Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Mitchell leads No. 8 Louisville past sharp Virginia Tech

Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Louisville’s 1,800th victory was one for the books.

On a day when both teams were so hot from the field that Virginia Tech coach Buzz Williams changed shirts at halftime, Donovan Mitchell scored 26 points to lead the eighth-ranked Cardinals past the Hokies 94-90 on Saturday.

Both Mitchell, a sophomore guard, and the Cardinals’ inside game stood out.

Mitchell connected on his first six shots, including three 3-pointers en route to going 8 for 13 from the field and 5 of 7 from the beyond the arc. He led an effort that saw Louisville (22-5, 10-4 Atlantic Coast Conference) shoot 51.5 percent from the field and even better, 12 of 22, from beyond the 3-point arc.

The Cardinals needed that as Virginia Tech (18-8, 7-7) managed to shoot 59.2 percent from the field, including 65.4 percent (17 of 26) from beyond the arc. The Hokies, who set a KFC Yum! Center visitor’s record with their 90 points, also made the most 3-pointers against the Cardinals since they beat West Virginia in the 2005 Elite Eight.

“Every team is going to fight, even the teams who are at the bottom of the ACC are going to fight,” Mitchell said. “Everybody is fighting to make the tournament. We’re going to get every team’s best shot being a ranked team because if they beat a (ranked team) there is a good chance that will get them into the tournament.”

The difference ended up being the 19 extra shots the Cardinals got as they used the glass to their advantage. They outrebounded the Hokies 33-25, with 16 coming on the offensive end. That allowed Louisville to enjoy a 26-3 edge in second-chance scoring.

“I think if we don’t have a hot shooting night, they beat us by 40,” said Williams, wearing the orange Virginia Tech T-shirt he switched to in the second half after he sweated through his dress shirt. “I think the hot shooting night allowed it to be a game.”

Louisville coach Rick Pitino said he hated to win solely on offense, but he also knew the Hokies, who played four guards, would present a challenge to the Cardinals. Nonetheless, he expects his team to learn from this win.

“If we don’t start playing better defense we’re all going (on) vacation early,” he said. “You guys are going to be covering someone else. If you’re impressed with that, you’re not watching the game I’m watching. But, that being said, it was a great win.”

Seth Allen led the Hokies with 25 points and Ty Outlaw had 19.

Quentin Snider finished with 19 points and Jaylen Johnson added 16 for Louisville.

BIG PICTURE

Virginia Tech: By playing the Cardinals close on the road, the Hokies did little damage to their NCAA Tournament resume, but beating tough teams away from Cassell Coliseum remains a challenge for the Hokies. The last win against a ranked team on the road came against Clemson on Feb. 25, 2009.

Louisville: It wasn’t a pretty effort for the Cardinals, at least not defensively. However, Louisville gutted through another contest with a team many expect to go dancing next month and avoided a potential trap before playing North Carolina next week.

HISTORIC WIN

With the victory on Saturday, the Cardinals became the 10th program in history to reach 1,800 wins. In its 103rd season, Louisville’s record stands at 1,800-897.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

While the performance might do a number on the Cardinals’ top-ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency ratings, it should not do anything to their standing when the next AP poll comes out on Monday. Especially since the Hokies already have wins against both Duke and Virginia this season.

UP NEXT

Virginia Tech returns home, where it will face Clemson on Tuesday night.

Louisville travels to North Carolina for Wednesday night in the teams’ only regular season matchup.

Bluiett back to Xavier for senior season

Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images
2 Comments

Xavier lost one significant piece to the professional ranks this spring, but will return another.

Trevon Bluiett, the team’s leading scorer last year, announced via social media that he will be back to play his senior season with the Musketeers.

Chris Mack will return the bulk of a roster that struggled February only to make a run to the Elite Eight, but getting Bluiett for a final season makes the Musketeers especially dangerous. The 6-foot-6 Bluiett scored a team-high 18.5 points per game last year while also putting up 5.7 rebounds and 2.1 assists per night. He shot 37.1 percent from 3-point range, the second-best mark on the team. His return, even with point guard Edmond Sumner going pro amid his ACL tear recovery, makes Xavier one of the top teams in the Big East heading into the 2017-18 season.

Bluiett himself is enough to keep Xavier relevant in the league, but when he’s coupled with the likes of returners JP Macura, Sean O’Mara and Quentin Goodwin, plus a recruiting class featuring two four-star prospects, it’s not difficult to see a path for Mack’s group to a place where they can compete with the likes of Villanova and Seton Hall atop the league.

Welsh and Holiday returning to UCLA

Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

UCLA sustained some major, though expected, attrition from its roster this spring. On Tuesday, the Bruins announced a pair of significant contributors that will be back.

Thomas Welsh and Aaron Holiday will both return next season to the UCLA program, according to the school.

Welsh, a 7-foot center, averaged 10.8 points and 8.7 rebounds as a senior last year for the Bruins. He shot 58.5 percent from the floor and blocked 1.2 shots per game, and decided to declare for the NBA Draft without an agent before ultimately deciding to return to Westwood.

“Thomas has worked hard all spring,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said in a statement. “We supported him testing the NBA waters and are excited to have him returning for his senior year. He simply continues to develop each and every season.

“Thomas will be one of the top centers in college basketball next year and, undoubtedly, has a great chance to be a first-round pick in next season’s draft.”

The 6-foot-1 Holiday averaged 12.3 points and 4.4 assists last season while sharing a backcourt with Lonzo Ball, whose departure, along with those of TJ Leaf, Bryce Alford and Isaac Hamilton will leave UCLA with a very different look next season. The positive results, however, may not fluctuate too significantly with Welsh and Holiday coming back to play alongside two five-star recruits, Kris Wilkes and Jaylen Hands, as well as Lonzo’s younger brother LiAngelo.

West Virginia’s Macon forgoing final year

Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia’s attempt to dethrone Kansas atop the Big 12 took a bit of a hit Tuesday.

Elijah Macon, a 6-foot-9 forward, announced his decision to forego a fifth year in Morgantown in order to pursue a professional career.

“First things first I would like to say thank you Bob Huggins and Erik Martin for believing in a young 15-year-old boy growing up from the Southside of Columbus, OH losing my mother and still having you guys push me to be the man I have become,” Macon said according to the school. “I can do nothing but thank you for all you and Mountaineer Nation (have) done for me. Unfortunately, I will not be returning for my senior season at WVU and instead sign with a(n) agent and play professional basketball. Thank you guys for all the love and support!”

Macon wasn’t a major contributor for the Mountaineers last season, averaging 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in 16 minutes per game, but he was an experienced and tough player who was well-versed in Huggins’ style and demands. Given the pace that the newly-fashioned Press Virginia plays at, depth is also paramount for them as a program.

Macon’s departure, though, may have been expected or at least partly anticipated by West Virginia. The Mountaineers signed five players in its most recent recruiting class, putting them one over their allotment of 13, so something had to give. West VIrginia will stay have interior depth, anchored by junior Esa Ahmad, so the loss of Macon is one they likely can weather, even if it may take some time to acclimate the newcomers.

“Elijah is in the process of completing classes during this summer school period that ends June 2 and will graduate with a bachelor’s degree in August,” Huggins said in a statement released by the school. “I respect his decision to become a professional basketball player and to go make money to support his family. He had a great four years with us, and we wish him nothing but the best.”

Key returning to Alabama for sophomore season

Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Alabama’s top scorer is returning to school.

Braxton Key has withdrawn his name from the NBA draft and will be back with the Tide for his sophomore season, the school announced Tuesday.

“I spoke to coach Avery (Johnson) just over a week ago and informed him of my decision to withdraw my name from the NBA Draft and return to the University of Alabama for my sophomore season,” Key said in a statement. “I made that official when I sent my paperwork to the NBA league office Monday morning. I want to express my appreciation to my teammates, Coach Johnson and the entire coaching staff for giving me their full support while I went through this process.

“I am excited for the future of the Alabama basketball program and looking forward to getting to work as we prepare for next season. Roll Tide and Buckle Up!”

The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds per game while shooting 43.3 percent from the field as a freshman. He gives Alabama four returning starts to pair with one of the country’s highest-regarded recruiting classes, headlined by five-star guard Collin Sexton. The Tide will also have an eligible Daniel Giddens, who previously transferred in from Ohio State.

Key didn’t seem likely to stay in the NBA draft, especially after he wasn’t invited to the combine, but his ultimate decision is a huge one for Avery Johnson as he looks to break through in his third season in Tuscaloosa with his first NCAA tournament appearance. 

Report: Justin Jackson to return to Maryland

Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Maryland forward Justin Jackson is expected to return to school for his sophomore season, according to a report from FanRag Sports.

Jackson is an intriguing talent, a 6-foot-7 combo-forward with a 7-foot-3 wingspan that shoots 44 percent from three. But he’s also still developing his offensive game and consistency on the defensive end of the floor, which is why he was projected as a second round pick in this year’s draft.

With Jackson back in the fold, Maryland is a borderline top 25 team. They lost Melo Trimble to the professional ranks, but that’s something that Mark Turgeon has prepared for. With a sophomore class that also includes highly-regarded point guard Anthony Cowan and sharp-shooter Kevin Huerter, the Terps have a promising season ahead of them.