Louisville v Kentucky

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

Leave a comment

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.

No. 5 Xavier stumbles at Creighton, lose 70-54

Creighton's Cole Huff (13) and Toby Hegner, left, guard Xavier's Jalen Reynolds (1) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Omaha, Neb., Tuesday, Feb. 9, 2016. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
(AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Leave a comment

Mo Watson went for a career-high 32 points, seven boards and five assists as Creighton jumped out to an early 21-4 lead and never looked back, beating No. 5 Xavier, 70-54, in Omaha on Tuesday night.

 

It was a massive win for the Bluejays, who still have an outside shot at earning an at-large bid this season. (We wrote all about that here.)

As well as Creighton played, the bigger story here may actually be Xavier, who lost for just the third time this season; they had been the only top ten team with just two losses to their name.

The issue for the Musketeers tonight was two-fold, but they both are a symptom of what could be an issue down the road for this team: Xavier doesn’t really have a true point guard.

They certainly didn’t have anyone to stop Watson. By the second half, they had essentially asked Reynolds, who was playing the middle of their 1-3-1 zone to matchup with Watson. It was weird but was actually somewhat effective.

The Musketeers also started out ice cold from the floor, missing 11 of their first 13 shots, and those misses led to leak outs from Bluejays, who got layups and open threes in transition to build that 17 point lead. Once Xavier got behind, it turned into scramble mode for Xavier. They forced shots early in the clock and didn’t start pounding the ball into the paint until it was too late. What they needed was someone to be able to settle things, to ensure that offensive would get initiated and sets would get executed when they were able to get the lead down to single digits.

That 1-for-19 shooting performance from beyond the arc certainly didn’t help matters, and neither did the fact that they got just nine field goals all game from players not named James Farr or Jalen Reynolds. The most frustrating part for head coach Chris Mack? They had good shots. It wasn’t like Creighton took away everything that Xavier wanted to do.

The kids just had one of those nights where nothing went down.

Those happen.

And when you combine them with a total inability to contain the opposing team’s point guard, what you get is a 16 point loss on the road against a team that was desperate to get a good win.

Gill’s 16, ‘D’ lead No. 7 Virginia past Virginia Tech, 67-49

Lehigh Virginia Basketball
AP Photo/Andrew Shurtleff
Leave a comment

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) Anthony Gill scored 16 points and No. 7 Virginia turned the tables on state rival Virginia Tech with a 67-49 victory Tuesday night, the Cavaliers’ seventh straight.

Isaiah Wilkins added a career-best 14 points and Malcolm Brogdon had 12 for the Cavaliers (20-4, 9-3 Atlantic Coast Conference). Virginia avenged a 70-68 loss to the Hokies in Blacksburg on Jan. 4 in what rates as their worst performance of the season, and extended their winning streak at John Paul Jones Arena to 17 games.

Freshman Justin Robinson scored 16 points and classmate Chris Clarke had 11 in his first action for the Hokies (13-12, 5-7) since breaking his right foot in late December. Virginia Tech’s top two scorers, Zach LeDay (16.0 ppg) and Seth Allen (14.5), were limited to seven and six points, respectively, in part because of foul trouble.

Virginia coach Tony Bennett said his team wasn’t ready to play when it lost to the Hokies earlier, but they have been surging of late and were focused from the outset. They were credited with assists and 14 of their first 15 baskets and forced 10 turnovers in the first half; they forced just eight in the last meeting of the teams.

For most of the game, the Hokies had more turnovers than field goals.

The Cavaliers led 32-20 at halftime and extended their advantage to 47-29 on a three-point play by Mike Tobey with 12:11 remaining. It capped an 11-4 run for Virginia, during which LeDay was whistled for his fourth foul. On Virginia’s next trip down court, it got the ball to Gill inside and LeDay basically backed off and let him score, quickly earning a spot on the bench.

The Cavaliers’ lead never dipped into single digits again.

The Hokies had just eight turnovers and outscored Virginia 26-6 off turnovers in their first meeting. This time, Virginia Tech had 10 turnovers by halftime and the Cavaliers had already turned them into 15 points. Virginia Tech finished with 16 field goals and 15 turnovers.

Already leading 9-6, Virginia got scoring from eight players in a 23-8 run that spanned about 8 1/2 minutes.

Gill started it with a dunk, Brogdon hit a 3-pointer, London Perrantes had a four-point play and Wilkins finished it with two free throws, giving the Cavaliers a 32-14 lead with 2:06 left in the half. They didn’t score again, and the Hokies closed within 32-20 by halftime.

TIP-INS

Virginia Tech: The Hokies shot 57.1 percent (15 of 26) from the field in the second half of their 70-68 victory against Virginia on Jan. 4. … Virginia Tech’s starting five totaled four points in the first half.

Virginia: The Cavaliers have held four consecutive opponents to 50 points or fewer.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech plays at No. 12 Miami next Wednesday.

Virginia plays at Duke on Saturday.

Follow Hank on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/hankkurzjr

The AP’s college basketball page: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org