Louisville v Kentucky

Too much Russ Smith, Chris Jones is just a symptom, not Louisville’s biggest problem

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source: Getty Images

For just the second time this season, No. 6 Louisville squared off with a quality opponent in non-conference play.

And for the second time this season, the Cardinals lost. Last month, it was a 93-84 defeat suffered at the hands of North Carolina at Mohegan Sun in Connecticut. On Saturday, Louisville lost to No. 18 Kentucky in Rupp Arena, 73-66.

On the surface, the problem isn’t all that difficult to diagnose. Against the Tar Heels, Louisville’s starting back court of Russ Smith and Chris Jones combined to take 42 of Louisville’s 67 shots from the floor. On Saturday, they took 33 of Louisville’s 58 shots. That doesn’t factor in the 19 free throws taken by Russ Smith in those two games, either.

Louisville’s offense is too reliant on their two little, shoot-first scoring guards. I think we can all agree on that fact, but the ‘what’ isn’t quite as important as the ‘why’ in this instance.

Louisville doesn’t have a true point guard on their roster this season, so it’s easy to pin all of the blame for shot selection on Smith and Jones dominating the ball, looking to ‘get their’s’. But the bigger issue is that right now, Louisville doesn’t have anyone else on the roster capable of providing those two with a supporting cast.

Luke Hancock has shot the ball so poorly this season that the fact that he made two three-pointers in the second half against Kentucky, finishing the day 2-for-8 from three and 3-for-10 from the floor, could be considered breaking out of his slump. Wayne Blackshear has yet to live up to the hype he created with a strong finish to the 2011-2012 season. Louisville has four big men that see minutes — Montrezl Harrell, Chane Behanan, Stephen Van Treese, Mangok Mathiang — and there isn’t a post presence among them.

What happens as a result is that Louisville’s only way to generate offense is in transition or by hoping that Smith or Jones can break down the defense off the dribble. And since there isn’t a shooter to spread the floor or a post presence to keep the defense honest, trying to break down the defense off the dribble eventually devolves into Smith and Jones going 1-on-2 or 1-on-3.

Louisville’s defense is always going to be good enough to make them elite. Smith and Jones are always going to be a nightmare for opposing guards to defend. That’s not changing.

But until Hancock is fully healthy and out of this shooting funk and until Harrell is more than just an energy guy that fouls a bit too much, the Cardinals are going to struggle with quality opponents.

These are fixable issues that the Cardinals are dealing with, but they are issues nonetheless.

And as a result, Louisville will enter American play with nothing better than a win over Southern Miss on their resume.

Marcus Paige, Joel Berry lead No. 9 North Carolina past No. 2 Maryland

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CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — He’s back.

For the first time this season — and for the first time in more than a year that he hasn’t been hampered with some kind of foot or ankle injury — Marcus Paige donned a North Carolina jersey, and it didn’t take him long to find the form that made him the NBCSports.com Preseason National Player of the Year.

On the first Tar Heel possession, Paige came off of a ball-screen, drove the lane and found Kennedy Meeks at the rim for a layup. Not 30 seconds later, he came off of a down screen and buried a three. Paige would finish with 20 points and five assists as No. 9 North Carolina put together a fairly resounding win over No. 2 Maryland in the Dean Dome on Tuesday night, winning 89-81.

Paige finished 7-for-12 from the floor and 4-for-5 from beyond the arc, hitting a number of threes in the second half that helped hold off a Maryland push sparked by their own all-american point guard, Melo Trimble.

Trimble was erratic early on, committing three turnovers in the first six minutes and eight on the night, but it was his play at the end of the first half and early second half that kept North Carolina from blowing their doors. At one point, Maryland was down 32-19 and in danger of getting run out of Tobacco Road.

In total, Trimble finished with 23 points and 12 assists, hitting four big threes during that stretch. He either scored or assisted on 11 of Maryland’s first 12 second half field goals.

As good as Paige was, the bigger story may actually be Joel Berry II. He took two dumb threes in the first half — which played a role in Maryland being able to make this a game — and he missed a few free throws late, but overall he was terrific. He finished with 14 points and five assists, making 3-of-5 threes and turning the ball over just twice. He’s clearly beat Nate Britt out at the point guard spot, and his ability to take pressure off of Paige as a secondary ball-handler and playmaker is huge.

(More to come from Chapel Hill…)

VIDEO: Melo Trimble drops Nate Britt with a crossover

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North Carolina is hosting No. 2 Maryland in a heated contest in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Terps sophomore guard Melo Trimble is playing very well and part of his performance was dropping North Carolina’s Nate Britt with a crossover in the second half.

(H/T: The Cauldron)