Rick Pitino, Russ Smith

Five Thoughts: USC’s a sleeper, Arizona’s issues, Russ-ficiency?

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Is Russ-diculous now Russ-ficient?: Louisville’s three-game losing streak earlier this season also happened to coincide with a turning point for rick Pitino and his dynamic off-guard Russ Smith. Smith was benched for the third game of that losing streak, as Pitino was efforting to get Smith to reign-in his shoot-first, think-later mindset. After two games where Smith played much better, the situation seemed to reach a head, as Smith went 3-11 in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over Rutgers and then put on a disastrous performance down the stretch of Louisville’s five-overtime loss at Notre Dame.

But over the last five games, Smith has been as efficient as he’s been effective. He’s averaging 18.6 points over that stretch, with an average offensive rating of 128.0 during that stretch, up from 109.4 for the season. In fact, if you take away the Notre Dame game, Smith’s average offensive rating in his last eight games is 134.8.

Perhaps what’s most telling, however, was Saturday. Smith finished with 18 points on 11 shots. With less than a minute left and the score tied, Smith drove and, instead of forcing a tough shot, he found Luke Hancock for a three that eventually game the Cardinals the win. Given Louisville’s struggles in late-game situations, this is an immensely positive sign.

You don’t want to play USC in the Pac-12 tournament: Back in the preseason, the Trojans were thought to be a team that could be a sleeper to earn a bid to the NCAA tournament this season. With most of their injured talent returning this season, and with a slew of solid transfers getting eligible this year, Kevin O’Neill’s team was supposed to win some games.

But O’Neill was fired midway through the season after some abysmal performances. With Bob Cantu in place, USC is finally starting to find their groove. After beating Arizona and Arizona State at home this week, the Trojans are now 9-7 in the Pac-12 and have won six of their last eight games, which also includes an overtime win at Pauley Pavilion.

Could the Trojans be this season’s Colorado?

What’s going on at Arizona?: While USC is streaking, the Wildcats are struggling. They got swept at the LA schools this weekend, getting exposed defensively as the Trojans and the Bruins did just about whatever they wanted offensively.

There’s a larger issue at hand here. Arizona is now two games off the lead in the Pac-12 with just one game left to play. The only time that they have beaten a tournament team in 2013 is when Sabatino Chen’s game-winning three-pointer was incorrectly waived off. The Wildcats will be prime for an upset, as they will likely end up getting overseeded thanks to some strong — and lucky — non-conference wins.

Towson: It’s a shame that Towson won’t be able to participate in the 2013 CAA tournament, because this may actually be a team that has a chance to win the automatic bid. They set the NCAA record for the largest turnaround in history, going from a single win to 18 wins this season.

How good is the new North Carolina?: Since going to a four-guard lineup six games ago, the Tar Heels are 5-1, with their only loss coming by five points at Duke. Spreading the floor has been ideal offensively, as James Michael McAdoo is a matchup problem for opposing centers and Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston have thrived with opposing fours having to cover them. Throw in the improved play of Marcus Paige, who seems like he’s finally gained the confidence to lead this team, and the Heels are scoring a ton of points.

But can they defend with this lineup? Well, it appears so. Over these six games, Roy Williams’ club has given up just 0.956 PPP, and their adjusted defensive efficiency would rank in the top 20 nationally.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Point guard Small to transfer from Oregon

SPOKANE, WA - MARCH 18:  Kendall Small #21 of the Oregon Ducks shoots over Derek Mountain #40 of the Holy Cross Crusaders in the second half during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Spokane Veterans Memorial Arena on March 18, 2016 in Spokane, Washington.  (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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After navigating a lack of depth at the point to win the Pac-12 regular season and tournament titles and earn the program’s first-ever one seed in the NCAA tournament, Oregon will have no such issues in 2016-17. Dylan Ennis, who missed most of last season with a foot injury, is back for another season as is returning starter Casey Benson. Add in freshman Payton Pritchard, whose shooting ability can help a team that struggled from three a season ago, and Dana Altman has multiple players to call upon at that spot.

That left Kendall Small, who played just under eight minutes per game as a freshman, in a spot where it would have been tough to earn more playing time as a sophomore. As a result he’s decided to transfer, with the news first being reported by Scout.com.

In addition to the three guards mentioned above, sophomore Tyler Dorsey also has the ability to make plays with the ball in his hands. Small will have three seasons of eligibility remaining at whichever school he chooses to transfer to, and he’ll have to sit out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules.

A 6-foot guard from Anaheim, Small’s best outing came in Oregon’s 77-59 win over Savannah State on November 23. In that game Small accounted for nine points, four assists and three rebounds in 23 minutes of action. But he played double-digit minutes in just four games after the Ducks began Pac-12 play in early January, the last of which being Oregon’s win over Holy Cross in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

LIU Brooklyn loses second-leading scorer Hermannsson to pro ranks

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 27: Bryan Sekunda #22 of the Stony Brook Seawolves attempts a pass around Martin Hermannsson #24 of the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds in the first half at Madison Square Garden on November 27, 2014 in New York City.  (Photo by Alex Goodlett/Getty Images)
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After finishing tied for sixth place in the Northeast Conference last season, LIU Brooklyn will look to make the climb up the conference standings under head coach Jack Perri in 2016-17. However that climb got a bit tougher Thursday, as it was announced that guard Martin Hermannsson has decided to forego his final two years of eligibility and turn pro.

Hermannsson, a native of Iceland, has signed with French Pro B division team Etoile de Charleville-Mézières Ardennes.

Hermannsson was one of two first team All-NEC honorees for the Blackbirds last season, with redshirt junior forward Jerome Frink being the other. Hermannsson, a 6-foot-3 guard, finished the season with averages of 16.2 points and 4.7 assists per game, shooting 45.8 percent from the field and 36.0 percent from three. Originally on track to return the highest scoring tandem in the NEC, LIU Brooklyn has to account for the loss of their starting point guard and second-leading scorer without much time to do so before classes begin.

With Hermannsson moving on, the Blackbirds will call upon veterans such as seniors Joel Hernandez and Iverson Fleming to carry the load on the perimeter. LIU Brooklyn will also have to account for the loss of guard Aakim Saintil, who averaged 12.6 points and 4.7 assists in his lone season of eligibility. LIU Brooklyn will add two freshmen to its backcourt in Julian Batts and Ashtyn Bradley, and they’ll have an even greater opportunity to earn minutes than anticipated.

h/t Blackbirds Hoops Journal

University of Louisville president’s resignation accepted

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) University of Louisville trustees on Wednesday accepted the resignation of embattled President James Ramsey, whose long tenure was dogged by scandal.

The action at a special meeting of the school’s board signaled the end of an era. Ramsey, a former state budget director, has led the university for 14 years.

After six hours of closed-door deliberations, the board announced late Wednesday that Ramsey will be paid $690,000 and will resign immediately, with an agreement not to sue the school.

Ramsey was credited with raising academic standards and boosting the school from a commuter campus to a distinguished research institution. But he came under increasing fire for embezzlement scandals and a string of other embarrassments, including an FBI investigation of top university officials for alleged misuse of federal money and an NCAA investigation into whether a university employee paid women to strip and have sex with basketball players.

The controversies boiled over in the past two years. The Courier-Journal reported last year that the Board of Trustees challenged Ramsey’s salary of more than $600,000, with millions more in deferred compensation paid by the university foundation.

Then, in October, an escort named Katina Powell released the book “Breaking Cardinal Rules” that alleged a basketball team employee hired her and other dancers to entertain players and recruits at sex parties. The NCAA launched an investigation and Ramsey announced in February that the team would not play in post-season tournaments.

Dozens of professors signed a letter to him complaining about the “drumbeat of crises” and some trustees attempted a no-confidence vote to have him ousted in the spring. Ramsey said at the time that he would not resign.

But Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin dismantled the former Board of Trustees last month. Ramsey wrote the governor a letter offering to tender his resignation to the newly appointed board, launching a bumpy series of meetings that led to his eventual ouster late Wednesday.

The afternoon began with an agreement seemingly far more generous for Ramsey: He would collect his salary for a year as he served as interim president while the school searched for a new leader. Ramsey sat silently at Wednesday’s board meeting, wearing a polo shirt, then left for his office upstairs.

But the board’s closed-door negotiations stretched hours into the night. Chairman Pro Tem Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman left several times to visit Ramsey’s office, where the president was working with various advisers, he said.

The board announced just before 11 p.m. that Ramsey would be out immediately. University Provost Neville Pinto, who is on vacation, will serve as temporary leader until a new president is selected.

“In the end, it was just the decision on both sides, what everyone thought was best,” Bridgeman said of the final resolution. He said it was a sad moment in the university’s history despite the controversies that have colored Ramsey’s tenure. He pointed to the president’s accomplishments, improving graduation rates and the university’s footprint in the city.

“Dr. Ramsey is always going to be a gentleman,” he said about Ramsey’s reaction to the final decision. “He’s always going to talk about what’s best for the university. And that was the discussion. It wasn’t any more than that.”

The board’s actions will have no bearing on Ramsey’s status with the University Foundation, a separate board where Ramsey is paid more than $300,000 in addition to his salary as president. Bridgeman would not speculate on what that board will choose to do about his employment.

The trustees also voted to immediately begin its search for a new president.

The decision ends weeks of unrest and confusion about Ramsey’s status.

Shortly after Bevin dismantled the old board and appointed new members, Ramsey read his letter offering to resign as the board met in a private session at its first meeting earlier this month. Ramsey then left the meeting, walked directly to his office and didn’t return.

His method apparently left trustees confused. Bridgeman told reporters that Ramsey had not offered his resignation. A day later, Bridgeman said Ramsey’s letter had amounted to an offer to step down. Trustees met for a second time last week, reviewing budget and tuition issues but taking no action on Ramsey’s status.

They scheduled a meeting to discuss his resignation for Tuesday morning, abruptly canceled it then rescheduled it for Wednesday afternoon.

Now, even with Ramsey’s immediate departure, the school’s leadership remains uncertain.

Democratic state Attorney General Andy Beshear is challenging Bevin’s authority to disband the school’s former board and appoint a new one, saying the reorganization was illegal.

During a hearing last week, Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd said Bevin’s action replacing UofL’s board was “problematic” because it put the school’s independence in jeopardy. His ruling is pending. If Shepherd rules against Bevin and finds the current board invalid, it’s unclear whether the board’s decisions will stand, including Wednesday’s negotiations over Ramsey’s departure.

Five-star guard Troy Brown Jr. cuts list to eight

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Fresh off of a solid performance at the Nike Skills Academy in Los Angeles, Troy Brown Jr. announced on Thursday that he had cut his list to eight schools.

Kansas, Oregon, Arizona, Ohio State, Cal, Georgetown, UNLV and Alabama are the eight schools on the list.

Brown is a top ten prospect in the Class of 2017, according to Rivals, but the general opinion of him as a player has depressed a bit since earlier in his high school career. The Las Vegas native was once considered a top five player in the class, and while he’s still thought of as an impact player, he’s probably closer to being a two or three year college player than a surefire one-and-done player.