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AAC Tournament: Louisville looks like a title favorite with blowout win of UConn

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On Thursday, Louisville beat Rutgers by 61 points in the quarterfinals of the AAC Tournament.

On Friday, Russ Smith scored a school-record 27 of his 42 points in the first half of a semifinal win over Houston.

On Saturday, there were no records set, but Louisville beat UConn by double-digits for the fifth consecutive time, ending what had grown to be a terrific rivalry with a 71-61 AAC title game win that wasn’t as close as the final score would indicate. A Luke Hancock three, a Shabazz Napier turnover and a layup by Terry Rozier in the last 30 seconds of the first half put the Cardinals up 37-23 going into the break, and the Huskies never really challenged Louisville the rest of the way.

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That will vault Louisville into Selection Sunday as arguably the hottest team in the country.

Don’t believe me?

Well, the Cardinals won their three AAC tournament games by a combined 100 points. Seriously. 100 points. That came after they best UConn by 33 points exactly one week ago today. Ten days ago, they overcame a 14-point first half deficit at SMU, one of the toughest home courts in the country, to beat the Mustangs by 13. Since a Janaury 9th loss to Memphis at home, Louisville has won 16 of their last 18 games, with the two losses being by three points at home to Cincinnati and by six points at Memphis in a game that the Cards choked away an eight-point lead in the final three minutes.

For the third straight season, Rick Pitino has got his team playing their best basketball in March, which is a scary thought considering that Louisville is currently sitting at No. 2 in KenPom’s rankings and have spent the majority of the season sitting in the top five.

Do you want to play this team right now?

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I certainly don’t, and I’m sure that there are quite a few No. 1 seeds that are thinking the same thing. Because right now, not only does Louisville look like they are one of the three or four best teams in the country, but they did so little in non-conference play that there is a legitimate possibility that they could end up being a No. 4 seed.

Imagine that?

Imagine being a No. 1 seed that has to play the Cardinals in the Sweet 16?

Pretty miserable, right?

That’s still a long ways away, however, and with a number of games with significant seeding implications coming on Sunday, we can’t assume anything at this point.

But I will say this: With Russ Smith playing the best basketball of his career; with Montrezl Harrell dominating the paint for the last month; with Chris Jones finally finding a way to mesh with Smith; with Luke Hancock healthy; with the Louisville defense hitting another gear; with all of that happening right now, we’re realizing that there was a legitimate reason that the Cardinals were a consensus top three team back in the preseason.

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)
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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

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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.

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