Rick Pitino

Louisville gets a defensive makeover

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Even though Louisville beat Houston by double-digits in early February, coach Rick Pitino was not pleased with his team’s performance. Specifically, he thought the Cardinals were defensively lacking. Through the squad’s first ten AAC games, Louisville had held teams to .93 points per possession, a certainly stingy mark but one that must have seemed poor to a coach whose 2013 team kept both conference and overall opponents to well under .90 PPP.

During the next three games, a stretch which culminated in Tuesday’s win against South Florida (and included victories against Temple and Rutgers), L’Ville has handcuffed opposing offenses. The Cardinals’ defensive efficiency rate against those three conference foes dropped to .84 PPP, and the squad swiped nearly 25 percent of the trio’s possessions. This defensive stand did not go unnoticed by Pitino, who spoke about his group’s renewed effort on that side of the ball: “I haven’t been excited until the last ten days … I just didn’t like this team defensively … the last ten days they are coming together and doing better things, which is very encouraging.”

Now, it is worth knowing L’Ville didn’t exactly play the cream of the AAC during this defensive rediscovery, and a true test whether the Cardinals can continue to hamstring teams will likely be against Cincinnati this Saturday. The Bearcats are not known for their offense, but can frustrate opponents with their physical and grinding defense. The match-up, which is being held in Cincinnati, will likely be decided by which defense makes the least mistakes.

POSTERIZED: Cal’s Jaylen Brown has his dunk contest entry

California's Jaylen Brown lays up a shot against Oregon State in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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Cal picked up a big win over Oregon State in Haas Pavilion on Saturday night, and the exclamation point was this emphatic dunk from Jaylen Brown:

Niang, Morris lead No. 14 Iowa State past No. 24 Texas

Iowa State forward Georges Niang drives past Texas guard Tevin Mack, left, during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 13, 2016, in Ames, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
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After falling at Texas Tech for the second straight season midweek, No. 14 Iowa State needed to bounce back with No. 24 Texas visiting Hilton Coliseum. The return of Jameel McKay, who was suspended for two games, certainly helped the Cyclones and the play of Georges Niang and Monte Morris was key as well. But the biggest difference on this night was the fact that Iowa State was able to limit the effectiveness of Texas point guard Isaiah Taylor.

 

Taylor scored just nine points on 3-for-14 shooting from the field, and with Morris and Niang scoring 24 points apiece the Cyclones won by the final score of 85-75.

Taylor had multiple opportunities to make plays around the basket thanks to his ability to beat defenders off the bounce, but he struggled to finish. Add in a 0-for-4 night from three, and Texas’ most dangerous offensive option was unable to duplicate his performance in the first meeting between the two teams. In Texas’ 94-91 overtime win over the Cyclones January 12, Taylor scored 28 points and dished out six assists with just one turnover, shooting 11-for-17 from the field.

Four Longhorns finished in double figures, with Tevin Mack and Javan Felix scoring 18 apiece, but with Morris decisively winning the point guard matchup Texas was unable to pick up the win on the road.

For Iowa State the aforementioned tandem of Morris and Niang performed as they did in the first meeting, which should come as no surprise. What helped them, especially when it came to Texas attacking the basket, was the presence of McKay. McKay finished the game with eight points, seven rebounds and four blocks in 22 minutes of action, and to have their best interior defender back on the floor certainly helped the Cyclones on this night.

With their lack of depth Iowa State’s margin for error is small, especially when it comes to foul trouble, injuries and disciplinary reasons.¬†Even with Texas’ size advantage Iowa State outscored them in the paint 48-34, and McKay’s defensive ability factored into that. The Cyclones can put points on the board with the best of them, but at some point they’ll need to string together stops as the games get even bigger.

Iowa State managed to do that down the stretch, with Morris and Niang running the show offensively. And that’s a good formula to be able to rely upon as the season approaches its most important month.