Duke v Louisville

Final Four Previews: What you need to know about Louisville

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Way back in October, Louisville was in the same position as they are a week before the national title game: a favorite to win the national title.

With the exception of one three-game stretch in the middle of the season, Louisville has more-or-less steamrolled through the year. They’re sitting pretty at 33-5, they have the most efficient defense in Kenpom’s database (which dates back to 2003), and Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, Louisville’s nightmare-inducing back court, are playing the best basketball of their careers.

The last thing the rest of the country needed was for Rick Pitino’s team to have extra motivation heading into Atlanta. Now they have it.

Good luck.

How they got here: Louisville won the Midwest Region as the No. 1 seed. After blowing out North Carolina A&T, the Cardinals knocked off No. 8 seed Colorado State by 26, then beat No. 12 seed Oregon 77-69 in the Sweet 16 before last night’s 22 point win over No. 2 seed Duke.

Odds to win the title: 2:3

Read through all of our Final Four coverage here

Why they can win: Everyone knows about how good Louisville’s defense is, but the difference between this Louisville team and the one that lost three straight games to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown is that their back court has been taking over games on the offensive end of the floor. Russ Smith is averaging 26.0 points in the NCAA tournament, as he’s been impossible to keep out of the paint and a terror in transition. Peyton Siva has controlled everything about the game for the Cardinals on the offensive end of the floor. He’s looked like a 10-year NBA veteran running the pick-and-roll, and he’s cut down on the number of jumpers he takes, focusing on getting into the lane and either scoring at the rim or finding his big men for easy baskets.

Why they won’t win: There are two things to be concerned about with Louisville. The first is that they struggle to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. That hasn’t hurt them yet, because no one has been able to keep Siva and Smith out of the lane, but if Wichita State — and, more importantly, if Syracuse — can keep the Cardinals from getting penetration with the dribble, Louisville could be in trouble. They also struggle on the defensive glass, as their zone makes it easy to get second shots and the Cardinals big men have a tendency to miss box outs and try to jump for rebounds.

It’s worth noting here that Wichita State is a good defensive team that is a top 20 offensive rebounding team.

Key stat: Louisville’s 27.5% defensive turnover percentage isn’t the number that opposing teams need to be concerned about. It’s their steal percentage, which, at 16.1%, was the second-best in the country this season and means that the Cardinals get a steal on roughly one out of every six possessions on the defensive end of the floor. That matters because they are so good in transition. When Louisville forces a live-ball turnover, often it ends up being a “pick-six”, leading to a layup at the other end.

Game-changer: Gorgui Dieng. He’s the shotblocker at the rim that allows Louisville’s guards to be aggressive and gamble on the perimeter, and his development offensively — he can hit 15 footers and he’s become a very good passer out of the high post — is key in their pick-and-roll offense and how Louisville can beat a 2-3 zone. (Ahem, Syracuse.)

Prediction?: I think Louisville will win it all.

You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.

Whitehead to stay in NBA Draft

Seton Hall guard Isaiah Whitehead (15) shoots past Xavier forward Sean O'Mara (54) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
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Seton Hall sophomore guard Isaiah Whitehead has signed with an agent and will remain in the NBA Draft, according to multiple reports.

Whitehead averaged 18.2 points, 5.1 assists and 3.6 rebounds per game last season for Seton Hall, which went 25-9 and reached the NCAA tournament. He likely projects as a second-round pick with a bit of a shaky shot, but a high usage and assist rates. His strong finish to the season likely lifted him on some draft boards, but his inefficiency will cap his ceiling in June’s draft.

The loss is significant for the Pirates as Whitehead was so much of their offense, but they’ll bring back Khadeen Carrington, Desi Rodriguez, Angel Delgado and Ismael Sanogo. It’s a group that will miss Whitehead’s playmaking, but is still a solid enough foundation that Seton Hall will still likely be competitive in the Big East and vying for another NCAA tournament berth.

Hart returning for Villanova’s title defense

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 26:  Josh Hart #3 of the Villanova Wildcats reacts in the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament South Regional at KFC YUM! Center on March 26, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
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Villanova’s title defense just got a whole lot stouter.

Josh Hart, the leading scorer of the Wildcats’ national championship team, will return for his senior season, he announced on Twitter.

The decision for Hart to return is a major boost for Villanova in its quest to become the first back-to-back champions since Florida in 2006 and 2007. Hart, a 6-foot-5 guard,  averaged 15.5 points and 6.8 rebounds per game while shooting 51.3 percent from the floor and 35.7 percent from 3-point range.

Most draft pundits had him pegged as a potential end-of-the-first-round pick in next month’s draft though he could have certainly slid into the second should he had decided to forego his senior season. Instead, Hart will be a potential first-team All-American exhausting his eligibility in Philadelphia.

The 2016-17 season is taking shape nicely, and Hart returning to Villanova only increases the strength of the field at the top. Title game hero Kris Jenkins as well as Jalen Brunson, Phil Booth and Mikal Bridges are also back for the defending champs while the super recruiting classes of Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, Kansas’ returning core along with Josh Jackson and a solid group of teams including North Carolina, Arizona, Louisville and Wisconsin make for an intriguing upper-tier of teams that could very well make for a top-heavy season following last year’s free for all.

College basketball isn’t the NFL. Parity doesn’t equal strength and quality, and when the sport has a handful high-quality teams, it is at its best. It’s looking like that is a possibility for the 2016-17 campaign.

UConn duo returning to school

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Connecticut may have lost its 6-foot-7 wing scorer but it is keeping its defensive stalwart and leading scorer.

Center Amida Brimah and guard Rodney Purvis have withdrawn their names from NBA Draft consideration and will return to the Huskies for another year, the school announced Tuesday.

The decisions from Brimah, a 7-foot center, and Purvis, a 6-foot-4 shooting guard, help soften the blow dealt by Daniel Hamilton’s decision to sign with an agent and leave school despite having some shaky draft stock. The Huskies may not open the season as a top-25 team, but they won’t be far behind and will be one of the AAC’s favorites, along with Cincinnati.

Brimah averaged 6.5 points per game last year, but blocked 2.7 shots per game. He missed 11 games last season with a broken finger. Purvis registered 12.8 points per game while shooting 43.4 percent from the floor.

Neither Brimah or Purvis were among those invited to this month’s NBA Draft combine nor were either expected to be drafted should they have kept their names in the draft.

Gonzaga’s Karnowski returning for fifth year

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The man in the middle is returning to Gonzaga.

Przemek Karnowski will return to the Bulldogs for his final year after a medical redshirt waiver was granted allowing him a fifth season in Spokane, the school announced Tuesday.

“I’m excited to be coming back,” Karnowski said in a statement. “After talking with the coaches, my parents and the team, I decided this was the best decision for me. I still have a ways to go with my rehab, but I’m staying positive about the upcoming season.”

The 7-foot-1 Karnowski, a Poland native, would have, at minimum, had professional opportunities overseas, but instead will return to play for the Bulldogs once more after a back injury limited him to five games last season. He averaged 10.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game as a junior in 2014-15.

With Karnowski returning along with  Josh Perkins and Silas Melson, Gonzaga coach Mark Few will be having newcomers Nigel Williams-Goss, Zach Norvell, Johnathan Williams II and Zach Collins joining an experienced and talented group.

Gonzaga (shocker) will be the West Coast Conference favorite once more, but the Bulldogs will also be fielding a team that should open the season in most everyone’s top-15.

Michigan St. at Duke highlights ACC/Big Ten Challenge

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A matchup in Durham of likely top-10 teams is the headliner of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, whose schedule was released Tuesday.

Michigan State, expected to open the season in the top-10, and Duke, the presumptive preseason No. 1, will meet Tuesday, Nov. 29, at Cameron Indoor Stadium in the most intriguing contest of the 14-game event.

The Spartans are losing Denzel Valentin, Bryn Forbes and Matt Costello, but the recruiting class of Miles Bridges, Cassius Winston, Joshua Langford and Nick Ward is one of coach Tom Izzo’s best and has Michigan State positioned as one of the Big Ten’s favorites.

Izzo’s recruiting class, though, pales in comparison to what coach Mike Krzyzewski is bringing to the Blue Devils, with Harry Giles, Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden, Frank Jackson and Javin DeLaurier in their 2016 class, which is why, when paired with the likes of Grayson Allen, Amile Jefferson and Luke Kennard, make Duke nearly everyone’s No. 1 heading into next season.

Krzyzewski is 9-1 all-time against Izzo’s Spartans.

Among the other highlights of the conference competition is Syracuse at Wisconsin (Nov. 29) Pittsburgh at Maryland (Nov. 29), Purdue at Louisville (Nov. 30) and Ohio State at Virginia (Nov. 30).  

Monday, Nov. 28

Minnesota at Florida State

Wake Forest at Northwestern

Tuesday, Nov. 29

Syracuse at Wisconsin

Michigan State at Duke

Pittsburgh at Maryland

Iowa at Notre Dame

Georgia Tech at Penn State

N.C. State at Illinois

 

Wednesday, Nov. 30

Purdue at Louisville

North Carolina at Indiana

Ohio State at Virginia

Virginia Tech at Michigan

Rutgers at Miami (Fla.)

Nebraska at Clemson