Louisville making slow progress back to its closing ways in win over Pitt

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Louisville just needed a win, any type of win, to get out of their current funk of a three-game losing streak.

The one they got, a 64-61 victory over Pittsburgh on Monday night at the KFC Yum! Center, was an ugly one. And frankly, it was one that the Panthers really lost, more than the Cardinals won.

Pitt was an abysmal 3-for-12 from the free throw line. That’s really the only stat one needs to see. The points were free and the Panthers didn’t take them. They made up for going 9-for-18 from three-point range, but that was almost in total desperation.

But even in a game that they were given, Louisville was able to do something, or believe it was able to do something, that they haven’t done in the past three games, close.

Free throws, primarily in the second half, had been a problem in the past three contests, with the no. 13-ranked Cardinals hitting 20-of-42 after halftime. Tonight? They were 13-of-17 overall, including 6-for-6 from Russ Smith, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan in the final minute to lock it up.

Turnovers? Well, turnovers in the final minutes weren’t the Cardinals friend as well over the past 10 days. Peyton Siva’s gaffe that led to the Michael Carter-Williams dunk. The three turnovers in three possessions at Syracuse and, even though it didn’t go into the record books as a turnover, the final possession against Georgetown are all examples of sloppy late-game play that contributed to losses that easily would’ve been wins earlier in the season for Louisville.

Against Pitt, the patience that was absent in recent contests, the virtue that Siva and Smith (who scored 20 points on 7-of-15 shooting in the win, something that had also been missing recently) had been able to use when the game got close or the minutes dwindled, came back. Probably the most significant example of that came with less than a minute to go. Up 60-58, Smith had a shot at a drive off the right that probably would’ve led to a pull-up bank shot. He could’ve taken it, but he backed off when he recognized Lamar Patterson was leading Smith right into Steven Adams for the trap. He passed back out to Siva and it led to two of those free throws from Dieng, sealing it.

It’s the little things that will bring the confidence back to Louisville. Especially in Big East Conference games that will more than likely feature more close contests than blow-outs.

But things are already starting to return to normal. Dieng finished with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Smith put up his 20. Siva, while his offense needs to improve, finished with 10 assists and four turnovers and as a team the Cardinals finished with 18 assists on 23 field goals.

The Panthers shot 9-for-18 from three, including a deep one from Tray Woodall at the buzzer to make it a three-point decision. Patterson was the only other Panther in double figures with 10 points and Talib Zanna finished with 10 rebounds.

It’s a win. No one remembers how you won at this point in the season, only that you did, come March. But if there’s one thing to remember, by that rationale, it’s that Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware, both key cogs on offense and defense, didn’t play a minute.

But in the Big East, Louisville will have to keep finding ways to getting back to their closing ways. It shouldn’t be too hard, given how the first two months of the season went. More than likely it’s going to come down to that as we head towards the Big Dance.

David Harten is the founder of The Backboard Chronicles. Follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Reports: Duke’s Frank Jackson to declare for draft

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Frank Jackson will declare for the draft but will not be signing with an agent, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

Previous reports had indicated that Jackson “planned” to return to school, and that still may end up proving true. But the combination of Trevon Duval potentially enrolling at Duke combined with the fact that there is zero downside to going through the draft process, it makes sense for Jackson to declare.

Jackson averaged 10.9 points and shot 39.5 percent from three. He’s projected as a mid-first round pick in 2018 by Draft Express, but at 6-foot-3, he’s too small to play the two in the NBA and has yet to prove he can be a point guard.

Jackson is the fourth Duke player to declare, following Jayson Tatum, Harry Giles III and Luke Kennard. All three signed with an agent. Grayson Allen and Marques Bolden are both returning to school.

VIDEO: Top 2018 recruits Zion Williamson and Romeo Langford go head-to-head at adidas

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This weekend is the first live evaluation period of the spring recruiting calendar as college coaches from all over the country are scouting (and babysitting) the top recruits in the Class of 2018 and 2019.

Friday night the adidas Gauntlet in Dallas opened with a marquee matchup of two star players as five-star forward Zion Williamson and five-star guard Romeo Langford went head-to-head in what should be one of the best games of the spring.

Most scouting services have Williamson and Langford as the No. 2 and No. 3 overall prospects in the Class of 2018 as the duo didn’t disappoint in front of the huge crowd in Fort Worth.

Williamson helped his team to a win with 26 points and seven rebounds while Langford had 28 points, four rebounds and four assists. You’ll be hearing plenty about both of these guys over the next few months as both are still wide open in the recruting process.

(H/t: Ball is Life)

Report: Coppin State hires Juan Dixon as new head coach

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Coppin State has hired former Maryland star guard Juan Dixon to be its next head coach, according to a report from Don Markus of the Baltimore Sun.

The 38-year-old Dixon is best known for leading Maryland to the 2002 national championship as he was the Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four that year. Now Dixon will have a chance to lead a Division I program for the first time.

Dixon spent seven years in the NBA and also played professionally in Europe before joining the Maryland coaching staff in 2013 as a special assistant to head coach Mark Turgeon. Not retained by Maryland after the 2015-16 season, Dixon took the head coaching job for the women’s team at the University of the District of Columbia last season as the Division II program finished only  3-25.

Coppin State finished last season with an 8-24 record after losing its first 12 games of the season. While Dixon will generate some positive local buzz given his background, he’s going to have an uphill battle trying to rebuild that program.

Nebraska scores important Class of 2017 commitment from four-star guard Thomas Allen

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Nebraska landed an important commitment from the Class of 2017 on Friday as four-star guard Thomas Allen is heading to Lincoln next season.

The 6-foot-1 guard is considered the No. 99 overall prospect by Rivals in the national Class of 2017 rankings as Allen was previously committed to N.C. State before head coach Mark Gottfried was fired.

A scorer with a good amount of skill, Allen has a chance to come in and make an immediate impact at Nebraska as he can play a bit on or off the ball. Allen should help offset the loss of senior Tai Webster in the Husker backcourt.

Allen joins wing Nana Akenten in Nebraska’s Class of 2017 recruiting efforts.

North Carolina lands four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks

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North Carolina pulled in a late Class of 2017 commitment to begin the weekend as the Tar Heels secured a pledge from four-star Class of 2017 big man Garrison Brooks.

The 6-foot-9, 225-pound Brooks was previously committed to Mississippi State, but he was granted his release this spring to explore other opportunities.

The Tar Heels pounced as they’re getting a low-post threat who could develop into a potential double-double threat. A solid rebounder who isn’t afraid to play with physicality, Brooks has a chance to earn some immediate rotation minutes with seniors like Isaiah Hicks and Kennedy Meeks exhausting their eligibility.

Brooks is regarded as the No. 120 overall prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, as he is a four-star prospect. The native of Auburn, Alabama joins a North Carolina recruiting class that includes point guard Jalek Felton, shooting guard Andrew Platek and big men Brandon Huffman and Sterling Manley.