Cincinnati v Louisville

No. 12 Louisville blows golden chance for season-changing win

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It sounds weird saying this about the No. 12 team in the country, but I actually liked what I saw from Louisville on Thursday night.

Their press looked as good as it has all season long, forcing 20 Bearcat turnovers. Montrezl Harrell played really well in the low post, finishing with 18 points on 9-for-13 shooting. Luke Hancock played what might have been his best game of the season. Louisville stormed back from a 17-point deficit in the span of about three minutes.

Here’s the problem: all that good was packed into about a 12 minute stretch during the second half. The Cardinals were completely out of sync offensively in the first half, mustering a meager 20 points thanks to a 7-0 run in the final 2:27. They allowed Cincinnati to hit six of their first seven shots to start the second half, digging themselves that 44-27 hole.

The worst part? After Russ Smith hit a deep three to give the Cardinals a 64-61 lead with 5:03 left, Louisville wouldn’t score again until Terry Rozier hit two free throws after being fouled intentionally with less than 10 seconds remaining. They would lose 69-66, a tip-in from Justin Jackson being the eventual game-winning basket.

The Cardinals did everything they could to erase a huge deficit and beat a very good — and, at No. 13 in the country, still underrated — Cincinnati team, they just couldn’t close out the win. There was Smith settling for a second 28-foot three. There were the missed box-outs, most notably on Jackson when he gave Cincinnati a 65-64 lead. There was Smith trying to finish over Jackson, the AAC’s best shotblocker. There was Harrell getting stripped by Jackson with 40 seconds left.

For anyone, that kind of a loss will hurt.

But for the Cardinals, it gets magnified.

This team still is in a position where they are without a marquee win on their resume. They’ve won at UConn, which is good but not something to hang a tournament resume on. They’ve beat Southern Miss in Louisville, which, again, isn’t all that great.

And they will really only have two more chances at getting a big win: at Cincinnati and at Memphis. Both of those teams have won in the Yum! Center this season.

Louisville’s tempo-free profile is strong, and what we’ve seen over the last three weeks can back that up.

But the Cardinals are now in the same spot as Iowa: as good as they look on paper, they haven’t done anything this season to prove that they are a team that can make a run.

Duke knocks off No. 13 Louisville in first game of critical four-game stretch

Duke's Grayson Allen (3) and Marshall Plumlee (40) react during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Louisville in Durham, N.C., Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. Duke won 72-65. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
(AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
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Grayson Allen scored 16 of his 19 points in the first half and Brandon Ingram added 18 points, 10 boards and four assists as Duke picked up a critical win over No. 13 Louisville in Cameron Indoor Stadium on Monday night, 72-65.

A call this a critical win for the Blue Devils because it kicks off what may be the most important two-week stretch of Duke’s schedule This weekend, the Blue Devils square off with No. 9 Virginia. Next Wednesday, they’re at the Dean Dome to take on No. 7 North Carolina. Four days after that, they head to the Bluegrass State to pay a visit to Louisville.

 

With the way that Duke has been struggling on the defensive end of the floor without Amile Jefferson, that’s a stretch that could derail Duke’s season; entering Monday, all four of those games were losable. But a four-game winning streak — or even going 3-1 in that stretch — could completely change the tenor of what has been a fairly disappointing year for the defending champs, and that’s before they get Jefferson back to 100 percent.

And the difference was defensively, at least in the first half.

I’ve written in this space a number of times about how opponents know what they’re going to get from Duke defensively. Coach K, traditionally, plays half court man-to-man defense, switching every exchange — ball-screen, off-ball pick or simply when two players run by one another — that doesn’t involve the center. In recent years, he’s played some zone in situations where he defense has struggled or, like this season, when he doesn’t have the depth to risk foul trouble. We’ve even seen some 2-2-1 pressure from him of late.

But on Monday night, Duke played straight man-to-man for much of the game, and in the first half, it seemed to fluster the Cardinals. They scored just 24 points in the first 20 minutes, and while Louisville did find a way to break Duke down defensively in the second half — they shot better than 55 percent from the floor after the break — but part of the reason Duke was able to win this game was the lead they built. After a three from Allen opened scoring in the second half, the Blue Devils were up by 14, and while Louisville made a run down the stretch, they could never get control of the game.

Duke is becoming appointment viewing for basketball nerds like me that pay too much attention to X’s-and-O’s to see what kind of wrinkle Coach K is going to put in to try and compensate defensively, so I’m not sure that this performance sticks. But it is worth noting that this was the first time in eight games the Blue Devils gave up less than 1.0 PPP, and the first time since Dec. 19th they did so against an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

As far as Louisville is concerned, you have to tip your hat to those kids. They played their hearts out and fought back from a big deficit in one of the toughest places in the country to play. They did all that three days after their school ripped their hearts out with an NCAA tournament ban for this season.

So good for them. You never know how a team is going to react to something like that, but the Cardinal players showed that they have some serious fight in them.

Iowa State’s starting center Jameel McKay remains suspended

Iowa State forward Jameel McKay celebrates on the court at the end of an NCAA college basketball game against Oklahoma, Monday, Jan. 18, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. Iowa State won 82-77. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
(AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Steve Prohm announced on Monday that starting center Jameel McKay will not be in the lineup on Wednesday when the Cyclones take on Texas Tech.

“He’ll practice today because I want him in practice,” Prohm said, “but game-wise, he’s suspended.”

McKay did not make the trip to Stillwater with the team on Saturday, where Iowa State beat Oklahoma State, 64-59. Prohm has not gotten into specifics regarding the cause of McKay’s suspension, but it’s reportedly an issue with the way he has been practicing. McKay is dealing with a nagging knee injury, which may play a role in the situation as well.

“My hope is he’ll be with us on Saturday,” Prohm said.