AAC M5: 03.28.14 Edition

Posted by Ross Schulz on March 28th, 2014

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  1. When the next AAC Morning 5 is published, only four teams will remain to vie for a national championship. Will an AAC school be one of them? Both AAC squads still remaining, Louisville and Connecticut, will hit the floor in their respective regional semifinals tonight. While Louisville will face a familiar foe in Kentucky, Connecticut will experience some familiarity of its own by playing in Madison Square Garden. It will be a nostalgic night for the Connecticut faithful, especially for former coach Jim Calhoun. Calhoun built Connecticut into a basketball power after taking over the program in 1986 and had great success in the Garden.
  2. Last year on the way to a national championship, Louisville guard Russ Smith could lean on the play of big man Gorgui Dieng and backcourt mate Peyton Siva. Those two have since moved on to the NBA, but that doesn’t mean Smith isn’t getting help from them. Smith said he talks almost daily with the two, mainly asking for advice about leadership. “It’s been really tough not to have them on the court with me,” he said. “They helped me so much last year.” Siva took Smith under his wing from the moment he stepped on campus. Siva’s advice to Smith: Don’t stress what other people are saying and just play your game. Dieng said Smith needed to stand up if something was going bad and now he understands and does so.
  3. Louisville assistant coach Kevin Keatts will be the next head coach at UNC-Willmington, unless of course, he didn’t actually graduate from college. It marks the fourth assistant-to-head coach move in four years from Louisville. He is known as one of the best recruiters in the game and played a large role in signing Montrezl Harrell, Luke Hancock, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, all players that will be a major part of the Cardinals’ Sweet 16 game tonight with Kentucky. Keatts was also instrumental in the landing of the Louisville 2014 recruiting class headlined by guard Quentin Snider.
  4. Sean Vinsel of cardsandcatsstats.com welcomes the Sweet Sixteen match-up between Kentucky and Louisville. The Indiana grad’s website breaks down both teams statistically using measures not usually seen in the college game such as NBA’s plus/minus system. Louisville’s most productive line-up according to Vinsel is Chris Jones, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese. Kentucky’s is the Harrison twins, James Young, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. The X-factors, he said, will be Luke Hancock and Cauley-Stein.
  5. Larry Brown said SMU owes everything to its fans. The Mustangs faithful made NIT home games feel like regular season finales with a conference championship on the line. SMU won 12 out of 13 games at Moody Coliseum this season, including the third round NIT victory over California, securing a spot at Madison Square Garden. “I think it plays a big part,” Senior Shawn Williams said of the crowd. “Those five-or-six-point runs turn into 10-or-12-point runs with the crowd.” The Mustangs were hoping for an NCAA Tournament berth, but a chance to play three more games at home wasn’t a bad consolation prize.
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AAC M5: 01.14.14 Edition

Posted by mlemaire on January 14th, 2014

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  1. I understand the value of coaches’ speeches and motivational tactics, but don’t put too much stock into rhetoric when it comes to impacting the team’s play on the floor. That said, asking his players to stop trying to live up to last year’s team seems like the right message for Rick Pitino to be sending right now. Even we here at the AAC microsite started the season expecting Louisville to look very similar to last year’s team, but it didn’t take long to realize how much the Cardinals would miss Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. The national championship picture is pretty wide open and anyone who says they are confident about their chances is probably saying it through gritted teeth. Pitino is well aware of this, and while the Cardinals have probably dropped out of the conversation altogether with their recent play, Pitino knows there is still major talent on his roster and that in March, anything can happen. If the message gets through to guys like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear and they start to consistently pick up their play, the Cards still have more than a puncher’s chance at repeating.
  2. Raise your hand if you saw UConn center Amida Brimah‘s performance against Central Florida coming? After scoring 37 total points in the first 15 games of his career and taking a grand total of three shots in his previous four games, the freshman exploded for 20 points on 8-of-10 shooting while chipping in eight rebounds and five blocks as the Huskies won their first conference game of the season. It might be a little early to say Brimah is “beginning to blossom” considering the small sample size and quality of the opponent, but if Brimah can even contribute a fraction of that performance on a nightly basis, head coach Kevin Ollie would probably be ecstatic. Much has already been made about UConn’s underwhelming frontcourt and Brimah probably has the most upside of anyone in that rotation, but he just needs to learn to stay out of foul trouble and play more consistently. Brimah has been playing basketball for fewer than five years now and his talents are obvious to everybody. He is going to be a really good player down the road; it would just be nice for Ollie and the team if he could start to fulfill that potential a little ahead of schedule.
  3. It’s hardly a secret anymore that Ge’Lawn Guyn‘s grasp on the starting point guard role for Cincinnati is in name only, and that freshman Troy Caupain is the better and more trusted player right now. That’s not a knock on Guyn, who is a nice veteran presence to have in the rotation, but it’s more an indication of Caupain’s ability and upside. It should be required to mention that Caupain celebrated his 18th birthday fewer than two months ago and he is playing with poise, shooting the ball extremely well, and showing flashes of vast defensive potential. Many pundits felt that the Bearcats would only be as good as whomever took over for Cashmere Wright this season, and if you have been watching, Caupain is getting better every game and the Bearcats have been improving along with him. Caupain has an NBA frame but is still very obviously growing into his body, so the tough grind of a full season should be somewhat concerning to head coach Mick Cronin. He needs the freshman at his best if Cronin wants to take the Bearcats back to the Sweet Sixteen.
  4. Is it too early to start drumming up support for South Florida guard Anthony Collins to get a medical redshirt and retain two years of eligibility? Isn’t there someone who can issue a preemptive strike about the hypocrisy of the NCAA so that Collins can get his year back hassle-free? Injuries have temporarily derailed Collins’ promising career, and although he has played in eight games for the Bulls this season, lingering issues with his knee never allowed him to get back to 100 percent and now he is sidelined indefinitely again. I am sure the NCAA will take a look at the fact that Collins played in eight games after getting cleared by the team, but since the decisions on transfer waivers and redshirts have been so consistently arbitrary, there is no good reason for the NCAA to deny Collins an extra year. It’s not his fault that he had an inflamed bursa sac over the summer and has been forced to deal with continued tendinitis in the same knee. Nobody is trying to take advantage of anyone in this situation and the right thing to is just give him the extra year. All aboard the bandwagon!
  5. Houston never looked that good when they were at full strength, so it is incredibly impressive what they have been able to do in their first three conference games without the services of Danuel House or L.J. Rose – a pair of starters and two of the team’s best players. The team is 2-1 in conference play with a one-point loss to unbeaten Cincinnati as its lone blemish and a match-up with Louisville looming on Thursday. There may be good news on the way, though, as both Rose and House are considered “questionable” to return on Thursday and coach James Dickey said he is “more optimistic” that the duo will play. The Cougars travel to the YUM! Center this week, so even with House and Rose at full strength and no rust it will be an uphill battle against the Cardinals; but they may benefit from being thrown to the fire and their return has much greater long-term implications for the team than just Thursday’s game.
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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

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  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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Louisville Is Not (Yet) Who We Thought They Were

Posted by Will Tucker on November 26th, 2013

One year to the day after eventual national champion Louisville fell to a different ACC team in a different non-conference tournament, the program’s longest winning streak ended with a 93-84 whimper against North Carolina on Sunday. Aside from the date, the two losses couldn’t have been more different. Last year’s team admirably traded punches with an Elite Eight-caliber Duke squad playing at full strength; this season’s squad was a Russ Smith 36-point performance away from getting run out of the gym by what appeared to be a borderline Top 25 team playing without its best player.

(Michael Dwyer / AP)

Louisville’s porous transition defense gave up a number of demoralizing buckets (Michael Dwyer / AP)

Simply put, the Cardinals are not yet what we expected them to be. As much as they dazzled on both ends of the floor in five dominant wins, new starters Chris Jones and Montrezl Harrell were exposed as behind schedule defensively by North Carolina’s skill and athleticism. Jones scores baskets in ways that Peyton Siva rarely attempted in college, but that’s not what Rick Pitino needs out of his point guard this year. Against the Tar Heels’ efficient transition offense, Jones struggled to get back into position several times – sometimes seeming a little too eager to gamble on a steal or an offensive rebound – resulting in some of the uncontested dunks and layups that helped UNC shoot a strong 55 percent from inside the arc.

Nor did his on-ball defense live up to prior performances: Pitino’s new point guard forced only one steal, while the Louisville press generated a season-low 18 percent turnover rate, a full 10 percent below its average. In fairness to Jones, Russ Smith was as much to blame for this issue, recording only a single steal himself. Smith’s explosive offense has distracted from the fact that his steal percentage has dipped noticeably this season, although that probably speaks to the growing pains the Cardinals’ new lineup is experiencing more than a sudden deficiency on Smith’s part.

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AAC M5: 11.25.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 25th, 2013

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  1. In sad news, particularly so close to the holidays, the family home of Cincinnati forward Jeremiah Davis III was severely damaged by a fire last week. No one was injured. “It’s Thanksgiving you know and I’m just thankful for my family,” Davis III told the News Record. “They’re what’s most important. Family is the biggest thing.” Davis said his teammates’ support has been invaluable. “They gave me their condolences and have been trying to make me laugh to just get my mind off of that.” Head coach Mick Cronin said the university is trying to figure out how to help his family without running afoul of NCAA rules. “We’re working on it but it’s a process,” Cronin said. “Nothing ever goes quickly with the NCAA.”
  2. Louisville rolled through its first three games at home in easy fashion, looking every bit a consensus top three team in America. Then came a weekend trip to Connecticut’s Mohegan Sun, where we would imagine Rick Pitino will not be booking another trip soon. The Cardinals slopped their way through a Saturday win over Fairfield — “This was a bad performance by us… But we’ll come back. I don’t expect us to have two bad games in a row.” — and then proved their coach wrong by getting manhandled by North Carolina on Sunday. Pitino blamed the loss on the team’s defense: “It’s quite evident tonight that this is not the same team defensively at the three, four and five spot.” Unfortunately, it’s the exact same players at the three spot and the four spot as a year ago, which suggests that the absence of NBA first-round pick Gorgui Dieng has weakened the team defensively as whole.
  3. Connecticut missed out on the last Big East Tournament as we’ve known it due to academic troubles last season, and the AAC won’t be playing its tournament in the Big Apple this year. And yet senior guard Shabazz Napier still managed to have his Kemba Walker moment in the world’s most famous arena, dropping 47 points over two nights at MSG to lead the Huskies to a 2KSports Classic title. “That’s my big brother. I try to emulate everything that he does in a sense, but also put my type of talent, my type of skills on it,” Napier said of Walker, the MVP of the 2011 Big East and NCAA Tournaments. “I’m not trying to be him — that’s hard shoes to fill. I’m just trying to be Shabazz.” Indiana’s Tom Crean, whose Hoosiers lost to UConn in the final, had a different comparison in mind. “I imagine it would be in the NFL like trying to deal with a great running back — like Barry Sanders or Adrian Peterson now, something like that.”
  4. Playing a smaller but still crucial role in UConn’s MSG win was senior Tyler Olander, a former starter adjusting to a bench role this year. “You just have to be ready when your number is called,” he said, and he was when foul trouble snared Phil Nolan and Amida Brimah. In 24 minutes of action, he notched only four points and four rebounds, but he also got two steals, including one after Napier’s go-ahead basket than ended up being the game-winner. Olander had an eventful summer in a bad way, getting arrested twice and earning a spot in coach Kevin Ollie’s doghouse. Since then, he has been working hard to rebuild his reputation. “I’m so proud of Tyler and how he’s handled himself off the court,” Ollie said Friday night, “and that’s giving him the opportunity to do the different things he’s doing on the court.”
  5. It’s still early, but the AAC continues to struggle to acquire good wins this season. As of Sunday night, the conference ranked ninth in RPI, with no wins over a team currently in the top 50 (although Indiana is likely to end up there). Only UConn (#14), Cincinnati (#45) and SMU (#78) are in the top 100. Again, it’s early, and the RPI will definitely shift substantially in the weeks and months ahead. But nearly three weeks into the college basketball season, it’s hard to dispute that the conference is off to a disappointing start. If it doesn’t start getting wins over decent teams soon, it risks a disappointing overall season; just ask the 2011 and 2012 Pac-10, which discovered that if none of your teams beats anybody in the non-conference slate, they don’t turn into quality wins themselves for conference foes come January and February.
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All Eyes on Louisville’s Chris Jones in Repeat Quest

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 6th, 2013

In a sport that loves its unpredictability, the last two NCAA Champions were relatively easy to predict before those seasons even started. In 2012, the argument that Kentucky’s freshman inexperience would be a problem lasted for all of two weeks before the Wildcats trampled everything in their path en route to a wire-to-wire season as the nation’s best team. Last year, Louisville was seen as the contender with the fewest holes and that held true as well. The Cardinals may have relinquished the No. 1 ranking a few times but throughout the season they remained most smart pundits’ favorite to hoist the trophy in March. This season the unpredictability is back. Kentucky has possibly more young talent than any other team in the history of college basketball, but inexperience remains an issue. Michigan State has talent and experience, but inconsistency plagued them last year and remains a question mark. Florida and Arizona are both loaded with talent but have questions about ideal lineup personnel and outside shooting. For Louisville, assuming Chane Behanan is back in a uniform when the games start to matter, the primary question that needs answering is “Can Chris Jones really replace Peyton Siva?”

Chris Jones Might Hold the Key to Louisville's Repeat Title Hopes

Chris Jones Might Hold the Key to Louisville’s Repeat Title Hopes

Replacing Gorgui Dieng will be difficult as well, and it may even become the more pressing concern as the season unfolds, but Montrezl Harrell will slide into the starting lineup and everyone has seen what he is capable of doing. Jones comes to Louisville with plenty of hype, but he has spent the past two seasons toiling away in obscurity at Northwest Florida State. His numbers were gaudy and he was named the Junior College Player of the Year, but junior college is still junior college, where the statistics and accolades can be easily discounted. This is the most competitive league of college basketball in the country and he is being asked to replace one of the team’s most important players and lead the Cardinals to another National Championship.

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AAC M5: 11.01.13 Edition

Posted by CD Bradley on November 1st, 2013

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  1. In an annual milestone promising that tip off looms ever closer, ESPN released its full TV schedule for the 2013-2014 college basketball season on Thursday. More than 1,500 games will be shown across the ESPN family networks, including ESPN3, and more than 100 of them will feature teams from the American. Among the highlights are three GameDay sites featuring AAC teams: an opening day doubleheader with the morning show emanating from Temple-LaSalle in Philadelphia and the evening edition from Louisville at UConn on January 18, as well as a visit to Memphis when the Tigers host Gonzaga on Febuary 8. ESPN2 will have an AAC triple-header on New Year’s Eve, the first day of conference play: Louisville at UCF at 5 PM., Memphis at USF at 7 PM., and UConn at Houston at 9 PM.
  2. Jeff Borzello at CBSSports.com ranked the best backcourts in college basketball, and AAC teams dominated the list: Memphis was #1, Louisville was #2, and UConn was #4. It’s no coincidence that these three teams are the clear top echelon of the AAC in its first season. But the strength of the teams’ backcourts is in contrast to the issues each has up front. Memphis will rely on sophomore Shaq Goodwin, who showed flashes during an inconsistent freshman campaign, and freshman Austin Nichols. Both were highly touted recruits who the Tigers will need to live up to their billing. Louisville lost rim protector Gorgui Dieng to the NBA and Chane Behanan to his bad habits, at least temporarily. And UConn’s frontcourt woes are well documented; it was one of the nation’s worst rebounding teams a year ago, a problem which may well persist. Their great backcourts make it easier to paper over weaker frontcourts, but each will need their big men to step up to reach their goals this year.
  3. One of the most important big men in the American this year promises to be Montrezl Harrell, who is taking on a leadership role in his sophomore season at Louisville. “He wouldn’t talk last year,” Rick Pitino joked to NBC Sports.”You thought he was just a shy kid from rural North Carolina, and now we can’t get him to shut up.” Pitino even named Harrell a co-captain, the first time he’s so honored a sophomore during his Louisville tenure. “I look around at these guys and they all really want to work and really get better,” Harrell told NBC Sports. “So looking at that and looking at myself and how I’m willing to do whatever role that Coach can think of, that’s kind of the overall feel for things. The way that Coach has a passion for the game, that’s something that really helped me out as a player.” Harrell showed flashes last season, particularly during a dominating performance in the Big East title game win over Syracuse and his frequently highlighted alley oop dunk in the national championship game. Harrell was a man among boys in Tuesday’s exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan, and will need to play up to his potential if the Cardinals are to achieve their lofty goals.
  4. Hall of Famer Larry Brown faces an interesting challenge in his second season at SMU: all his starters return, and he added several highly touted newcomers. Brown says he’s still note sure what the starting lineup will look like, but that it will probably include incumbents Shawn Williams and Nick Russell as well as juco transfer Yanick Moreira. “We do have a different set of circumstances than last year,” Brown told the Dallas Morning News. “Last year anybody could have walked in our gym and picked the starting lineup.You didn’t have to be a rocket scientist. You could watch for five minutes. You could even watch us eat.” Times are very different in Dallas this year. “The biggest challenge we have is getting a group of kids to give up their egos and do everything they can to make the team better. … Right now we have 13 guys who think they’re one and done.” Figuring out how to balance playing time this season will be the key factor in whether the Mustangs can fulfill the dark horse (see what I did there) potential some analysts see in them.
  5. Shaquille Thomas showed off some of the skills that excite Cincinnati fans about the youngster in the NCAA tournament in March, scoring 12 points (on 6-of-9 shooting) and grabbing four rebounds in a loss to Creighton. The nephew of former Villanova star Tim Thomas is hoping to build on that performance in his sophomore season as he moves into the starting lineup for Cincinnati. “Coming out of high school I was (considered) one of the best athletes in the country, so I knew coming in what I had to do,” Thomas told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “It’s high standards, but I set high standards for myself to go out there and perform.” Coach Mick Cronin called Thomas a gifted athlete. “We need to let him get the ball to the paint and to the rim.”
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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Gorgui Dieng

Posted by BHayes on June 5th, 2013

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The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 27, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 of the top collegians most likely to hear his name called by David Stern in the first round on draft night. We’ll generally work backwards and work our way up into the lottery as June progresses. As an added bonus, we’ll also bring you a scouting take from NBADraft.net’s Aran Smith at the bottom of each player evaluation. This post was contributed by RTC’s Bennet Hayes. He can be found on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Gorgui Dieng

School: Louisville

Height/Weight: 6’11”/230 lbs.

NBA Position: Center

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Gorgui Dieng's overall presence on the defensive end was crucial for the 2013 NCAA Champs

Gorgui Dieng’s overall presence on the defensive end was crucial for the 2013 NCAA Champs

Overview: His ceiling may not be as high as that of many of his draft-mates, but Gorgui Dieng should serve as a safe investment for a team on the back end of the first round. The Senegalese big man spent the last three seasons anchoring the paint for the reigning NCAA Champion Louisville Cardinals. Despite never averaging double figures in points per game, he still found ways to deliver significant impact for the Cards. In fact, a legitimate argument could be constructed that Dieng was the most valuable player for the 2013 champs (all due apologies to Russ Smith). The bulk of Dieng’s value came on the defensive end, where his disciplined shot-blocking served as an ideal back line of defense for Rick Pitino’s aggressive, risk-taking approach to guarding the perimeter. And while Dieng may never be mistaken for a prolific scorer on the other end, his offensive game did accumulate some polish over the course of his years at the ‘Ville, as he enters the draft as a capable 12-15 foot jump shooter and an above-average passer for a big man – two skills he could not have been given credit for two years ago. His title game effort against Michigan was a nice summation of his current skill set: eight points (on 4-6 shooting), eight rebounds, six assists, and three blocks. And of course, all those numbers came in a winning effort.  Beyond the talented cast of teammates and his own substantial abilities, it is no surprise that winning followed Dieng to Louisville, as he is the hard-working, high-character type that coaches love to find on their rosters.

Will Translate to the NBA: It should be a quick adjustment to NBA basketball on the defensive end for Dieng. At 230 pounds, he is a bit on the light side for NBA bigs, but he’s a capable, intelligent shot-blocker who always seems to be in the right position. Dieng is a solid athlete who is capable of stepping out to the perimeter and guarding his position there as well, and should also prove relatively adept in pick-and-roll defense, despite existing in a defensive scheme at Louisville that rarely included it as one of his duties. Additionally, it’s no secret that rebounding is one of the most translatable skills from college to the pros, and with Dieng’s top-100 national rankings in both defensive and offensive rebounding rates last year, it’s safe to assume he will prove ready for battle on the NBA backboards relatively early on.

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National Championship Game Analysis

Posted by Brian Otskey on April 8th, 2013

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Brian Otskey is an RTC Contributor and filed this preview of tonight’s game for all the marbles. Follow him on Twitter @botskey.

The National Championship Game: #1 Louisville (34-5) vs. #4 Michigan (31-7) – 9:23 PM ET on CBS. Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg and Steve Kerr will have the call live from the Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia.

ncaa final four floor 2013

After five months and 5,744 regular season, conference tournament and NCAA tournament games, the college basketball season comes down to one game on one night in Atlanta. Top overall seed Louisville enters the game as the favorite but by no means will this be a walk in the park. The Cardinals are in search of their third national championship this evening and their first since 1986. On the other side, Michigan is looking for its second national title, having won it all once before in 1989. It is somewhat hard to believe given the strength of the two leagues over the years but this is the first national championship game between Big East and Big Ten schools since the aforementioned Wolverines held off Seton Hall in overtime to win it all at the Kingdome in Seattle 24 years ago.

Louisville has now won 15 straight games after surviving a major scare from Wichita State on Saturday night. In fact, the Cardinals have won 18 of their past 19 games since a three game losing streak in January and the one loss was in five overtimes to Notre Dame. This game features the nation’s best defense (Louisville) and the most efficient offensive team in the land (Michigan) going head to head in what should be a terrific basketball game. For the Cardinals to win, they must attack the rim and use their defense to fuel their offense. Rick Pitino’s team is no slouch offensively (#5 in efficiency), but its offense is largely predicated off its ability to create live ball turnovers and score in transition. Louisville is lethal in transition but not great in the half court unless it attacks the basket, either with its guards off the bounce or great athletes like Montrezl Harrell and Chane Behanan working the baseline and the low block. In Saturday’s national semifinal, Wichita State forced Louisville into way too many jump shots for Pitino’s liking and it almost cost the Cardinals dearly. The Shockers were rattled by a series of turnovers late in the second half and lost the game because of it. Louisville’s ball pressure is the best in the country and it starts with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. Both play the passing lanes so well but Smith in particular is among the nation’s best defenders. After it scores, Louisville’s full court pressure takes full effect. The big question in this game will be whether the Cardinals (#2 in forcing turnovers) can turn over the Wolverines (#1 in ball protection) enough to fuel their offense. When Michigan played VCU in the round of 32, the Wolverines obliterated Shaka Smart’s “havoc.” There is, however, one major difference between VCU and Louisville. The Rams are not a great defensive team in the half court while Louisville plays the best half court defense of any team in America. Siva has to slow down Trey Burke, who picked up just about every imaginable award this week. Michigan showed just how good of a team it is by winning its semifinal game against Syracuse without its star sophomore point guard being a major factor. While it’s fair to say Michigan has never seen a defense like this all season long, Louisville hasn’t seen an offense with as many weapons as this one. When Michigan has the ball, the battle between the best offense and the best defense could be one of epic proportions.

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Final Four Previews In-Depth: Louisville Cardinals

Posted by Chris Johnson on April 4th, 2013

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Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Final Fours are just as prone to upsets and unpredictability as any other round of the NCAA Tournament. The scouting reports on each team are more extensive, the shock factor mitigated by previous results, but the inherent variance of the games themselves breeds upsets at any level of competition. Even the best teams can be had given the perfect combination of stylistic match-up (see: Syracuse – Indiana) or hot shooting (see: Wichita State – Gonzaga). The cream of the crop is never impervious to the competitive desires of underdog opponents; thinking otherwise is ignoring three quarters of a century’s worth of college basketball history. So with that out of the way, let’s get to the truth: I’d be lying if I tried to convince you that anyone other than Louisville deserves to be treated as the odds-on favorite going into college basketball’s final weekend. The Cardinals are the best defensive team in the country, a rapidly improving offense and, following Sunday’s emotional Elite Eight victory, are playing with the well wishes of injured guard Kevin Ware as a primary motivation. Louisville has it all. Let us dig deeper and find out what makes the Cardinals such overwhelming favorites to finish the season on top of the college hoops world.

(Revisit previous entries Wichita State and Michigan)

Pre-NCAA Tournament Capsule.

A jolt of offense from Smith has Louisville on the brink of the national championship (AP Photo).

A jolt of offense from Smith has Louisville on the brink of the national championship (AP Photo).

We began the season rightfully touting Louisville as one of the nation’s best and most complete teams, and its early non-conference work did everything to affirm that premise. The only blemish before Big East play was a loss to Duke in the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship game (star center Gorgui Dieng was injured). The Cardinals turned in another solid Big East season, finishing tied for first place with a 14-4 record, with only one real period of concern baked in throughout – a three-game losing streak comprising a two-point home loss to Syracuse, a road-loss at a then-scorching Villanova team, and a two-point defeat at Georgetown. The Cardinals quickly recovered to dust off 10 wins in their next 11 games, the one loss a five-overtime thriller at Notre Dame, then ripped through the Big East Tournament to claim the No. 1 overall seed.

How They Got Here. Geographic priority was awarded to the Cardinals for their top-seed status, but the committee did them no favors in terms of ease of regional competition. Two Hall of Fame coaches were situated alongside Louisville in the Midwest, and the rest of the region – including trendy Final Four pick St. Louis, national player of the year candidate Doug McDermott, NCAA seeding travesty Oregon and Colorado State, the nation’s best rebounding team – was littered with potential early-round pitfalls. Louisville navigated its rocky road with aplomb, first handling North Carolina A & T, then destroying Colorado State, followed by a comfortable eight-point win over Oregon and, lastly, a punishing second-half spurt to pull away from Duke in a highly-anticipated Elite Eight clash. Aside from Duke hanging tough through the first 20 minutes, Louisville has yet to meet its equal in this field.

Final Four History.

Paired with Dieng, Behanan is a load to handle on the low block (US Presswire).

Paired with Dieng, Behanan is a load to handle on the low block (US Presswire).

It’s best to analyze Louisville’s Final Four history through two different lenses. Removing the Cardinals’ 1959 Final Four jaunt from the equation, UL’s trips to college basketball’s marquee event can be separated along the historical dividing lines of two legendary coaches. With Denny Crum, the Cardinals made it to six national semifinals, including two championships (1980, 1986). Nearly 20 years later, when Rick Pitino’s constant job hopping from college to the NCAA and back again gave way to a sustained tenure in Louisville, Kentucky, the Cardinals returned to the Final Four in 2005, made consecutive Elite Eight runs in 2008 and 2009, then rode the unnerving audacity and mercurial play of Russ Smith and a stout defense to another Final Four in 2012. One year later, the Cardinals are once again left standing among the last four teams playing meaningful postseason basketball.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 04.04.13 Edition

Posted by WCarey on April 4th, 2013

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

Michigan

  • A report broke Thursday morning that Wolverines guards Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft when their season comes to an end.
  • A great profile by Rod Beard of the Detroit News on the decisive leadership of Trey Burke. Burke’s leadership on and off the court has helped lead Michigan to its first Final Four in 20 years.
  • Michigan forward Mitch McGary has lost 20 pounds since the beginning of the season and the now lighter freshman has been a key component of the team that is set to make its first Final Four appearance since 1993.
  • On Thursday, Michigan coach John Beilein refused to discuss the report that his guards Burke and Hardaway Jr. will declare for the NBA Draft.
  • Michigan freshman reserve point guard Spike Albrecht was headed to Appalachian State before the Wolverines gambled and gave him a late scholarship offer. That gamble has paid off majorly for the Wolverines, as Albrecht has developed into a very capable back-up to star guard Trey Burke.

Syracuse

  • Bud Polquin of Syracuse.com writes that it is coach Jim Boeheim‘s fourth Final Four appearance and it is probably not his last.
  • A lot has been made about rumors that this could possibly be Jim Boeheim‘s final season at Syracuse, but the veteran coach made known that “he fully intends to coach Syracuse in the ACC.” 
  • The path Syracuse point guard Michael Carter-Williams has taken in his Orange career to the Final Four is quite similar to the path former Syracuse point guard Lazarus Sims took to the 1996 Final Four.
  • Syracuse has decided that its motto for the week is to become legendary.
  • It is possible that Syracuse forward C.J. Fair will declare for the NBA Draft following the end of the season, but the junior is just focused on playing in the Final Four right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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