Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #1 Louisville

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2012

It is truly a testament to the coaching ability of Rick Pitino that last season’s offensively challenged Louisville team made the Final Four after finishing the regular season seventh in the conference. The Cardinals had trouble scoring and dealt with a rash of injuries all season, and yet when most of the dust had cleared, there was Pitino and his team, scrapping with an overpowering Kentucky team in the Final Four. In the end, Kentucky was too much, but now the roles have reversed. The team in Lexington has a lot of questions to answer, while the team in Louisville returns four of its top six scorers, including the reigning conference defensive player of the year and one of the favorites for this season’s conference player of the year. Assuming some of the team’s underclassmen progress as expected and most of the team can stay healthy, there are very few squads in the country who can match the Cardinals’ combination of talent and depth. Now it will be up to Pitino and his staff to put all the pieces together. There are still plenty of questions about where the offense will come from and the roster’s one weakness may be its lack of an accomplished outside shooter. But the Cardinals’ defense was the most efficient in the country last season and it should be almost as good if not better this season. Anything less than a return trip to the Final Four will probably be viewed as a disappointment, especially if that team in Lexington makes it back instead.

2011-12 Record: 30-10, 10-8

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Final Four, lost to Kentucky 69-61.

Rick Pitino Has Louisville Poised To Make A Repeat Run To The Final Four

Schedule: Just a quick glance at the Cardinals’ non-conference slate should make it plainly obvious that Louisville will have little trouble with the opposition in the early part of the season. A December trip to Memphis and the home bout with Kentucky right before the New Year represent what should be the only two challenging non-conference opponents Louisville will face. As for the conference schedule, aside from a four-game stretch in the middle of January where a home date with Syracuse is sandwiched between road games at Connecticut and Villanova and then Georgetown, the rest of the conference slate should be manageable for a team as experienced, deep, and physical as the Cardinals.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by mlemaire on August 1st, 2012

While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Louisville.

1. The rotating door was busy this summer, and some folks don’t like it.

Is Pitino Running Lesser Players Out Of Town To Make Room For New Ones?

Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is no stranger to controversy and criticism, and this summer was no different as a multitude of injury-laden reserves left the program raising concerns about Pitino’s roster management strategy and questions about whether he is cutting ties with less important players to make room for new ones. Before the end of last season news broke that reserve forward Jared Swopshire would transfer so he could play right away in his final collegiate season. Then, just two days after highly touted recruit Montrezl Harrell signed with the Cardinals and people began to wonder where the extra scholarship would come from, backup and injury-prone big man Stephan Van Treese announced he was leaving also only to reverse course later that month. That reversal came just a week after another injury-prone reserve, Rakeem Buckles, announced he would transfer to Florida International, once again freeing up a scholarship that Van Treese happily took back.  There is absolutely no evidence that Pitino forced any of these players out and it’s entirely possible these players saw the writing on the wall and transferred to a place where they could find more playing time. But perception is also a big deal, and if recruits perceive that Pitino is jettisoning lesser talents to make room for younger players, it will certainly make them think twice before they sign on with Louisville.

2. Just how good can Louisville’s frontcourt become?

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The Ultimate Breakdown: Kentucky vs. Louisville

Posted by zhayes9 on March 27th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

The hysteria leading up to Saturday’s Louisville-Kentucky national semifinal will be unprecedented.

The mutual loathing between legends John Calipari and Rick Pitino is only matched by the contempt between the two fan bases. Such a passionate and deep-seeded rivalry playing out on the grandest of stages is tantalizing to even the most casual observer. But once the smoke clears and the ball is tipped, those juicy storylines all become secondary, fading into the background with the hype and frenzy. Suddenly all that’s relevant is Peyton Siva’s speed, Kyle Kuric’s smooth jumper, Anthony Davis’ shot-blocking and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist in the open floor.

For the lowdown on what to expect from the biggest basketball game in the history of the commonwealth, here’s a full-fledged Dr. Jack-style breakdown covering every aspect of Saturday’s opener:

Michael Kidd-Gilchrist celebrating Kentucky's regional final win

Backcourt- It’s no accident that Peyton Siva’s remarkable late-season turnaround has coincided with Louisville’s spurt from a seventh place finish in the Big East to the Final Four in New Orleans. Russ Smith is an irrepressible, confident ball stopper just as prone to a mindless turnover as he to is scoring 10 points in the blink of an eye. Siva and Smith provide the engine to Louisville’s attack, while athletic two-guard Chris Smith and long-range marksman Kyle Kuric are Pitino’s steady cogs. Kentucky’s Achilles heel was long considered freshman point Marquis Teague, but he’s significantly cut down on his turnovers and can pack an unexpected scoring punch. Doron Lamb is a superior gunner to Kuric, shooting a fantastic 47% over his career from three. Look for Calipari to plug versatile swingman Michael Kidd-Gilchrist on Siva to stifle the Cardinals’ offense. Kidd-Gilchrist is a standout defender and the best collegiate player in transition since Derrick Rose. Edge: Kentucky.

Frontcourt- The progression of Louisville center Gorgui Dieng from a raw, bungling, and clumsy big man to a premier post defender and competent scoring threat in just two seasons has been nothing short of incredible. The popular crutch that freshmen are sophomores by the time March rolls around is often untrue, but it applies in the case of Chane Behanan, a gifted offensive rebounder who will be asked to contain Terrence Jones. When Jones is engaged, active and filling up the stat sheet, Kentucky is unstoppable. Anthony Davis has had an OK year: number one high school recruit, starting center for top-ranked Kentucky, national freshman of the year, likely national player of the year, and future top overall pick in the NBA Draft. Only North Carolina can come close to matching Kentucky’s weaponry down low. Edge: Kentucky.

Bench- Neither team extends very deep into their bench, yet both boast a de facto starter in Russ Smith and Darius Miller. At just 38% from two and 31% from three, Smith isn’t exactly the pillar of efficiency, but for a team that didn’t finish in the top 100 in offensive efficiency and scored less than 60 points in five of their final six conference games, Pitino will gladly accept the good with the bad (per Luke Winn, Pitino likes to say Smith “makes coffee nervous”). Any coach in America would love to have Darius Miller on their team, a steady wing defender equally adept at attacking off the dribble or firing from deep. Louisville steady defender Jared Swopshire and Kentucky pick-and-pop threat Kyle Wiltjer also see limited time off the pine. Slight Edge: Louisville.

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Red Hot Louisville Rides Its Winning Momentum

Posted by rtmsf on February 21st, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following Louisville’s 90- 82 road OT win over DePaul on Saturday.

Rise of the Redbirds

They came by the busload, making the five-hour trek up through Indianapolis and then northwest to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont. Saturday may as well have been “Occupy Allstate Arena” because the red-clad Louisville fans undoubtedly outnumbered DePaul supporters. They roared when Russ Smith was swiping steals and finishing tough drives, when Peyton Siva was driving deep into the lane and finding Chris Smith, when Kyle Kuric slipped to the left corner and buried trey after trey. Ah yes, this was Louisville basketball. After starting the season like a house afire (12-0), Louisville dropped five of its next seven games, the low point being an ugly 31-point drubbing at the hands of Providence. With Saturday’s 90-82 overtime win at DePaul, however, the Cardinals have now won seven of their last eight, the only loss coming at home by a single point to #2 Syracuse. Even with Chane Behanan struggling with the flu and Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva in foul trouble on Saturday, Louisville (21-6, 9-5 Big East) still managed to erase a 10-point halftime deficit to earn the win. They have the talent to play with anyone in the country, but there are a few keys that can help the Cards continue their roll and enter the postseason with momentum.

Rick Pitino and Louisville Have Given Redbird Nation A Lot To Cheer About Lately. (Getty)

  • Louisville needs Peyton Siva to stay out of early foul trouble. He loves being active at the top of their trademark 2-3 zone, but when he accumulates silly reach fouls early, he gets relegated to the bench. That disrupts Louisville’s offensive rhythm and flow because Smith doesn’t play as quickly as Siva. Russ Smith is a talented scorer off the bench, but he’s more of a two-guard than a point guard. He has a habit of over-dribbling at times and doesn’t distribute the ball nearly as well as Siva.
  • Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith must continue to stay hot from beyond the arc. Louisville’s offense becomes a little one-dimensional when Kuric’s distance shooting is taken away. Against DePaul, Kuric buried five three-pointers on his way to a season-high 25 points. If Kuric and/or Smith are hitting treys, that loosens up the defense for Siva and Smith to penetrate and get to the basket.
  • The sooner that freshman stud Wayne Blackshear can get comfortable and integrated into the team, the better. He hit a few shots early against DePaul, but then looked a little lost and didn’t play much in the latter stages of the second half. It’s hard to say how much Blackshear will be able to give Louisville in his return from a torn ACL. But there’s a reason he was expected to contribute immediately, and his return only gives Louisville more size and weapons on offense.
  • Gorgui Dieng must be a threat on defense and offense. He will always be a force on the boards and the defensive end (leads the Big East with 3.3 blocks per game). But as Rick Pitino pointed out after the game, Dieng needs to be willing and able to hit the mid-range jumper, especially when a team goes zone against Louisville. His ability to do that only increases the potency of Louisville’s attacks.
  • Difficult games against Pittsburgh and at Syracuse still await Louisville before postseason play begins. If they can avoid foul trouble and maximize their offensive efficiency, the Cardinals should enter the Big East Tournament flying high.

A Quick Look Back

Louisville made it a point to acknowledge the fans after the thrilling victory over DePaul:

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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 20th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Bubble Teams Hanging On: Four Big East squads reside in the purgatory known as Bubbleville, but all are still hanging on to their projected NCAA bids. Cincinnati, Seton Hall, West Virginia, and Connecticut are all projected to be in the NCAA Tournament field as of this writing according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi, but it’s the Pirates who are really skating on thin ice. The Hall is one of the “last four in” and has a huge opportunity this week against Georgetown. Cincinnati has a similar opportunity against Louisville while West Virginia has two excellent chances to seal the deal this week. As for Connecticut, the Huskies appear to be imploding. How UConn responds against Villanova on Monday night and Syracuse this coming Saturday will determine its fate.
  • South Florida Guaranteed a Winning Record: With its win at Pittsburgh on Sunday night, South Florida won its tenth Big East game for the first time ever and is now guaranteed at least a 10-8 Big East finish. However, the Bulls have their sights set higher. Thanks in part to a backloaded schedule, USF’s best win to this point is over bubble team Seton Hall, but upcoming games against Cincinnati and West Virginia could push the Bulls towards the field if they can win. South Florida needs to finish at least 12-6 in order to have a chance at a bid. Even with that, the Bulls will likely need to do a lot of work in New York City. A 12-6 league record is usually automatic, but not when your best non-conference win is Cleveland State. How much does Stan Heath want the close losses to Southern Miss (two points) and Connecticut (three points) back now?

Darius Johnson-Odom And The Golden Eagles Embarrassed The Huskies On Saturday.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1) – I can hardly remember a year with zero change at the top of the league rankings. Syracuse is simply a cut above every other team in this league although Marquette and Georgetown have closed the gap a little bit over the last few weeks. Syracuse flirted with losses twice last week, but won gutty road games at Louisville and Rutgers. The Orange held Louisville without a point over the final 3:30 and won by a point despite shooting 1-15 from deep and Scoop Jardine going 0-8. Syracuse shot 34% for the game, but limited Louisville to 35%. Against Rutgers, Syracuse shot 50% and Jardine played much better (17 points, 7 assists). C.J. Fair had a stellar game, scoring 21 points and grabbing eight rebounds off the bench. Kris Joseph added 14 for the victors as they moved their overall record to 27-1. Rebounding remains a concern (31-26 Rutgers on the glass), but the Orange continue to roll along. Syracuse will battle Kentucky for the top overall seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. This week: 2/22 vs. South Florida, 2/25 @ Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Checking In On… the Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 6th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Fab Melo Returns: After missing three games due to an academic issue, Fab Melo returned to the Syracuse lineup Saturday afternoon in New York. Melo scored a career-high 14 points in 21 minutes but, more importantly, changed the dynamic of Syracuse on both ends of the floor. Melo’s return adds some rebounding, opens up the middle for others to drive and score/dish and gives the Orange a defensive anchor in the middle of their zone. Melo doesn’t block every shot, but he alters a very high number. With the Brazilian big man roaming the paint, Syracuse is a legitimate national championship contender, something that was plainly evident on Saturday. Despite a backloaded schedule coming into view over the next few weeks, I’d be surprised if Syracuse loses another regular season game.
  • Pittsburgh Is Back: Oh Jamie Dixon, why did we doubt you? We should have known better. After starting the conference season 0-7, Pittsburgh has won four straight games and is actually in a position to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. The Panthers’ resurgence has been keyed by the return of Tray Woodall and better play defensively. Woodall scored a career-high 29 points against Villanova on Sunday and the Panthers held the Wildcats to 36% shooting. That’s the Pittsburgh defense we’ve grown accustomed to over the years and if it keeps up, Pittsburgh will go dancing. Pitt faces a crucial week. It must take at least one (preferably both) road game of the two at South Florida and Seton Hall between now and Sunday. If the Panthers can get both, they’ll be 6-7 with three of their final five games at home. I actually feel safe saying something that would have been considered outrageous just two weeks ago: I believe Pittsburgh will be in the NCAA Tournament.

Fab Melo's Importance To The Orange Was On Full Display Last Week

  • Order Being Restored: Pittsburgh has won four straight. Seton Hall has lost six straight. South Florida lost by 30 at Georgetown on Saturday. Louisville has turned it around. All of that tells you something, doesn’t it? The Big East is shuffling back into place as we head into the home stretch of the season. While the Pirates and Bulls were nice early-season surprises and feel-good stories, reality has set in. Seton Hall was ranked in the top 25 as recently as January 9, but hasn’t won a game since a victory over DePaul the following day. The Pirates are anemic offensively and can hardly shoot 30% against any opponent. I wrote a piece last week about what has gone wrong at the Hall, but it shows no signs of stopping this tailspin anytime soon. South Florida remains at 6-4, but four of its final seven games are on the road as the schedule stiffens. The Bulls will play Pittsburgh twice, Syracuse, Cincinnati, Louisville and West Virginia down the stretch. Expect their 6-4 record to turn into something like 8-10 rather quickly. Even if that happens, it has still been a successful season for Stan Heath and his team. Nobody expected them to win even six or seven league games.

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (23-1, 10-1) – What a difference one player makes. Syracuse played only once last week, but Fab Melo’s return sparked the Orange to dunk-filled 95-70 win over hapless St. John’s at Madison Square Garden. The win, Jim Boeheim’s 879th, pulled him into a tie with legendary North Carolina coach Dean Smith for third place on the all-time wins list. Boeheim has this team humming right along and it shows no signs of stopping anytime soon. Syracuse scored 53 bench points against the Red Storm, once again showing off its incredible depth and talent. Michael Carter-Williams electrified the Garden crowd with this dunk while C.J. Fair, Dion Waiters and Kris Joseph also played very well for the Orange. Syracuse shot 56% for the game. The schedule gets tougher in February but Syracuse should be favored in every game from here on out. This week: 2/8 vs. #15 Georgetown, 2/11 vs. Connecticut. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 01.25.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 25th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are no Top 25 matchups or truly ‘great’ games on tonight’s schedule, but it is another packed Wednesday of important conference battles so there will be plenty of action worth monitoring.

Villanova at Louisville – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

Peyton Siva Looks to Get Louisville Back on Track Tonight Against Another Top Point Guard (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • In what would have been billed as a big-time matchup at the beginning of the season, this game now features two unranked teams (Louisville is still #25 in one poll) with a combined 6-9 record in the Big East. But this will still be a fun game to watch, and the away team is playing its best basketball of the season. Nova has won two straight games and lost by only four points at Cincinnati in the game before, as Maalik Wayns has finally taken his game to the next level. His averages over the past three games are an insane 30.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. He’s also gone 30-33 from the free throw line in that stretch. He’s second in the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG) and leads the Big East in free throws made. Nova needs other players to be strong with the ball against Louisville’s high-pressure defense, as the Wildcats average a terrible 17 turnovers in conference games, worst in the Big East. If Jay Wright’s team can take care of the ball and get to the rim instead of settling for outside shots, they have a chance in this game. Jayvaughn Pinkston will play a key role as an emerging threat (18 points, 11.5 rebounds in his last two) at the forward position that can attack the rim.
  • If Louisville wants to get back into consideration as a ranked team, they must win this game at home. The Cardinals continue to deal with injuries but have all of their key cogs healthy in this one, as leading-scorer Kyle Kuric (13.4 PPG) returned from an ankle injury to score 21 points against Pittsburgh in their last game. Louisville has the advantage on the wings with Kuric, Russ Smith (12.5 PPG), and Chris Smith (10.1 PPG) and they will try to swarm Villanova defensively, who only has one true ballhandler in its lineup. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have tough matchups with Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, respectively, that are worth watching to see who has the edge on the perimeter and in the paint. Overall, Louisville’s depth and defensive pressure should prove too much for the Wildcats.
  • Louisville is a nine-point favorite at home in the KFC Yum! Center and cannot lose this game if it wants to be taken seriously in the Big East. The 10-10 Wildcats come in with some confidence and will look to play the role of spoiler as Wayns tries to prove he’s the best point guard in the conference. Expect the Cardinals to wear out Villlanova in the second half and come out with the win.

#8 Duke at Maryland- 9:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

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Checking In On… The Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on January 16th, 2012

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East conference. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take

 

The Week That Was

  • Syracuse A Cut Above: With wins over Villanova and Providence this week, Syracuse has moved its record to 19-0 (6-0), equaling the best start in school history (1999-2000). On Monday night, the Orange will try to move to 20-0 for the first time ever when they host Pittsburgh, a team they have lost to five straight times. With 12 games remaining, people are starting to wonder if Syracuse can run the table. It would be a surprise if Jim Boeheim’s team lost at home to anyone, despite visits by Georgetown and Connecticut to the Dome in February. On the road, possible tough trips to Cincinnati, Connecticut, and Louisville appear to be the only obstacles standing in the way of an undefeated season. Syracuse has a 13.7% chance of going 31-0, according to the Pomeroy ratings, but I would put it higher. I think the Orange have a 40% chance to go all the way and those odds are getting better each and every day.
  • Connecticut Back On Track: After consecutive losses to Seton Hall and Rutgers almost two weeks ago, some had wondered if this Connecticut team would ever live up to its preseason billing as a top-five team. While I doubt that is true, the Huskies responded in a big way this past week by defeating West Virginia and Notre Dame. UConn used a 17-3 second half run, sparked by a Jim Calhoun technical, to overcome a ten-point deficit against the Mountaineers before going on the road and snapping Notre Dame’s 29-game home court winning streak. Andre Drummond had a terrific week, but the bigger story might be Alex Oriakhi showing signs of improvement. The junior forward had been in a season-long slump but managed to score 20 points this week, including a 12/7 performance in the win against the Fighting Irish.  However, there was some bad news mixed in for UConn last week. Ryan Boatright was suspended by the NCAA on Friday night for the second time over eligibility concerns.
  • Pittsburgh and Louisville Embarrassed: Raise your hand if you predicted these scores at the beginning of the year: Providence 90, Louisville 59. Rutgers 62, Pittsburgh 39 (at Pitt). Two of the power programs in the conference were waxed by two perennial bottom-feeders, all part of what has been an unpredictable season in the Big East. Louisville has lost four of six while Pitt is in more dire straits having lost six consecutive games. That could easily be seven in a row after the Panthers return from Syracuse tomorrow night. The good news for both teams? They bounced back and played fairly well in games on Saturday with the Cardinals disposing of DePaul and the Panthers nearly stealing an impressive road win at Marquette. Pitt lost the game, but Jamie Dixon had to have picked up some encouraging vibes from that performance. Pittsburgh and Louisville will get together this Saturday in the Steel City.

 

Ask The Never-Satisfied Jim Boeheim What He Thinks Of His Team's Chances At An Undefeated Season, And This Will Likely Be His Reaction. (Frank Ordoñez / The Post-Standard)

Power Rankings

  1. Syracuse (19-0, 6-0) – This team just keeps on chugging along and nobody has really threatened the Orange in a big way this season. There have been close calls here and there (Stanford, Florida, and Marquette), but Syracuse is a cut above every other team in this conference. As I mentioned above, I believe there is a good chance this team runs the table in conference play. Dion Waiters scored 20 points at Villanova, part of 47 bench points for the Orange, compared to 32 for the starters. Syracuse held the Wildcats to 33% shooting on their home floor at the Wells Fargo Center. Against Providence, it was all Orange from the start. Syracuse had 12 steals and forced 22 Friar turnovers. Scoop Jardine played like a quality point guard, scoring ten points but dishing out nine assists. The Orange blocked ten Providence shots and shot 73% in the second stanza. Syracuse continues to rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency, but the Achilles heel for this team seems to be rebounding specifically on the defensive end. The Orange rank #307 in defensive rebounding percentage, but I don’t anticipate that being a major problem until tournament time. This week: 1/16 vs. Pittsburgh, 1/21 @ Notre Dame. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 12.28.11

Posted by EJacoby on December 28th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See the bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Tonight’s action offers a variety of 4-star matchups, including some exciting conference openers and one of the last top-25 non-conference showdowns. Carve out some time tonight to catch these great games.

Perry Jones and Undefeated Baylor Face Their Final Non-Conference Test Tonight Against Mississippi State (AP/T. Gutierrez)

#12 Georgetown at #10 Louisville – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)

  • One of the biggest surprises in the country thus far, Georgetown is now looking to prove it can hang with the top teams in the Big East. Given how the Hoyas have played recently, they should have a great chance to add another impressive win to their resume tonight in the KFC Yum! Center. Georgetown has already won a true road game over then-top-15 Alabama, and tonight it heads west looking to rely on a veteran big three that have been consistent all year. Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark are getting it done from the perimeter, each averaging about 15 points per game and hitting exactly two three-pointers per game to lead the team from deep. Henry Sims, the most unlikely assist man in the nation, has executed his point forward role to perfection in Coach Thompson III’s Princeton-style offense. Sims leads the team with 3.7 assists and 1.6 blocks per game while continuing his low-post impact to the tune of 12.5 points and 5.5 boards per contest. If Georgetown can continue its current pace of 1.16 points per possession, which is ninth best in the country, then they will have a shot to pull off the road win tonight.
  • Before taking on Kentucky later this week in a massive in-state powerhouse showdown, Louisville has this fierce test to begin Big East play. Rick Pitino’s team has been well-prepared all season leading to an undefeated record, but they have been vulnerable at home and have nearly been upset several times at the Yum! Center. The Cardinals, though, continue to collect wins thanks to a spectacular defensive effort. Louisville’s defensive efficiency of 83.0 is the fifth-best number in the nation, and they are also ranked top-10 defensively in field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, points per possession, and rebounding. Coach Pitino will run out a nine- or ten-man rotation and look to speed up the Hoyas’ efficient offense by implementing high pressure and different defensive looks throughout the night. How guards Kyle Kuric, Russ Smith, Chris Smith, and Peyton Siva shoot from behind the arc will be the key to the Cardinals’ offense.
  • This should be a tremendous game, as two red-hot conference foes do battle with their conflicting styles of play. Louisville is a five-point favorite at home, and their depth across the board will give them an advantage tonight. But the Hoyas are able to counteract any opponent’s strengths when their offense is clicking. Keep an eye on who can establish their style of play early in the game.
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Big East/SEC Challenge Face-Off: Other Friday Games

Posted by Brian Joyce on December 2nd, 2011

To preview the match-ups in the Big East/SEC Challenge, the RTC Big East & SEC Microsites are facing off in conversational analysis. Brian Joyce and Michael Lemaire take on Auburn vs. Seton Hall and Louisville vs. Vanderbilt. 

Vanderbilt v. Louisville

Vanderbilt and Louisville will feature two top 25 teams facing off in the KFC Yum! Center.

Mike: The matchup has all the makings of a classic offense v. defense battle. Even without senior center Festus Ezeli, the Commodores are a prolific scoring team (#23 in adjusted offense) and swingmen John Jenkins (20.2 PPG) and Jeffery Taylor (15.4 PPG) can fill it up in a hurry. Of course they haven’t played a team as talented as Louisville. Even with the injuries to Wayne BlackshearMike MarraStephan Van Treese, and Rakeem Buckles, the Cardinals are still undefeated and the main reason why is they play suffocating defense (#3 in adjusted defense). However, with apologies to Butler, Louisville has played a relatively easy opening slate, and their depth will be tested against Vanderbilt’s talented lineup. Offensively the Cardinals don’t have a go-to scorer per se, but they do have seven players who average at least seven points per game, led by sweet-shooting forward Kyle Kuric (12.5 PPG). They also have a rugged, albeit thin, frontcourt which is led by talented freshman Chase Behanan (9.8 PPG, 8.7 RPG) and center Gorgui Dieng (8.3 PPG, 8.2 RPG) who has been one of the best shotblockers in the country thus far and is a big reason why Louisville is so successful on defense. But as balanced as Rick Pitino’s club is, star guard Peyton Siva is still what makes the team go, and he hasn’t quite found his comfort zone yet, missing two games with an ankle injury. Siva had 11 points, five assists and five steals in the team’s last game, a win over Long Beach State, but he also turned the ball over six times. No matter how good Louisville’s defense might be, Siva and fellow guard Chris Smith cannot be careless with the ball, because Vanderbilt is too efficient on offense to be gifted with so many extra possessions. What do you think, Brian?

Will Rick Pitino employ his full court press against Vanderbilt's struggling guards

Brian: I agree that this should be a great one. I think Vanderbilt will really be tested in this matchup. The Commodores haven’t taken good care of the basketball, and Louisville is a team that uses a full court press and creates lots of turnovers. Brad Tinsley has struggled when pressured, and it will be interesting to see how he responds to the Cardinals’ defense. You pointed out Vandy’s efficient offense, but you were nice by not mentioning its struggling defense. The ‘Dores have struggled to cut off opponent’s three-point shot allowing three teams to shoot at least 40 percent from outside the arc so far this year. Louisville loves to shoot the three, so it could be a long night for coach Kevin Stallings if his team lets the Cardinals get hot. It will be interesting to see how Stallings handles the defensive assignment for Siva. Siva is a player who could really hurt Vanderbilt with his penetration. He can score, as you point out, and he can also find open teammates. And one of the teammates he may find in this one is Dieng. Dieng is still developing his offensive skills, but his 6’11″ frame could be difficult for Vanderbilt’s post players to defend. 6’9″ Steve Tchiengang and 6’8″ Lance Goulbourne will be down low for Vandy, but they will have to box out better than they did against Xavier when the Musketeers grabbed 25 offensive rebounds.

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Set Your TiVo: 11.28.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on November 28th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

The quality of games kicks into high gear this week with a pair of good ones to start it off.

Long Beach State at #9 Louisville – 7 PM EST on ESPNU (***)

  • Louisville’s depth has taken a big hit recently with Wayne Blackshear, Mike Marra, and Peyton Siva all dealing with injuries. Siva returned from a sprained ankle Friday against Ohio in a closer than expected Cardinals win but he remains in a shooting slump. He is just 5-24 (20.8%) in three games this season but is managing to dish out six assists per contest. The Cardinals are winning games defensively as they are ranked second in the nation in defensive efficiency while only putting up 67 PPG on the other end of the floor. A Long Beach State team that plays quick without much defense could be the recipe Louisville needs to gain more confidence offensively. However, Louisville must avoid turnovers against the 49ers, a team that loves to get out in transition. The Cardinals are averaging 15 turnovers per game with Siva at a shaky 3.7 per game.

    Louisville Will Have Its Hands Full With Long Beach State

  • Long Beach State has lost twice on the road since winning at Pittsburgh, falling to San Diego State and Montana. The 49ers defense has not been up to par and that is hurting them significantly. They love to play at a fast pace but they are very average defensively as well as on the boards. Casper Ware going up against Siva should be a terrific match-up and he will need to carry the team all night as he did against Pittsburgh on November 16. Long Beach State is not going to get many opportunities to score against the strong Louisville defense so limiting turnovers, especially on the road, has to be its top priority. They average 15 a game but simply cannot afford that many in this game. To win, Long Beach State must play its best defensive game to date and get to the free throw line where they will have a significant edge over Louisville. Depth has to be a concern for Dan Monson, whose team only goes seven deep.
  • Larry Anderson and James Ennis have a height advantage at the two and three positions against Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric, but they must stay in front of their men all game. Ennis is a good on-ball defender averaging 2.3 steals per game, but the Louisville guards may be able to exploit Long Beach State from the three-point arc. In the paint, T.J. Robinson is a terrific rebounder but he will be going up against the 6’10” Gorgui Dieng (3.4 blocks per game) and a Louisville team that rebounds well as a unit. To earn more possessions for his team, Robinson likely has to have a big game on the glass as well as offensively. That will be extremely difficult against a Cardinals front line that allows only 33.5% shooting inside the arc. Long Beach State does have a chance to win the game but there is one major difference between Pittsburgh and Louisville. It is defense and that is why we feel the Cardinals have the ultimate edge in this game tonight.
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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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