No. 4 Louisville advances but will need more from Russ Smith next week

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With Midwest Region No. 4 seed Louisville and No. 5 seed Saint Louis being two of the best defensive teams in the NCAA tournament field, it was somewhat predictable that both teams would have a tough time scoring. That turned out to be the case for much of the afternoon, but a 15-4 second half Louisville run gave the defending national champions the separation they needed to beat the Billikens by the final score of 66-51.

Louisville finished the game shooting 44.6% from the field, with senior guard Luke Hancock’s 21 points leading four Cardinals in double figures. Hancock hit two of his four three-pointers during the decisive run, with Chris Jones (11 points) and Montrezl Harrell (ten points, 11 rebounds) also factoring into the equation.

Rick Pitino’s will make its third consecutive Sweet 16 as a result, with this being the second time in the Hall of Fame coaches’ storied career that he’s accomplished that feat (1995-97 at Kentucky). And a stat that should make Louisville fans feel even better with an eye towards next week in Indianapolis: Pitino has a record of 11-0 in Sweet 16 games.

But if the Cardinals are to make a run at another national title they’ll need more from senior guard Russ Smith, who struggled this weekend in Orlando.

Smith, averaging 18.3 points and 4.6 assists per game entering Saturday, scored 11 points on 3-for-10 shooting against Saint Louis’ tough man-to-man defense. Add in his showing against Manhattan and the All-American shot 6-for-19 from the field, a far cry from the 47.2% he’s shooting this season.

How much is the sore left thumb bothering Smith? The tape job proved to be a nuisance early, with Smith removing it during the first half of Saturday’s game. These next few days will give Smith some valuable time to recuperate, and whether the opponent is No. 1 Wichita State or No. 8 Kentucky the Cardinals will need their star guard to be at his best. And looking back on Smith’s games against Manhattan and Saint Louis, the shooting numbers aren’t the ones that would be a cause for concern looking forward.

In those two games Smith accounted for ten assists and 13 turnovers, breaking even of his assist-to-turnover ratio against the Billikens (seven assists, seven turnovers). Smith’s assist-to-turnover ratio this season: 1.7. Granted he went up against two good defensive teams, but that’s going to be the case throughout the remainder of the tournament.

Louisville took care of Saint Louis thanks to their defense, limiting SLU to 39.6% shooting and forcing 18 turnovers, with their offensive balance coming through in the second half. The goal this time of year is a simple one: survive and advance, and they managed to do so with Smith not playing his best basketball.

VIDEO: Jay-Z’s nephew posterizes nation’s No. 1 recruit Marvin Bagley III

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Nahziah Carter is an unsigned 6-foot-6 wing in the Class of 2017.

He’s also Jay-Z’s nephew, and he just so happened to posterize Marvin Bagley III — the clearcut No. 1 prospect in the Class of 2018 — while Hova was in the stands watching him.

NCAA denies extra-year request by NC State guard Henderson

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The NCAA has denied North Carolina State guard Terry Henderson’s request for another year of eligibility.

Henderson announced the decision Friday in a statement issued by the school.

The Raleigh native played two seasons at West Virginia before transferring to N.C. State and redshirting in 2014-15. He played for only 7 minutes of the following season before suffering a season-ending ankle injury.

As a redshirt senior in 2016-17, he was the team’s second-leading scorer at 13.8 points per game and made a team-best 78 3-pointers.

Henderson called it “an honor and privilege” to play in his hometown.

SMU gets transfer in Georgetown’s Akoy Agau

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SMU pulled in a frontcourt player in Georgetown transfer Akoy Agau, a source confirmed to NBCSports.com. Agau is immediately eligible for next season as a graduate transfer.

The 6-foot-8 Agau started his career at Louisville before transferring to Georgetown after one season. Spending two seasons with the Hoyas, Agau was limited to 11 minutes in his first season due to injuries. He averaged 4.5 points and 4.3 rebounds per game last season.

Coming out of high school, Agau was a four-star prospect but he’s never lived up to that billing in-part because of injuries. Now, Agau gets one more chance to make a difference as he’s hoping to help replace some departed pieces like Ben Moore and Semi Ojeleye.

South Carolina loses big man Sedee Keita to transfer

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South Carolina big man Sedee Keita will transfer from the program, he announced on Friday.

The 6-foot-9 Keita was once regarded as a top-100 national prospect in the Class of 2016, but he never found consistent minutes with the Gamecocks for last season’s Final Four team.

Keita appeared in 29 games and averaged 1.1 points and 2.0 rebounds per game while shooting 27 percent from the field.

A native of Philadelphia, Keita will have to sit out next season before getting three more seasons of eligibility.

Although Keita failed to make an impact during his only season at South Carolina, he’ll be a coveted transfer thanks to his size and upside.

Mississippi State losing two to transfer

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Mississippi State will lose two players to transfer as freshmen Mario Kegler and Eli Wright are leaving the program.

Both Kegler and Wright were four-star prospects coming out of high school as they were apart of a six-man recruiting class that is supposed to be a major foundation for Ben Howland’s future with the Bulldogs.

The 6-foot-7 Kegler was Mississippi State’s third-leading scorer last season as he averaged 9.7 points and 5.5 rebounds per game. Kegler should command some quality schools on the transfer market, especially since he’ll still have three more years of eligibility after sitting out next season due to NCAA transfer regulations. Kegler’s loss is also notable for Mississippi State because it is the second consecutive offseason that Howland lost a top-100, in-state product to transfer after only one season after Malik Newman left for Kansas.

Wright, a 6-foot-4 guard, was never able to find consistent minutes as he was already behind underclass perimeter options like Quinndary Weatherspoon, Lamar Peters and Tyson Carter last season. With Nick Weatherspoon, Quinndary’s four-star brother, also joining the Bulldogs next season, the writing was likely on the wall that Wright wasn’t going to earn significant playing time.