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


– 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.


– 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.

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.