AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

Four Takeaways from No. 12 Virginia’s win over No. 6 Louisville

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Virginia appears to be the bully Louisville just can’t seem to conquer.

The 12th-ranked Cavaliers led by as much as 21 points and defeated the No. 6 Cardinals, 61-53, on the road at KFC Yum! Center to claim their fourth win in five tries against Rick Pitino’s squad.

Virginia dominated play for all but a stretch in the second half courtesy of their always-staunch defense and an offensive attack that spread the love around. It’s by far the best win of the year for Tony Bennett and the Cavaliers.

Here are five things we learned from the game:

1. Virginia is an awful matchup for Louisville: The Cavaliers have now beaten the Cardinals in four of their last five matchups, and it’s anything but a fluke they keep coming out on top. Tony Bennett’s style and personnel is just a nightmare for Rick Pitino’s group.

The famed pack-line defense Virginia employs is especially devastating when it’s unleashed against a team that can’t space the floor with shooting, which is exactly what Louisville has been the last two-plus years. In 2015, when the two teams split a pair of games, the Cardinals shot 30.7 percent from 3-point range while in 2016, with Virginia took both matchups, Louisville came in at 34.7 percent from deep but fired up fewer attempts from distance than any other team in the country. They went 2 of 14 from distance this night.

With Virginia’s ability to eliminate fast break opportunities with its pace of play and its prowess on the glass, that leaves Louisville falling to option D, E and F more often than not, which is a pretty good explainer of why the Cardinals are averaging 50.4 points per game in their last five matchups with Virginia.

AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

2. Virginia’s offense can get clunky long enough to cause problems: Maybe they got lackadaisical or bored when the lead got to 21, but Virginia’s offense went completely sideways for 7 full minutes in the second half that, while it didn’t cost them the game, does make for an easy nit to pick.

The Cavaliers turned the ball over four times – two coming from point guard London Perrantes – and went 1 of 10 from the field. That’s a stretch that will often get you beat on the road – unless you’ve built yourself a 21-point cushion.

Still, it’s a picture of Virginia’s offense when things go wrong. Perrantes is a big-shot shooter – he’s got ice in his veins – but he’s not the type you want just going to work time and again down the floor. He’s a facilitator first and foremost. The Cavaliers are an offense-by-committee team with a balanced attack that doesn’t have that go-to guy. Which leads us to Point No. 3:

3. Kyle Guy isn’t Malcolm Brogdon, but he is a bucket-getter: The idea for Virginia this season in replacing All-American Malcolm Brogdon, whose number will be retired by the school this winter, on the offensive end was with Austin Nichols inside. Well, that plan got junked when Nichols was kicked off the team after appearing in just one game. He’s just a freshman, but Kyle Guy might be just the person to fill that shot-making void.

I’m not saying he’s going to average close to 20 points this year, but the kid is unafraid to hunt his shot and doesn’t shy away from tough or big looks. He had nine points on 3 of 5 shooting (3 of 3 from the line) in just 19 minutes against Louisville.

Virginia is built on defense. That grinding style is what is going to keep them near the top of the ACC and a high seed come March, but they’re going to need buckets periodically. Perrantes can score consistently, but Guy is the one player that can score in bunches. He’s the type of player that can win Virginia a game coming off the bench and going wild. Guy just seems destined to go bonkers in an NCAA tournament game this year when Virginia needs him most.

He’s got a role to play – he’s not starting and averaging under 20 minutes per game – but that role is clear, defined and integral to Virginia’s success. Guy is tailor-made for it.

4. The ACC is as bonkers as we predicted: Everyone knew coming into the year that the ACC was going to be awesome at the top, and there’s no indication to the contrary. Virginia’s win Wednesday shot them up to the top spot in KenPom, giving the league the No. 1 , 2 (Duke) and 3 (North Carolina) teams in KP’s rankings, along with Louisville at No. 8.

Given Duke’s strange – and maybe fleeting – troubles, the league race may not be the Blue Devil coronation it appeared it might be throughout the last few weeks. Virginia, even without Nichols, is a machine, North Carolina is among the country’s most talented teams and Louisville matches up better with the 12 other teams in the league not coached by Tony Bennett. And that’s to say nothing of intriguing teams like Florida State, Clemson and Miami.

Louisville's head coach Rick Pitino shouts instructions to his team during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Virginia, Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. Virginia won 61-53. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

South Carolina coach suspends G Rakym Felder indefinitely

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina guard Rakym Felder has been suspended indefinitely and won’t attend classes this fall, another blow to a thinning Gamecock backcourt that reached the Final Four this past April.

Felder’s status was announced by coach Frank Martin on Wednesday.

Felder had been suspended since June 30 for his involvement in a fight outside a bar. He was arrested July 13 and charged with assault and battery.

“Due to some unfortunate decisions by Rakym, he has been suspended indefinitely from our program,” Martin said in a statement.

Felder’s loss further weakens a South Carolina team that was already short in the backcourt after last season’s NCAA Tournament run. Three starting guards from last year, including leading scorer Sindarius Thornwell, along with rising sophomore P.J. Dozier, are no longer with the team. Dozier entered the NBA draft and, after not getting selected, signed this month with the Dallas Mavericks.

Thornwell signed with the Los Angeles Clippers, who picked him in the second round.

Felder, from Brooklyn, New York, was supposed to slide into one of the openings created by the departing guards. He played in 36 games last season, averaging 14.6 minutes off the bench.

Like the rest of the team, Felder stepped things up in the NCAAs. He scored 15 points, including going 7-of-8 at the foul line in the final five minutes to hold off No. 2 seed Duke, 88-81, in the second round.

Felder had nine points and three assists in South Carolina’s Sweet 16 win, a 70-50 victory over No. 3 seed Baylor.

Minus Felder, the Gamecocks only guard from South Carolina’s regular rotation with experience at South Carolina is junior Hassani Gravett.

Felder took full responsibility for his actions and apologized to the school, the team and Gamecock fans in a statement through his attorney, Neal Lourie.

“I know I have let you down and I will have to work hard to regain your trust,” Felder said.

Lourie said Felder has personal issues that “he cannot fix alone and requires professional help.” Lourie did not elaborate on those problems.

This is the second time Felder has been arrested since enrolling. Last October, he was tasered by police stemming from a bar fight and charged with six counts, including assault and battery and resisting arrest.

Felder entered a pre-trial intervention program and played after missing only one game. “‘He’s a beautiful kid, not a good kid, a beautiful kid,” Martin said on Nov. 13 in defense of playing Felder against Holy Cross.

Lourie requested a jury trial on Felder’s latest charge. A trial date has not been set.

Martin said he’ll stand by Felder this time, too, and continue to “help Rakym grown as a young man even though basketball is not part of our relationship right now.”

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Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday: