University of Louisville Russ Smith  is defended by Georgetown University's Porter, Jr.  and  Lubick during the first half of their NCAA basketball game in Washington

Louisville benches Russ Smith, but offensive issues persist in third straight loss

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – When discussing No. 5 Louisville, the first thing that is going to come up is always their defense.

More specifically, it is the pressure that the Cardinals are able to apply. With a pair of lightening quick ballhawks manning the back court in Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, the Cardinals can make life miserable for opposing back courts. It’s not a coincidence that Kenpom’s No. 2 ranked defense forces turnovers on 28.4% of their defensive possessions.

The best way to beat Louisville’s press has nothing to do with the offensive side of the ball, however.

It all comes down to defense.

If you can keep the Cardinals from scoring, you can keep them from getting into their press. And if you keep them from getting into their press, you can prevent the easy baskets that the steals Siva and Smith generate turn into. And if you prevent the easy baskets, you keep Louisville from jumping right back into that press.

On Saturday afternoon, Louisville had their losing streak extended to three games thanks to a 53-51 loss to Georgetown. That comes of the heels of a loss at Villanova on Wednesday, which was preceded by the Cardinals dropping a game at the Yum! Center to Syracuse. And that came on the Heels of Louisville being ranked No. 1 during the regular season for the first time in program history.

So what happened?

It’s simple: Louisville stopped scoring.

“The problem is we don’t get [our press] on enough because we shoot such a low percentage,” Rick Pitino said. “You keep shooting 34% or 35%, they may be tired, but you’re giving them a relief. I’m thinking of pressing on misses, something I’ve never done in my life.”

With four minutes gone in the second half of the loss to Syracuse, Louisville was up 48-40. Over the final 16 minutes, the Cardinals managed to score just 20 points and twice turned the ball over in the final 30 seconds of the game. On Wednesday, the Cardinals managed to score just 0.85 PPP against Villanova. Against Georgetown, they were only marginally better, scoring 0.86 PPP, with much of their damage coming on second chance opportunities down the stretch.

“Our offense will get better the better shots we take,” Pitino said, a clear reference to Smith’s Russdiculous tendencies.

Pitino brought Smith, who’s having an all-american caliber season, off the bench on Saturday. Smith played one of his worst games of the season in the loss to Villanova, going 2-13 from the floor and turning the ball over four times.

“There’s no such a thing as Russ overthinking,” Pitino said when asked if Smith’s tentative play of Saturday was a result of losing his spot in the starting lineup. “He’s been taking too may shots, to be honest with you. He can take a 100 shots if they’re all good shots. You’ve got to take good shots and shoot a decent percentage.”

Pitino also asked Smith to take on a different role on the team. Specifically, he wants Smith to be less of a gunner and more of a creator.

“In practice, coach has been telling me to find my teammates and focus on ball movement,” Smith said. “They want me to try and look for guys and try to get to the end of plays, so I’m trying to cut down on creating my own shots and look for other guys. Things happen, and I’m trying to get better and do whatever I can to get us better.”

“That’s what’s important moving forward, staying positive about the whole situation. If I gotta pass the ball more, I gotta find my teammates and I gotta make things happen offensively without creating my own shot.”

It’s a risky move for Pitino to make.

Louisville got hot in March last season, but what their Big East tournament run and Final Four appearance did was erase the memory of just how much the Cardinals struggled during the regular season. They were 103rd, according to Kenpom, in offensive efficiency. The reason that Louisville made the jump this season was that Smith improved his efficiency a great deal while becoming even more of a high-usage player.

He was still taking the crazy shots and throwing the risky passes, but those plays ended up successful more often than not.

And for a team that can get bogged down offensively, that aggressiveness and creativity was needed.

Pitino’s right in the sense that Smith needs to have some form of shot selection when the ball is in his hand’s.

But reining in a player that thrives on his ability to play with confidence and is such an integral and important piece can backfire.

“I don’t really mind it. I know how good I am,” Smith said. “I’ve proven myself against top tier talent. It’s not really anything that I would want to focus on or cry or bicker about.”

“At the end of the day, it is what it is. Coach is coach and I’m the player. I just gotta go out there and make things happen.”

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

LATE NIGHT SNACKS: No. 15 Texas A&M, No. 20 Providence continue losing ways; No. 16 SMU falls at home

Texas A&M guard Anthony Collins (11) walks up the court during the second half of the team's NCAA college basketball game against Alabama, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Alabama won 63-62. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
(AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Alabama 63, No. 15 Texas A&M 62

This one was tight until the final seconds and the Aggies had a chance to tie or take the lead with one of the nation’s best free-throw shooters at the line. Anthony Collins, a 92 percent free-throw shooter, missed both and Texas A&M continued its recent freefall. So what happens next for the Aggies?

IMPORTANT OUTCOMES

Marquette 96, No. 20 Providence 91, 2 OT: Marquette picked up a crucial season sweep over Providence in the Big East as freshman Henry Ellenson had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Haanif Cheatham tallied 21 points. The Friars saw Ben Bentil go for 41 points, but they still lost because he didn’t have enough help in the end.

Tulsa 82, No. 16 SMU 77: Nice road win for the Golden Hurricane in the American as Shaquille Harrison and James Woodard combined for 41 points. Tulsa shot a ridiculous 58 percent from the field to give the Mustangs their first home loss of the season.

Butler 81, Seton Hall 75: An important Big East road win for the Bulldogs as Roosevelt Jones made a late runner in traffic to ice the win. Kelan Martin tallied 23 points for Butler while Kellan Dunham added 18. After Isaiah Whitehead went 8-for-8 for 23 points in the first half, the Bulldogs defense held the sophomore to only three points in the second half. 

South Carolina 94, LSU 83: The Gamecocks continue to stockpile wins as they’re up to 21-3 on the season while gaining a share of first place in the SEC. Sindarius Thornwell finished with 24 points while Michael Carrera had 14 of his 16 points in the second half to lead South Carolina. Ben Simmons finished with 20 points while Antonio Blakeney had 22 points.

BUBBLE BANTER: Butler, Wisconsin among early winners

STARRED

Devonta Pollard, Houston: The former McDonald’s All-American certainly lived up to that billing in a win over Memphis as he went for 34 points on 14-for-24 shooting from the field. Pollard also added four rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Louis Dabney, Tulane: It only took three overtimes, but the Green Wave outlasted East Carolina as Dabney hit huge shots and pumped in 32 points. Dabney hit a game-tying jumper with under a minute left to end regulation and the first overtime as he went 11-for-20 from the floor.

Anthony Beane, Southern Illinois: The senior guard went for 31 points and six rebounds as the Salukis earned a Missouri Valley road win at Indiana State. Beane was 10-for-17 from the field and 5-for-10 from 3-point range.

Tra-Deon Hollins, Omaha: In a matchup of two of the top teams in the Summit League, Hollins had a stat-sheet-stuffing effort in a win over South Dakota State, as the junior guard had 28 points, nine rebounds, eight assists and four steals. Hollins was 9-for-12 from the field and 8-for-11 from the free-throw line.

STRUGGLED

Tim Quarterman, LSU: The guard finished with seven points on 2-for-7 shooting (0-for-5 from 3-point range) and fouled out in a loss to South Carolina. Quarterman also had three turnovers and was mostly a non-factor.

OTHER TOP 25 RESULTS

  • Playing without Rico Gathers, No. 21 Baylor earned a road win at Kansas State in the Big 12 as Al Freeman had 21 points on 6-for-7 shooting from the field.

OTHER NOTABLE RESULTS

  • Wisconsin has won six consecutive games as Nigel Hayes had 20 points and Vitto Brown added 18 points in a Big Ten home win over Nebraska.
  • Vanderbilt cruised past Missouri as five players finished in double-figures. Wade Baldwin led with 17 points while Luke Kornet had 13 points and 13 rebounds.
  • Utah picked up a solid Pac-12 home win over Washington as Jakob Poeltl had 23 points and six rebounds. Poeltl was 11-for-12 from the field.
  • It wasn’t pretty, but Michigan won on the road in the Big Ten at Minnesota. Point guard Derrick Walton Jr. had 26 points, eight rebounds and seven assists to pace the Wolverines.
  • Georgia Tech topped Wake Forest in the ACC as Marcus Georges-Hunt went for 30 points and Charles Mitchell had 14 points and 15 rebounds.
  • Davidson beat La Salle in the Atlantic 10 as Brian Sullivan had 20 points and seven assists.
  • St. Bonaventure was able to outlast Fordham in overtime as Dion Wright and Marcus Posley both had 21 points.
  • Saint Joseph’s earned a great road win in the Atlantic 10 at George Washington as Isaiah Miles had 21 points.
  • T.J. Cline finished with 18 points as Richmond defeated Saint Louis in the Atlantic 10.
  • Northern Iowa ran away from Missouri State as Jeremy Morgan had 21 points, eight rebounds and five assists.
  • Belmont earned a win over Jacksonville State in the Ohio Valley as Evan Bradds had 18 points and nine rebounds.

Marquette upsets No. 20 Providence in double overtime to earn season sweep

Marquette's Duane Wilson grabs a loose ball in front of Providence's Ryan Fazekas (35) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016, in Milwaukee. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)
(AP Photo/Morry Gash)
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Marquette earned an important Big East season sweep for its postseason aspirations as they held on in double overtime to upset No. 20 Providence 96-91 on Wednesday night.

The Golden Eagles (16-9, 5-7) overcame rallies from the Friars in both regulation and the first overtime to finally put away the home victory. Freshmen led the way for Marquette as Henry Ellenson had 26 points and 16 rebounds while Haanif Cheatham added 21 points.

Providence was led by Ben Bentil, as he poured in 41 points by hitting numerous tough looks to keep the Friars in the game. Player of the Year candidate Kris Dunn finished with 17 points, seven rebounds and six assists for Providence but he committed a key turnover on an errant pass when the game was tied on the final possession in regulation. Dunn fouled out in the first overtime and Bentil did his best to knock in tough 3-pointers (6-for-13) to keep Providence in the game.

Marquette did just about everything they could to give this game away but still came away with a critical win. The Golden Eagles blew a nine-point lead in the second half and showed their youthful inexperience by fouling Bentil on a key 3-point attempt in extra time. With a chance to make it a two-possession game at the end of the first overtime, Cheatham corralled an offensive rebound — on a bad shot attempt in the first place — and put up a wild putback attempt when the Golden Eagles could have run clock and forced Providence to foul.

Despite those mistakes, the Golden Eagles have to be pleased to pick up a season sweep over the Friars as they beat a good team twice in very tight games. Playing without center Luke Fischer in overtime, Marquette still managed to pick up the victory. Coming off of consecutive losses, Marquette needed this win badly as they now get Creighton twice with a road game at DePaul sandwiched in between.

As for Providence (18-7, 6-6), Bentil showed that he’s recovering just fine from that ankle injury but this team still needs more help outside of the dynamic duo of Dunn and Bentil. It was encouraging that Providence rallied in the first overtime without Dunn in the game to force more time, but Bentil ran out of gas in the second overtime and didn’t have much help to keep the Friars in the game. The Friars have now dropped four of their last five games, including a three-game losing streak that includes road losses at DePaul and Marquette. Providence is back to .500 in the Big East and needs a solid showing its next three games against solid competition.