Louisville Cardinals

Purdue's Isaac Haas (44) looks to take a shot over the defense of Louisville's Mangok Mathiang (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016, in Louisville, Ky. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley

No. 14 Louisville’s first-half defense enough to down No. 15 Purdue

Leave a comment

Louisville’s first-half defense was enough to carry it past some late shaky play.

The 14th-ranked Cardinals defeated No. 15 Purdue, 71-64, in a game that featured dominating first-half defense from Louisville and some tense moments as it tried to close out the victory.

Louisville led by 18 points in the second half, but the Boilermakers cut it to four in the final minute to make Rick Pitino’s group work for the victory rather than cruise to one.

In the first half, Louisville lived up to its No. 2 KenPom defensive ranking, absolutely swarming Purdue and making life difficult on every single possession for the Boilermakers, who didn’t get into double-figure scoring until over 14 minutes had elapsed in the game.

Vincent Edwards, Caleb Swanigan and Isaac Haas, Purdue’s three leading scorers who averaged a combined 47.5 points per game, combined to score one point in the first half. They went 0 for 12 from the floor. One point. Zero made shots. From the team’s three best offensive players.

That’s simply domination for Louisville, which also forced 10 turnovers while allowing just seven made shots (Purdue shot 25 percent) in the first half.

In the second, the Cardinals weren’t able to control things quite as well.

Purdue shot a respectable 48 percent from the floor, got 21 points from Haas and Swanigan, hit 6 of 11 3-pointers and got to the line for 20 free throws, making 15 of them.

Late turnovers also stopped Louisville from claiming a drama-free victory as a pair over 30 seconds with 2 minutes to play allowed Purdue to turn a nine-point deficit to just four quickly.

Still, that first half was a perfect example of how devastating the Cardinals’ defense can be, which gives them plenty of margin for error on the other end most nights, even against a top-15 opponent.

ACC/Big Ten Challenge: Previews, picks and what to watch for

PHILADELPHIA, PA - MARCH 25:  Nate Britt #0 of the North Carolina Tar Heels highfives teammate Joel Berry II #2 in the second half against the Indiana Hoosiers during the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament East Regional at Wells Fargo Center on March 25, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
1 Comment

The ACC/Big Ten Challenge kicks off tonight.

Here is a preview of the 14-game slate.

No. 3 North Carolina at No. 13 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

Easily the biggest game of the event, the streaking Tar Heels will make their way to Bloomington to face-off with an Indiana team that has been knocked back after a perfect start to the season. The Hoosiers not only lost to Fort Wayne on the road last week, but they may have lost James Blackmon Jr., the hero in the win over Kansas, to a knee injury. Tom Crean said the injury isn’t serious, but for a team that lacks weapons in the half court, not having Blackmon against the Tar Heels would be a major blow.

Why?

Because North Carolina is playing as well as anyone in college basketball right now. Joel Berry II looks like an all-american, the trio of Kennedy Meeks, Isaiah Hicks and Tony Bradley are averaging 39.0 points and 22.4 boards and the Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. Playing in Bloomington will be by far their biggest test of the season. The Hoosiers are lethal when their threes are going down, and when Assembly Hall is packed to the gills, those threes tend to go down.

  • Prediction: It sounds like Blackmon has a good chance of playing, so I’ll go with Indiana (+4.5) at home.

Michigan State at No. 5 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.

Michigan State has been playing better of late, but this is still a dreadfully young team missing key players and at the end of a long, long three weeks. they’ve been to Hawai’i, New York and the Bahamas already this season, and they will be heading back out to Durham for this one at some point on Monday.

Miles Bridges is playing much better after the trip to the Battle 4 Atlantis than he did against Kentucky at the Garden and Duke, frankly, does not have anyone that can guard him. That said, I think the Blue Devils will be too much, even with Jayson Tatum, Marques Bolden and Harry Giles III out and Grayson Allen limited.

  • Prediction: Duke (-11.5) coasts, but keep an eye on the status of Grayson Allen’s toe.

No. 22 Syracuse at No. 17 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:30 p.m.

Two teams trending in the wrong direction. Let’s start with Syracuse, who couldn’t find a way to run offense against South Carolina’s half court pressure. It was not a promising performance from the Orange, who mustered all of 50 points as the issues with their point guard play – Franklin Howard and John Gillon – rose to the surface.

On the other hands, the Badgers are still trying to figure out how they are going to be able to turn Nigel Hayes back into an efficient basketball player. A year after getting criticized for settling for too many threes, Hayes is shooting more three per game at a worse clip than he did last season, just 29.0 percent. Someone’s streak has to snap on Tuesday.

  • Prediction: I think Syracuse wins so of course I’ll take the Orange (+7.5).
SYRACUSE, NY - DECEMBER 02: Ethan Happ #22 of the Wisconsin Badgers drives to the basket as Tyler Lydon #20 of the Syracuse Orange defends during the first half on December 2, 2015 at The Carrier Dome in Syracuse, New York. (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)
Ethan Happ (Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images)

No. 15 Purdue at No. 14 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

This is a matchup of two very different teams. The Boilermakers want to pound the ball inside, to take advantage of the fact that they have Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan and you don’t. Louisville? They press, they try to force turnovers, they want to speed the game up and take advantage of the talent and athleticism on their perimeter.

There are two keys to this game. 1. Can Louisville’s bigs stay out of foul trouble? The sheer size of Haas and Swanigan got Georgia State into foul trouble and cost them a win in Mackey Arena, and it nearly cost Villanova their win at Purdue. 2. Will Louisville make perimeter shots? Deng Adel and Quentin Snider are shooting under 30 percent from the floor this season. Donovan Mitchell is under 40 percent. That’s not good.

  • Prediction: I’m on Louisville (-5.5) as I think Louisville’s guards overwhel Purdue’s back court and nullify the advantage the Boilermakers have inside.

Ohio State at No. 6 Virginia, Weds. 7:15 p.m.

Virginia is giving up an average of 41.3 points per game through six games. Their opponents are shooting 31.7 percent from the floor and averaging just 0.708 points-per-possession, which is an insane number. The question here is: Can Ohio State break 50 points on the evening?

  • Prediction: I’m going to say take the under (119.5) here. Virginia is a 12-point favorite, meaning the predicted final score is 66-54. The Wahoos haven’t given up more than 52 points this season and are allowing an average of just 41.3 points. Iowa, who put up 92 on Memphis and 78 on Notre Dame, scored 41 points against Virginia. Ohio State, however, has also been pretty good defensively on the season, and the only proven scored Virginia has on their roster is London Perrantes, who isn’t really a scorer. And all that is before you consider Virginia is the slowest team in the country and Ohio State is 185th in pace. If you’re only into betting lines, I’d say take Ohio State (+12).

Virginia Tech at Michigan, Weds. 9:15 p.m.

This is a win the Hokies badly need after they blew a 16-point second half lead to Texas A&M, missing out on their chance to take a swing at UCLA in the Wooden Legacy title game. Buzz Williams has a good team in Blacksburg, one that will improve their NCAA tournament candidacy with a win at Michigan. The Wolverines looked good at the 2K Classic in New York two weeks ago, but took a beating on the road against South Carolina over the weekend.

  • Prediction: I like Virginia Tech (+5), mainly because I’m not convinced Michigan isn’t overrated and I love the Hokies this season.

Monday, Nov. 28

  • Minnesota at Florida State, 7:00 p.m.: This is going to be a nice gauge game for both of these teams. The Seminoles should, in theory, be able to take care of Minnesota at home, but Richard Pitino’s team is sitting at 6-0 on the year with a 14-point win over Arkansas.
  • Wake Forest at Northwestern, 9:00 p.m.: Is this the year that Northwestern makes the tournament? It looked like it in their 19-point win over Texas. Not so much against Butler and Notre Dame. Wake Forest is 5-1 on the year with a couple of decent mid-major wins.

Tuesday, Nov. 29

  • Pittsburgh at Maryland, 7:00 p.m.: Maryland is 7-0 on the season, but five of those seven wins have come by single digits, including late comebacks against Georgetown and Kansas State. What happens when the Terps face off with a good Pitt team?
  • Georgia Tech at Penn State, 7:00 p.m.: Penn State has struggled early on this season while Georgia Tech is … still Georgia Tech under Josh Pastner.
  • Iowa at Notre Dame, 9:00 p.m.: Iowa scored 41 points against Virginia and lost. They got 42 points from Peter Jok the next night … and lost to Memphis. The Irish, coming off of a
    win in the Legends Classic, have looked good this year.
  • N.C. State at Illinois, 9:00 p.m.: Dennis Smith Jr. has been phenomenal of late, but his team is still missing Maverick Rowan (concussion) and Omer Yurtseven (suspension). This is a win they should be able to get.

Wednesday, Nov. 30

  • Rutgers at Miami (Fla.), 7:15 p.m.: Don’t look now but Rutgers is undefeated. This will be their stiffest test of the season to date.
  • Nebraska at Clemson, 9:15 p.m.: I’m still unsure of what to make of either of these teams. Clemson’s Jaron Blossomgame is a first round pick.

Baylor and Obi Enechionyia of Temple offer stand out performances

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 25:  Shizz Alston Jr. #3 and Mark Williams #10 celebrate with Obi Enechionyia #0 of the Temple Owls after he was named All-Tournament Most Valuable Player during the championship game of the NIT Season Tip-Off at Barclays Center on November 25, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Michael Reaves/Getty Images
Leave a comment

PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Obi Enechionyia, Temple

Enechionyia led Temple to a pair of massive wins over ranked teams this week, as the Owls left New York with the Preseason NIT title. Against No. 25 Florida State in the semifinals, Enechionyia finished with 16 points, eight boards and six blocks and followed that up with 22 points, 12 boards and five blocks in a win over No. 19 West Virginia.

What made those performances even more impressive and important was the fact that the Owls had entered the tournament with two ugly losses already on their résumé. It’s never too early to start thinking about what needs to get done to win an at-large bid, and with the American looking like it won’t be stockpiled with quality wins and a loss to New Hampshire already hanging over their head, this was something Temple desperately needed.

They were good, too

  • Sindarius Thornwell, South Carolina: The Gamecocks sure were impressive this week, beating No. 25 Michigan and No. 18 Syracuse. Thornwell was the guy that led the way, averaging 18.5 points, 8.0 boards and 4.0 assists.
  • Johnathan Motley, Baylor: Motley was the best player on the floor for the Bears in their run to the Battle 4 Atlantis title. His best performance came against No. 24 Michigan State, when he had 26 points and 12 boards.
  • Joel Berry II, North Carolina: Berry outplayed Jawun Evans in a blowout win over Oklahoma State then put 22 points, three assists and three boards up on No. 16 Wisconsin.
  • Bryson Scott, Fort Wayne: Scott, native of Fort Wayne, Indiana, that started his career at Purdue, had 18 points, 12 boards, three assists and three steals as the Mastadons beat Indiana in Fort Wayne. That’s a good day.
  • Matt Farrell, Notre Dame: Farrell averaged 19.0 points and 6.0 assists as the Irish dispatched Northwestern and Colorado en route to the Legends Classic title.
PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Johnathan Motley (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Baylor Bears

The Bears entered the season as a team that no one was paying attention to and have since gone on to be arguably the most impressive team in the sport to date. After their performance winning the Battle 4 Atlantis, if the NCAA tournament were to start today, Baylor would be the No. 1 overall seed. That’s mostly because they’ve played a lot of good teams already and other teams haven’t yet, but to date, this is who Baylor has beaten: No. 13 Oregon, VCU, No. 24 Michigan State and No. 10 Louisville, the latter of which came after the Cardinals built a 22-point lead in the first half.

And here’s the best part: Scott Drew is doing all of this with a team full of over-achievers. Remember all that talk about how Drew couldn’t coach and all he could do was recruit? Well, this team is mostly made up of three-star prospects with a few four-star guys sprinkled in.

They were good, too

  • Gonzaga: The Zags won the Advocare Invitational and picked up wins over No. 21 Iowa State and Miami to make it happen.
  • Fort Wayne: How about the Mastadons, who knocked off No. 3 Indiana in Fort Wayne!
  • Butler: The Bulldogs landed an upset of their own this week, as they picked off No. 8 Arizona to win a tournament in Las Vegas.
  • UCLA: The Bruins finally faced a test and passed with flying colors, taking home the Wooden Legacy title.
  • Notre Dame: The Fighting Irish went 3-0 this week, which included the Legends Classic title.

Subscribe to the CBT Podcast on iTunes, Stitcher or Audioboom

FIVE HOT #TAEKS FROM THE WEEK

1. North Carolina deserves to be mentioned with the best teams in the country: The Tar Heels improved to 7-0 on the season with four wins in Hawai’i this week, including a 15-point win over No. 16 Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational title game. Much was made of the departure of Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson this offseason, and while the Tar Heels found themselves in the national title game less than eight months ago, it’s not a stretch to say that this team has played as well as – if not better – than last year’s team did.

Joel Berry II has looked like North Carolina’s next great point guard. Justin Jackson is playing well on the wing while Isaiah Hicks, Kennedy Meeks and Tony Bradley have combined to average 39.0 points and 22.4 boards between them. The Tar Heels are hitting 39.2 percent from three. They’ve hit for 100 points twice, cracked 90 in three other games and have, just once, scored less than 83 points. That came in the Maui title game against the notoriously-slow Badgers.

“UNC is just too big and too fast,” said a coach who has scouted the Tar Heels. “They just kill you on the break and score in bunches.”

2. Melo Trimble is college basketball’s best closer: When Melo was a freshman, he developed a reputation for being a guy that always, always, always made the big shot or the big play in the critical moment. That’s why Maryland, who was not all that talented that year, was able to finish with a better seed in the NCAA tournament than the last year’s team, which was a preseason favorite to win the title.

It looks like this year is going to be a repeat of his freshman season. The Terps moved to 7-0 on the season with a 69-68 win over Kansas State on Saturday night. Five of those seven wins have come by single digits, and Trimble has made critical plays down the stretch in all five. On Saturday, he scored eight of Maryland’s last ten points, including two layups in the last 20 seconds to erase a three-point deficit. Against Richmond, he had nine points in the last 1:30 and overtime. Against Georgetown, he had 11 points in the last 3:31, including four points in the final 11 seconds. And against Towson, he had 12 points and two assists in the final ten minutes, as Maryland erased 13-point deficit.

In the wins over Towson, Georgetown and Kansas State, Trimble scored the winning points in the final minute.

Three game-winners in three weeks is pretty good.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 26:  Melo Trimble #2 of the Maryland Terrapins celebrates after hitting the game winning shot as they defeated the Kansas State Wildcats 69-68 during the championship game of the Barclays Center Classic at Barclays Center on November 26, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
Melo Trimble (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

3. Is this Virginia’s best defensive team?: We’ve long known that Tony Bennett’s teams are great on the defensive end of the floor, but has he ever had a team that has been defending this well? Through six games, they’ve yet to give up more than 52 points. Their opponents are averaging just 41.3 points and shooting just 31.7 percent from the floor, and that includes games against Iowa – who mustered just 41 points against the ‘Hoos – and Providence. Yale, who scored 98 points in a win at Washington, scored 38 points at Virginia.

“Best defense I have ever seen,” said a coach that played against UVA this season. “They are like boa constrictor, just make you work so damn hard for everything. They wear you out with their offense, too, so when you actually get an open shot, it doesn’t go in.”

Think about this stat for a second: In the 15 seasons that KenPom.com has been in existence, the lowest ever points-per-possession recorded by a defense had been 0.843 PPP, which was done by Stephen F. Austin in 2012. The record-low for a high-major team was 0.847 PPP by the 2015 Kentucky team that started out the year 38-0. Through six games this year, Virginia is allowing just 0.708 PPP.

4. Louisville isn’t winning much if they can’t figure out how to shoot: The Cardinals have one of the nation’s elite defenses this season, but that defense is only going to get them so far if they cannot find a way to score. Through five games, the Cardinals rank 287th in effective field goal percentage. They’re making just 32 percent of their threes and 65.2 percent of their free throws. The biggest culprits? Donovan Mitchell, Quentin Snider and Deng Adel. Snider and Adel are both shooting under 30 percent from the floor on the season; Mitchell is under 40 percent.

This team does everything else well. They don’t turn the ball over, they get to the offensive glass, they’re one of the nation’s best defensively, but until they can find a way to score consistently – and find a go-to guy – they’ll be very beatable once teams figure out how to beat their defense.

Just like Baylor did on Friday.

5. Deonte Burton showed his importance to Iowa State in Orlando: Burton averaged 25.0 points, 9.5 boards and 1.5 blocks in Iowa State’s 73-56 win over Miami and their 73-71 loss to No. 11 Gonzaga this week. The Cyclones have no size this season. The 6-foot-5 Burton is their starting power forward, and he spends time playing the five as well. If Iowa State is going to be as good as they expect to be this year, Burton is going to have to play the way that he did this week, taking advantage of mismatches against bigger defenders offensively while holding his own in the paint on the defensive end of the floor.

Burton was not great in the first two weeks of the season. When Iowa State looked their best this week, Burton was the best player on the floor. That’s not a coincidence.

SET YOUR DVR

No. 18 Syracuse at No. 16 Wisconsin, Tues. 7:00 p.m.
No. 24 Michigan State at No. 6 Duke, Tues. 9:30 p.m.
No. 17 Purdue at No. 10 Louisville, Weds. 7:15 p.m.
No. 4 North Carolina at No. 3 Indiana, Weds. 9:15 p.m.
No. 14 UCLA at No. 1 Kentucky, Sat. 12:30 p.m.
No. 19 West Virginia at No. 7 Virginia, Sat. 2:00 p.m.
No. 9 Xavier at No. 20 Baylor, Sat. 4:00 p.m.
No. 11 Gonzaga at No. 8 Arizona, Sat. 5:30 p.m.

No. 20 Baylor beats No. 10 Louisville, continues surprising start to season

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Johnathan Motley #5 of the Baylor Bears looks on in the second half against the Yale Bulldogs during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
1 Comment

No. 20 Baylor shot 65.3 percent in the second half, erasing a 22-point first half deficit to knock off No. 10 Louisville, 66-63, in the title game of the Battle 4 Atlantis.

The Bears were flummoxed by the Louisville defense for much of the first half, digging themselves a 32-10 hole and finding themselves down 39-24 at halftime. The second half was a different story, however, as Johnathan Motley began to assert himself while the Cardinals seemingly forgot how to protect the ball; Baylor took their first lead of the game – with less than four minutes left – on back-to-back turnovers that led to pick-six layups.

It’s a disappointing loss for Louisville, who struggled in their opener against Old Dominion as well, but this is yet another promising performance for the Bears, who have been the most surprising team in the country this season.

Baylor has now beaten Oregon at home and picked up three impressive wins – VCU, No. 24 Michigan State and the Cardinals – during their three days in the Bahamas. They are the only team in the country has four top 40 KenPom wins, and while it’s still too early to totally rely on KenPom’s rankings (it’s normally not until the new year when his formula stops including projections based on last season), it is a solid gauge for just how good the Bears have been.

This was a team that was not even considered to be a lock to make the NCAA tournament prior to the season, and here we are two weeks in and they’re the consensus second-best team in the Big 12 for anyone that lives outside of Ames, Iowa.

That’s impressive.

Almost as impressive as erasing a 22-point deficit against a Louisville team that can be a nightmare to try and run offense against.

Louisville’s Mathiang expected back to practice next week

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, right, talks to Mangok Mathiang during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Western Kentucky, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2015, in Louisville, Ky. Louisville won 78-56. (AP Photo/Timothy D. Easley)
Leave a comment

Injured Louisville big man Mangok Mathiang is expected to move closer to returning to action in the near future.

The 6-foot-10 forward is slated to return to practice next week, 10 months after suffering a broken foot, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Mathiang broke the foot last December in a game against Western Kentucky, and hasn’t been able to hit the floor without restriction since.

We are moving very slow with him to make sure that he feels confident,” Cardinals coach Rick Pitino said at the team’s media day Tuesday, according to the Courier-Journal, “and that he feels good about playing mentally, when you come off an injury like that.

“But sometime next week he will probably start participating and practicing, and it will probably take him two to three weeks to get back in the groove, and then he’ll be at full strength.”

That timeline puts Mathiang in position to be fully healthy by the time Louisville opens the season Nov. 11, against Evansville. Mathiang, who averaged 18.8 minutes, 7.1 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season as a junior,said he’d returned to playing in May but a setback led to having scar tissue removed and a mostly inactive summer.

“I’m feeling great compared to the first time and now,” Mathiang said. “I see a huge difference. I feel a whole lot better. My body feels great, well-rested.

“I’m just ready to get out there and help my teammates out. Coach, I give him big props for being very patient with me and just staying in my corner whenever I need him.”

Louisville’s Mitchell dealing with concussion

Louisville's Donovan Mitchell (45) reaches in against North Carolina State's Anthony Barber (12) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game in Raleigh, N.C., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2016. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)
Leave a comment

Louisville has been without one of its expected contributors through the first few days of practice.

Donovan Mitchell, a sophomore guard, has missed four practices due to a concussion, though he is expected to return to the court next week, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal citing coach Rick Pitino’s appearance on a local radio program.

Pitino said that freshman V.J. King would start in Mitchell’s place were the season to start today.

As a freshman, the 6-foot-3 guard averaged 7.4 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.7 assists while shooting 44.2 percent from the field and 25 percent from 3-point range.

The Cardinals, who potentially could open the season as a top-10 ranked team, are also dealing with an injury to forward Mangok Mathiang, who was expected to return to practice Nov. 1 from a foot injury, but it’s “too early to tell,” if that timetable will stand, Pitino said, per the Courier-Journal.