse zone that had been extended out what seemed to be a good five to eight feet away from the basket all night. Louisville probed the high post and dumped it down low successfully with Montrezl Harrell turning out to be the main beneficiary of those sets. Syracuse never adjusted its defense, never more so exemplified by Kevin Ware’s baseline cruise and dunk with 8:24 to play that put Louisville up by nine points.

Star of the Game: Freshman Montrezl Harrell scored 14 of his career-high 20 points in the second half. It was a coming-out party for one of the better freshmen in the nation, someone who will make plenty of breakout player lists in 2013-14. Harrell, a former Virginia Tech commitment, had his way operating along the baseline and attacked the rim at will as the Syracuse back line defenders were helpless to stop him. This kid has the skill, athleticism and motor needed to excel at this level and will be a star in the years to come for Louisville and likely at the next level as well.

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Rushed Reactions: Louisville 69, Notre Dame 57

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 15th, 2013

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Brian Otskey (@botskey) filed this report from Louisville’s win over Notre Dame in the nightcap of the Big East semifinals on Friday night at Madison Square Garden.

Three key takeaways:

Russ Smith and Company Handled the Lime Green Irish Friday Night

Russ Smith and Company Handled the Lime Green Irish Friday Night

  1. Louisville’s interior defense was phenomenal. The Cardinals held Notre Dame to 12-of-31 shooting inside the arc as its guards did a great job cutting off dribble penetration. Jack Cooley and Garrick Sherman were able to score some but Louisville forced the Fighting Irish into many tough, contested twos. Louisville was tops in conference play in two-point percentage against and it showed this evening. With Gorgui Dieng anchoring the back line and guards like Russ Smith and Peyton Siva cutting off penetration and creating havoc on the perimeter, it’s a lethal combination. There’s a reason Louisville’s adjusted defensive efficiency currently checks in at a superb 80.9. The Cards are ridiculously good on that end of the floor and will be a nightmare match-up for most teams who aren’t used to seeing a big time shot-blocker and relentless full court pressure.
  2. Russ Smith has quietly had himself a tournament to remember. After scoring 28 points in Thursday’s win over Villanova, Smith hung 20 on the Irish while also dropping six dimes. Smith has been an efficient shooter in New York, making 15 of his 26 field goal attempts through two days here. After the game, Rick Pitino said Smith doesn’t frustrate him all that much with his shot selection, giving his dynamic junior some latitude on the offensive end. It’s on defense where Pitino gets upset with “Russdiculous,” especially when he loses his man off the ball. Smith will have to play well tomorrow night against Syracuse because the Orange will pressure him and could force him into some bad decisions. You never know what you’re going to get out of Smith and that’s what makes him a must-see player.
  3. Although his week just ended, Pat Connaughton was fantastic. In three games at the Garden, Connaughton made 15 threes, one short of the record currently held by Syracuse’s James Southerland (this year) and Gerry McNamara (2006). After the game, head coach Mike Brey said he thought his team found something this week at MSG and that would help them going forward into the NCAA Tournament. He mentioned how it would be nice if they kept shooting the ball well, no doubt a reference to his gritty sophomore from Arlington, Massachusetts. Connaughton is a typical New England kid: smart, mature for his age, seasoned, and a great competitor. He does more than shoot, too. Connaughton averages almost five rebounds per game because he isn’t afraid of contact and uses his body well in creating position. He’ll be a huge asset next week in the tournament and over the next two years as the Irish transition to the ACC.

Star of the Game: You could go with either Peyton Siva (14 points, six assists, one turnover) or Russ Smith (20 points, six assists) so the point here is that Louisville’s backcourt is playing at the level some thought it would be all season long. If you recall, Siva carried this team to a Big East title last year in this building and parlayed that into a Final Four appearance. Louisville needs Smith to score and Siva to create in order to succeed and it is getting just that through two games in this tournament.

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Five Thoughts on the Big East Tournament: Thursday Evening Edition

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 14th, 2013

Brian Otskey attended the Thursday evening session of the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden and filed this report. Follow him on Twitter @botskey

Russ Smith Had Himself an Evening

Russ Smith Had Himself an Evening

  1. Louisville is clearly a team that can win it all. Personally, I think Louisville is the nation’s No. 2 team right now behind Indiana. If the Cardinals keep this level of play up, however, they’ll move to the top spot in my mind. Louisville’s defensive efficiency numbers have been on a historic pace this season and it was never more evident than tonight. The Cards swarmed, trapped and turned Villanova over all night long. The Wildcats committed 25 turnovers for the game, including a stunning 18 in the first half alone. After the game, head coach Rick Pitino said his team recorded 58 deflections, a record for them. Louisville’s game plan was to guard the three-point line, keep Villanova off the free throw line and create havoc. Check, check, check. Mission accomplished. Louisville had 19 turnovers of its own but that didn’t really hurt the team because of the +6 margin. When Louisville plays defense like this, the sky is the limit, as they say.
  2. If Louisville hits threes like it did tonight, nobody is beating the Cards. The Cardinals were 10-of-24 from three point land (42%) with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith doing most of the damage. This team is already dangerous as constituted but when it adds this other dimension, it’s almost unbeatable. Louisville came into the game hitting only 31% of its threes in Big East play and ranks 246th in the country in three-point percentage. That has been a huge weak spot for Louisville all season and one of the reasons why some feel the team can’t go all the way. If this is a sign of things to come, I’m not sure anybody can beat Louisville.
  3. I actually like Notre Dame’s uniforms but that’s not the point. The idea isn’t for the Fighting Irish to make people like them (or hate them), it’s to sell jerseys and grab the attention of recruits. It’s a great marketing strategy, especially during postseason play when more people (and recruits) are watching than at any point during the regular season. While a lot of these uniforms may be ugly (Cincinnati and Louisville’s gear comes to mind), the Adidas-sponsored schools are doing what they should be doing: bringing attention to their programs. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East M5: 03.11.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on March 11th, 2013

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  1. Anticipation of a full weekend slate games with massive Big East implications was slightly overshadowed last Friday when a statement from the league confirmed the Catholic Seven would make its exit on June 30, 2013. Realignment savant Brett McMurphy reported that the departing schools would not only inherit the Big East name and Madison Square Garden tournament, but also pocket $10 million of the $110 million in exit fees from prior defections. Most astonishingly, Mike Aresco surrendered the 29 NCAA Tournament units those schools accumulated in the past six years, which Forbes claims will distribute at least $7.25 million in 2013 alone. Conversely, the current Big East finds itself nameless, poised to lose Notre Dame a year early, and displaced from its ancestral roots. The amorphous confederation is exploring the name “America 12,” and Hartford and Memphis are early front-runners in the bid to host its refugee tournament, which would complete its metamorphosis into a Conference USA Touring Edition.
  2. UConn played its final game of the 2012-13 season last Saturday in Gampel Pavilion, overcoming Providence 63-59 in overtime to earn its 20th win of the year. More importantly, on Senior Day and perhaps Shabazz Napier’s final game as a Husky, his team won a measure of vindication after months of being told this season was meaningless. The injured guard’s overtime heroics continued as he battled an injured ankle to put up 16 points and eight rebounds in 44 minutes. If Napier does elect to return next season, his maturation as a junior will have been one of the most indispensable benefits of this year’s dress rehearsal. Speaking after Saturday’s win of his personal development, Kevin Ollie said, “Shabazz used to think he can do it by himself. Now he knows he needs his teammates. When somebody is down, he’s always, always there to pick them up.”
  3. Another Saturday rivalry matchup with Big East title implications quickly devolved into a painful juxtaposition of teams speeding in opposite directions, as Georgetown held Syracuse to its lowest point total (39) since 1962. Michael Carter-Williams was the only Syracuse player to reach double digits, but finished with two assists to five turnovers; the Orange as a team had a 4:13 assist-to-turnover ratio (31%). It was a nightmare scenario for the Orange, who will almost assuredly finish the regular season ranked outside the top 20 after reaching #3 in the polls in late January. The Hoyas wrapped up the top seed while Cuse enters the Big East Tournament seeded fifth, having lost four of their last five and seven of 12.
  4. The Big East released their regular season player honors yesterday, and Louisville (Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith, Peyton Siva) and Syracuse (Michael Carter-Williams, C.J. Fair, Brandon Triche) led the pack with six of the 16 players on the All-Big East first, second and third teams. Dieng and Smith represented the first Cardinals to make first team since Terrence Williams in 2009, while Bryce Cotton was Providence’s second selection in three years after Marshon Brooks was honored in 2011. Georgetown’s Otto Porter was the first team’s only unanimous selection and is poised to take home Player of the Year once it’s announced.
  5. On the topic of Senior Day vindication, Rick Pitino described Louisville’s 73-57 thumping of Notre Dame as a “a storybook ending” for graduating senior Peyton Siva and junior Gorgui Dieng, who is likely to declare for the draft. The two combined for 33 points on 65% shooting, avenging last month’s five-overtime choke job in South Bend before a KFC Yum! Center record crowd of 22,815. Dieng racked up his second double-double in the past three games, and tallied five blocks as he helped stymie Jack Cooley, who finished with seven points and three defensive rebounds. Siva hit multiple threes in a single game for the first time since mid-January, showing a shooting touch and aggressiveness that had been noticeably absent in Big East play. In the process, the Cardinals claimed a share of the Big East regular season title with Georgetown and Marquette. Moreover, Kevin Ware capped off the afternoon’s euphoria by delivering this subversive number –– deemed saucy by the CBS crew –– after being called for a foul on a dramatic fast break block (h/t Card Chronicle):
Kevin Ware eschewed traditional forms of foul protest

Kevin Ware eschewed traditional forms of foul call protest

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on March 8th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

With the first tickets to the Big Dance being given out this weekend and regular season titles still up for grabs in the Big East, Big Ten, ACC, and A-10, it should be one amazing weekend of college hoops. It’s the most amazing time of the year, so sit back and enjoy. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#17 Syracuse at #6 Georgetown – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

Better Make It a Double.

Boeheim is looking for answers at Syracuse.

  • Syracuse broke a three-game losing streak this week against DePaul while Georgetown lost for the first time in 11 games against Villanova. With the loss, the Hoyas dropped into a three-team tie for first place in the Big East with Marquette and Louisville. The Orange have struggled recently and had a tough time against the Hoyas defense two weeks ago at the Carrier Dome. Jim Boeheim’s team only went 4-20 from downtown and could not get anything going from their guards. The Hoyas struggled on offense as well but were able to rely on Otto Porter once again who put in 33 points. In order for Syracuse to snap out of this funk, they need to get more production from guards Brandon Triche and Michael Carter-Williams. If both players can take better shots by driving the ball to the hoop, we will see a completely different Syracuse team. Georgetown put Villanova on the foul line 42 times earlier this week. Given the size of Triche and Carter-Williams, both players should be going straight to the basket in an attempt to draw fouls or get lay-ups. Keep a close on both players, as they are the keys to this game. If they are settling for jumpers, Syracuse is going to struggle again.

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on March 1st, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

This weekend has several important conference re-matches and as well as first time clashes between conference leaders. It should be an action packed weekend. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#10 Louisville at #11 Syracuse – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (*****) 

  • Syracuse has lost two straight and five of their last nine. They have been inconsistent on offensive, particularly from the outside. They go up against a Louisville squad that is no stranger to struggles this season either. The Cardinals hit a three-game slide at the end of January that had a few folks questioning where this team was headed. Since that time though, they are 7-1 and only one game back in the Big East. Syracuse beat Louisville 70-68 in January in a close contest that came down to the final possession. The Cardinals have clearly struggled against long, athletic teams. Asking 6’0″ Russ Smith and 6’0″ Peyton Siva to guard 6″6″ Michael Carter-Williams and 6’4″ Brandon Triche is a tall order to say the least. Look for the Orange to exploit the mismatch at guard all night. Rick Pitino must game plan to help his guards, otherwise it could be another tough one for Louisville. The Cardinals also need Gorgui Dieng to contribute more on the offensive end. His size will help free up Smith and Siva on the outside. Expect another close battle at the Carrier Dome as these two teams battle for conference and tournament seeding.

    Peyton Siva orchestrated Louisville's offense with 10 points and 10 assists

    Peyton Siva has a lot to prove in the second go around with the Orange.

#20 Butler at Virginia Commonwealth – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN2 (****) 

  • While Butler has amazing wins against Indiana and Gonzaga, they have struggled against the top Atlantic 10 teams. They are 0-3 against Saint Louis and LaSalle and now face VCU for the first time this season. VCU is also winless against Saint Louis and LaSalle, so Butler is not alone in their struggles. The key to this match-up will be turnovers. VCU creates turnovers on 27.3% of an opponents possessions. Butler turns the ball over on 20% of its offensive possessions. The Bulldogs cannot afford to empty possession in this game, otherwise they will lose. They must get into the half-court offense and establish 6’11” Andrew Smith early. Smith’s match-up against VCU’s Juvante Reddic will be critical. Butler needs Smith’s offense to win this game. 

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Set Your DVR: Weekend Edition

Posted by bmulvihill on February 8th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Bubble watching has officially begun, which means March is just around the corner. With less than a month to go in the season, everything is still up for grabs in what has been a truly unpredictable season in college hoops. The Big Ten and Big East lead a solid slate of games this weekend. With epic snow hitting the east coast, it looks like most people will have to sit at home and watch hoops. Sounds great to most of us, I’d assume. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

#1 Michigan at Wisconsin – 12:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (****)

Tim Hardaway Jr has had significant ups and downs so far this year.

Can Tim Hardaway Jr. continue his hot shooting from the outside against a strong Wisconsin defense?

  • On a per possession basis, we will see the best offense (Michigan) in the Big Ten versus the best defense (Wisconsin) in the Big Ten in this game. Michigan’s poor two-point shooting against Ohio State was very out of character for John Beilein’s squad. Fortunately for the Wolverines, their three-point shooting was able to carry them to a victory. Michigan went 14-24 from deep against the Buckeyes. Don’t expect Michigan to have the same success from outside against Wisconsin, as the Badgers have the best three-point defense in the conference. Watch to see if UM can bounce back inside the arc. When Michigan’s Mitch McGary is in the game, the match-up between him and Jared Berggren should be fun to watch on the inside and a key factor in the outcome. McGary is coming into his own and will be needed down low for second chance points. Expect this game to be a slow, mistake free contest. Execution of the half-court offense will be critical for both sides. The Wolverines definitely have the advantage there. Wisconsin needs to force Michigan to make tough shots. If Michigan is able to get open looks in the half-court, it will be along afternoon for the Badgers.

#2 Kansas at Oklahoma – 4:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN (***)

  • Just when it looked like Kansas was going to run away and hide with the Big 12 title, Jayhawk Nation got shell shocked with two consecutive losses. Not only did they lose twice, but they lost at home and then against TCU, the only team in the conference without a win. Many are calling the TCU loss the worst in Kansas history. While that may be an overstatement, Bill Self certainly has to be concerned with his team’s effort as of late. The two losses are character tests for the Jayhawks, which is what makes this road game against Oklahoma so important. It’s not all roses for Lon Kruger and the Sooners, however. They are in the midst of their own two-game slide. Oklahoma has been up and down this season and could use a big win at home to boost their tourney chances. KU has been shooting awful in the past two games, particularly from three. They are 11-46 from downtown in that stretch. Look to see if the Jayhawks try to get in the lane more often with their big guards. Given Oklahoma’s mediocrity on offense and defense, this looks like it could be a bounce back game for KU. But given what we’ve seen so far in college hoops, nothing is for sure. Read the rest of this entry »
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Big East Monday Primer: Post-Super Bowl Edition

Posted by mlemaire on February 4th, 2013

The season is entering the home stretch and the games are getting more important by the day. To reflect that, we are putting together a Monday Primer which will basically recap important things from the weekend and then look ahead at important games during the week. Hope you enjoy!

What Happened This Weekend

1. Villanova undid all of the hard work they did in back-to-back wins over Louisville and Syracuse by losing at home to lowly Providence. The Friars had only nine players available and the Wildcats still couldn’t capitalize, shooting 27 percent from the field and making just 2-of-15 three-pointers. They had a chance down the stretch when they tied the game up with less than a minute to play but Bryce Cotton hit a big three to seal the win for the Friars. The Wildcats are young, so inconsistency isn’t unexpected, but it seems pretty clear this is not an NCAA Tournament team.

After last week went great, this week it was back to a lot of this for Jay Wright (Photo credit: H. Rumph Jr/AP Photo).

After last week, this week it was back to a lot of this for Jay Wright (Photo credit: H. Rumph Jr/AP Photo).

2. Pittsburgh scored the big upset of the weekend and added a good win to its resume by pulling away from No. 6 Syracuse in the second half. This really doesn’t even count as much of an upset considering Pitt has no business being unranked given their efficiency on both ends of the floor, but it is still an important win for the Panthers. Pitt is basically 10-deep, talented, and coach Jamie Dixon has the team rolling as they are winners of five of their last six. If they take care of business tonight against Seton Hall, they should be in great position for the home stretch.

3. It was the same old story this weekend for DePaul, which nearly staged a tough second-half comeback against Notre Dame only to lose by eight points in overtime. The Blue Demons have lost six straight and have just one conference win. Its still just his third season but given the lack of overall improvement in the league standings, the seat under coach Oliver Purnell might be getting a little warm. His team may need to show some signs of life if the program is going to give him another year to right the ship.

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Louisville’s Decisive Win Shows Progress, Shifts Scrutiny to Marquette

Posted by Will Tucker on February 3rd, 2013

Marquette took the outright lead in the Big East when Syracuse lost at Pittsburgh on Saturday. That distinction was short-lived, as the Golden Eagles emerged from their game against Louisville the next day with a humbling 70-51 defeat and the league’s upper echelon nipping at their heels. Beneath Marquette and the slumping Orange suddenly lie four teams a half-game behind at 6-3, including the resurgent Cardinals. The game put to bed several of the lingering misgivings about whether Rick Pitino’s team had really turned a corner after  its close win over Pitt last Monday. Rebounding and shooting percentage defense had been of particular concern. The win over the Panthers was a messy affair in which neither team could corral many defensive rebounds. It had also marked the third time in four games that the Cardinals gave up more than 44% shooting from beyond the arc.

(Credit AP)

Louisville’s transition offense got back on track against Marquette (Credit AP)

Neither issue manifested against Marquette, though. After a vexing first five minutes in which Louisville failed to make a field goal, Pitino plugged in energetic backups Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese. In about 10 first-half minutes apiece, the big men combined to hit each of their three shots (all dunks) and grab five offensive rebounds. Their enthusiasm also lifted the play of Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who entered halftime with a cumulative 21 points, seven rebounds and six assists and would finish the game with 32 points on 12-of-24 shooting. Fundamentally sound rebounding from every position and stingy man-to-man defense catalyzed a 37-15 run that sent the Cardinals to halftime with a 14-point lead.

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Walk-on Contributions Help Louisville Exorcise Late-Game Demons Against Pittsburgh

Posted by Will Tucker on January 29th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and Big East microsite writer. He filed this report after Monday night’s Louisville-Pittsburgh game.

Louisville endured a three-point shooting onslaught from Pitt down the stretch to hold on to a 64-61 victory on Monday night in the Yum! Center. The Panthers hit five of their eight threes in the final seven minutes, but the Cardinals made the necessary plays in the final possessions — demonstrating a resilience conspicuously absent in close losses to Syracuse and Georgetown. Most impressive was the fact that the Cardinals pulled out the win in spite of sudden attrition on its wings. Wayne Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Kevin Ware (unspecified suspension) weren’t in the lineup, subtracting 38 reliable minutes per game from Rick Pitino’s rotation.

(Credit Andy Lyons)

Louisville’s Tim Henderson played 14 sound minutes off the bench (Credit: Andy Lyons)

Leading up to the game, the two teams appeared headed in vastly different directions. Louisville had lost three consecutive Big East gut-punches and was facing the possibility of a 4-4 record in conference play less than two weeks removed from a #1 ranking in the polls; Pittsburgh had won four straight, capped off by an emphatic 38-point win over DePaul. Rick Pitino’s team needed no extra motivation (nor anxiety) to get up for Pitt, but that’s exactly what they got when they learned in the past couple days that Blackshear and Ware would sit out.

The outlook was bleak on paper, with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country entering the Yum! Center. Who would defend Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall, who were shooting 39% and 37% from beyond the arc, respectively? Louisville’s lineup was about to get smaller, and it had already allowed Big East foes to shoot more than 34% from outside (fourth worst in the league). Could UofL’s increasingly anemic offense survive the void left by Blackshear’s scoring, which accounts for 12% of their points in league play?

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Rushed Reactions: Starks and Bowen Deal Louisville Its Third Straight Loss

Posted by IRenko on January 26th, 2013

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I. Renko is an RTC correspondent based in D.C. and the author of the weekly column, The Other 26. He filed this report after Saturday afternoon’s game between Louisville and Georgetown. Follow him on Twitter @IRenkoHoops.

“Some people panic, but we don’t panic at Louisville,” said Rick Pitino after his Louisville team lost its third straight game on Saturday, falling at Georgetown, 53-51. “We’re judged in March,” he said, adding that he was happy that the Cardinals “played their tails off tonight” and that what ails the team are “little things that are correctable ” For his part, Georgetown head coach John Thompson III wasn’t about to downgrade his opponent either after his team’s big win: “Let’s get this straight. [Louisville is] a helluva team. That’s one of the best teams in the country.”

No single factor explains the Cardinals’ slide since being ranked as the very best team in the country two weeks ago. After the loss to Syracuse, a terse and somewhat ill-tempered Pitino had no particular diagnosis, suggesting only that it was a good basketball game and Syracuse made the plays they needed to make. Against Villanova, Pitino pointed to poor free throw shooting (12-of-24), especially down the stretch, as the culprit. What were the difference-makers in the Georgetown game? Here are the three key factors that produced a Georgetown win:

  • The Failure to Block Out and Aaron Bowen’s Acrobatic Tip-In – Pitino identified his team’s failure to block out as “the difference-maker.” Indeed, watching the game, you would not have guessed that Louisville was a strong defensive rebounding team and Georgetown a weak offensive rebounding team. But the Hoyas managed to score 13 second-chance points on 11 offensive rebounds. No offensive rebound was bigger than redshirt sophomore guard Aaron Bowen’s athletic putback to give the Hoyas a 52-50 lead with 3:36 remaining, a score that would prove to be the game-winning basket. “I’ve never seen anything like that,” said Bowen’s teammate Markel Starks. “When the shot went up, he just came out of nowhere… it was unbelievable.” It wasn’t the first time that Bowen’s aggressiveness on the glass paid off for the Hoyas. Late in the first half, after an 8-2 run by Louisville cut Georgetown’s lead to two, Bowen attacked the glass after a missed Starks jumper, and managed to knock the ball towards Nate Lubick, who converted a layup. Since the suspension of Greg Whittington, Bowen has found himself thrust into far more playing time than he’s ever had and on Saturday he made it pay off. Read the rest of this entry »
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