Georgetown’s win over Louisville showcases Big East’s balance up top

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Prior to Wednesday night’s game against Georgetown at the KFC Yum! Center, there were plenty of people that believed Louisville was ranked too high at fourth in the country.

Those folks are unlikely to change their opinion on the matter after the Hoyas left the Commonwealth with a 71-68 win, handing the Cardinals their first loss of the season.

And frankly, they wouldn’t be wrong. Louisville isn’t one of the top four teams in the country. They may not even belong in the top ten. Their was ranking was more the result of high preseason expectations, a myriad of close wins against solid teams and the fact that the a handful of teams that should be ranked above them have lost already this season. Is Louisville a better team than North Carolina? Probably not, but since the Tar Heels fell against Kentucky and UNLV already this season, pollsters slid the Cardinals all the way up to fourth.

Don’t punish the Cardinals for the quirky early season ranking process.

Instead, you should credit Georgetown for their performance on Wednesday.

Louisville is not a great offensive basketball team, and they certainly didn’t play a great offensive basketball game Wednesday. Where they are going to win games is on the defensive end of the floor, by using their ability to pressure ball-handlers and force turnovers to keep their opponent from doing what they want to do offensively. Against the Hoyas, Louisville did exactly that.

Georgetown may not have any all-americans on their roster this season, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t, once again, a Big Three on this team. Henry Sims, Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark are the three guys that John Thompson III relies on the most to make plays in the framework of their offense, to knock down big shots and to carry the bulk of the offensive load. But against Louisville, those three struggled.

Gorgui Dieng’s length bothered Sims, Clark couldn’t find any openings offensively and Thompson saved his stat line with a couple of late jumpers. All told, Georgetown’s Big Three went 8-26 from the floor, turned the ball over eight times and scored a whopping 24 points, which is about 15 points below their season average. That is precisely the kind of defense performance Rick Pitino wanted on those three players.

With their stars struggling, Georgetown’s role players provided their best basketball of the season.

Markel Starks finished with 20 points on 7-8 shooting. Otto Porter added 14 points and 14 boards. Jabril Trawick scored nine points in the first half to keep Georgetown from getting run out of the gym by Louisville.

You don’t gameplan for those three. Sure, their names and tendencies are gone over in the scouting report, but no one is going to structure their defense to figure out a way to slow down Starks or to find an answer to Porter. In fact, I’d be willing to bet that most of the teams Georgetown will face this season will head into their matchup thinking that they’ll let Starks, Porter and Trawick try to beat them.

On this night, they did. And when that happens, all you can really do is tip your cap to your opponent: “They got us tonight.”

We are going to run into a lot of that in the Big East this season.

Syracuse is really the only team in this league that stands a cut above everyone else. Once you get past the Orange, there is much more good than there is great. UConn has been inconsistent and unable to put away lesser competition. Marquette lost to LSU. Cincinnati has gotten better while losing their starting front court. West Virginia is young but has two senior stars. Hell, even Pitt and Villanova still have enough talent and coaching acumen in their program to turn around uninspiring starts.

Throw Georgetown and Louisville into the mix, and you have eight teams that are sitting in a jumbled mess a notch below the Orange whose tangible differences will, in all likelihood, depend on which players are playing well at a given point in the season. And while its pretty easy to identify who is sitting at the upper (UConn) and lower (Villanova) ends of that spectrum, at the end of the day the Big East is, once again, a league defined more by mediocrity than it is grandeur.

In other words, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Big East sends all nine of the teams I mentioned to the NCAA Tournament.

But I also wouldn’t be surprised if everyone other than Syracuse was back at home by the time the second weekend tips off.

What We Learned

Georgetown:

– The youngsters on this team can play. Markel Starks has knocked down jumpers all year long and had a couple of promising games against lesser competition, but this performance puts a stamp on the improvement he has made as a sophomore. Otto Porter has the talent to provide many more double-doubles this season. Jabril Trawick might be Georgetown’s best playmaker off the dribble. Most importantly? The Hoyas won at Louisville on a night when their big three stunk. That’s a good sign.

– I think that Georgetown has turned a corner this year. In the past few seasons, the Hoyas have been notorious for fast starts and slow finishes, both in a single games and over the course of an entire season. This year, however, the Hoyas won a double-overtime game against Memphis in Maui and followed that up by handing the Tigers a beatdown in DC a month later. They won on the road against Alabama despite blowing a late double-digit lead. And now, they won against Louisville on the road despite allowing the Cardinals to score 11 straight in the final four minutes to tie the game at 63. Throw in the fact that Georgetown was able to keep the game close even after Louisville opened up a double digit lead in the first ten minutes of the game, and I think we can say Georgetown has finally found some resiliency.

– Is that resiliency a result of the brawl that the Hoyas were in in China over the summer? That would make sense.

– Since I wrote this about Henry Sims he is 5-20 from the floor and averaging just 9.5 ppg and 6.0 rpg in two games.

Louisville:

– Not that we didn’t already know this, but the Cardinals will never be out of a game. They are the most spurtable team in the country. Because of the way they play — chucking up threes, pressing and trying to force turnovers — any success they have on either end of the floor builds up their momentum that much quicker. When they hit a three, they can get into their press. When they force a turnover in their press, they get a good look at a three. And when they hit a couple threes in a row and start forcing some turnovers, their confidence and enthusiasm sky rockets. Against Georgetown, Louisville erased an 11 point deficit with four minutes left in the game and had the game tied at the two minute mark.

– The Cardinals need to make better decisions down the stretch. Poor shot selection from Russ Smith, Kyle Kuric and Peyton Siva on the final threes possessions or Louisville cost them this game.

– I’m still not convinced this team is healthy. Getting Buckles and Swopshire back to 100% will create a nice compliment to Chane Behanan at the four and getting Wayne Blackshear will give Pitino another weapon on the perimeter.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.

N.C. State adds grad transfer Sam Hunt

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N.C. State added its fourth transfer this offseason. Like ex-Baylor guard Al Freeman, the latest one is eligible to play next season.

Sam Hunt, a double-digit scorer the past two seasons at North Carolina A&T, officially enrolled at North Carolina State on Monday morning.

“Sam is a great young man and will bring much needed depth to our backcourt,” N.C. State head coach Kevin Keatts said in a statement. “I want guys who are excited about being a part of our program and Sam really wants to be here.

“Sam is a combo guard that can space the floor with his ability to shoot the basketball. He is a good fit for the system and will bring a wealth of experience to our roster.”

Hunt, the 6-foot-2 guard, averaged 12.7 points per game last season, a dip from the 15.4 points per game he posted for the Aggies as a redshirt sophomore.

Hunt joins a roster that lost its three leading scorers from a season ago, one that ended 15-17 (4-14 ACC). Dennis Smith Jr. is a member of the Dallas Mavericks. Maverick Rowan also pursued a professional career and Terry Henderson was denied an additional year from the NCAA.

The Wolf Pack bring back forwards Abdul-Malik Abu and Omer Yurtseven as well as Torin Dorn.

Keatts, who took over the program after leading UNC Wilmington to back-to-back NCAA Tournaments, has already built for the future. UNC Wilmington transfer C.J. Bryce, 17.4 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game for the Seahawks, has followed him to Raleigh. Utah transfer Devon Daniels committed to the Wolf Pack the same day as Bryce. Both will have to sit out next season due to NCAA transfer rules. Bryce will have two years of eligibility while Daniels will have three.

LaVar Ball stars in an uncomfortably entertaining segment on WWE’s Raw

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LaVar Ball’s statements and antics over this past year always seemed better suited a professional wrestling ring.

It was only natural that the patriarch of the Ball family — and the head of the Big Baller Brand — made an appearance on WWE’s Monday Night Raw at the Staples Center for an awkwardly entertaining segment with WWE Intercontinental Champion The Miz.

With sons, Lonzo — in his first appearance in the Staples Center as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers — and LaMelo looking on, LaVar was the center of attention. When The Miz mentioned something about a partnership between the two, the scripted interview went south. It resulted in LaVar saying nonsensical things like, “There’s only two dudes better than me, and I’m both of ’em!” before later taking off his shirt. When Dean Ambrose, a WWE superstar feuding with The Miz came out on to the ramp, LaVar didn’t quite grasp the concept that that was his cue to stop talking.

This segment was somehow entertaining and cringeworthy at the same time.

Now that Lonzo is beginning his NBA career, maybe it’s time LaVar try something different. A manager in the WWE may just be his true calling. He’s certainly had plenty of practice.

Maryland lands commitment from five-star 2018 forward

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Maryland added to its 2018 recruiting class with its second commit, the newest addition being a five-star in-state product.

Jalen Smith, a 6-foot-9 forward from Baltimore powerhouse Mount St. Joseph, committed to the Terrapins, making the announcement on Twitter.

“I believe that I can academically and athletically achieve my goals at home through my commitment to the University of Maryland … Go Terps,” he tweeted as part of a long passage.

Smith is listed as the No. 13 overall recruit in the Class of 2013 by Rivals. He joins four-star swingman Aaron Wiggins in Mark Turgeon’s current recruiting class.

Playing for Team Takeover on the Nike EYBL circuit, Smith is averaging 10.9 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 1.0 blocks per game.

Recent grad’s joyride reportedly did $100,000 of damages to Mizzou Arena

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A recent graduate and temporary employee of the University of Missouri took an early morning joy ride that reportedly could rack up around $100,000 to Mizzou Arena.

According to Dave Mater of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Nathaniel J. Contant, 23, who graduated from the school in December 2016, drove his Volkswagen Passat through a gate and eventually on to the floor of the 15,000-seat on-campus arena.

At 7:15 a.m. Sunday, MU police were dispatched to Mizzou Arena for a report of property damage. Officers determined that around 4 a.m., the suspect drove his vehicle through a closed gate on the south side of the arena. He ran through a garage door and drove into a dock area where he damaged several golf carts that were stored in the area. He also drove his car onto the basketball court. The man couldn’t leave through the area he used to enter the building, so he drove through the arena’s press gate.

Contant, unsurprisingly, is no longer an employee of the university. He’s being charged with second-degree burglary and first-degree property damage, both of which are felonies. He was released on a $4,500 bond.

The motive for this early-morning joyride remains unclear.

Despite the hype surrounding the upcoming Mizzou season — one that includes the debut of new head coach Cuonzo Martin and the projected No. 1 overall pick in the 2018 NBA Draft Michael Porter, Jr. — Twitter users couldn’t help but poke fun at the dismal recent history the Tigers have had.

(h/t Kansas City Star)

Vance Jackson transfers to New Mexico

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With more than a handful of departures this offseason, New Mexico is set to have a new-look roster for the 2017-18 season. On Monday, Paul Weir, now at the helm of the program, landed a player who should make an impact in the three remaining seasons of eligibility he has left.

Vance Jackson, who spent this past season at UConn, decided to make the move from Storrs to Albuquerque, picking the Lobos over Rutgers, San Diego State, TCU, and Washington.

The 6-foot-8 rising sophomore will have to sit out next year due to NCAA transfer rules before resuming his collegiate career in the fall of 2018.

“The coaches — they trust in me,” Jackson told Geoff Grammer of the Albuquerque Journal last month during his official campus visit. “We’re on the same page. They see a vision.”

Weir, who led New Mexico State this past season to a NCAA Tournament appearance in his one and only season as head coach, succeeded Craig Neal in April.

This offseason has been headlined by transfers, though, those mostly were about players leaving the program. Jackson is the second transfer to land at UNM with Akron’s Antino Jackson electing to use his final season of eligibility with the Lobos. Antino Jackson is a graduate transfer, allowing him to play immediately next season.

Vance Jackson, who was rated as the No. 80 overall player in the Class of 2016 by Rivals, averaged 8.1 points, 3.8 rebounds, and 1.4 assists per game while shooting just under 40 percent from three for the Huskies as a freshman.