Jones, who came off the bench Saturday, started 24 of the 26 games he played in and led the Cardinals in assists (3.6 apg) and steals (2.0 spg). Jones also averaged 13.7 points per game, which was third on the team behind sophomore guard Terry Rozier and junior forward Montrezl Harrell.
In each of the last two games Louisville has started freshman Quentin Snider in place of Jones, and the freshman performed well in the Cardinals’ loss at Syracuse. Snider played 38 minutes in that game, accounting for 13 points, four assists and three rebounds. However he was unable to build on that performance Saturday, as he played just five minutes and failed to register a point, rebound or assist.
Without Jones more will be asked of both Snider and senior Wayne Blackshear, who continues to have issues from a consistency standpoint. Blackshear scored ten points on Saturday, and he scored 19 in a loss to NC State, but he also went scoreless in the loss at Syracuse. In a home win over Pittsburgh, Blackshear aggravated a hip pointer that has been an issue for him recently.
The other question is how Louisville accounts for the loss of Jones on the defensive end. With Jones suspended for the loss at Syracuse the Cardinals did not use their full court pressure all that often, and that impacted their aggressiveness in the half court as well. This could be the biggest concern for the Cardinals moving forward, as they look to make a run deep into March.
No. 12 Louisville struggled on both ends in Wednesday’s loss at Syracuse
After winning seven of their first nine ACC games, No. 12 Louisville has hit a rough patch in its season. One day after it was announced that starting guard Chris Jones was suspended indefinitely by head coach Rick Pitino, the Cardinals lost 69-59 at Syracuse Wednesday night and there were problems on both ends of the floor.
As a team Louisville shot 42.6% from the field and 6-for-20 from beyond the arc, with Terry Rozier needing 18 shots to score a team-high 17 points. In total three Cardinals scored in double figures, with Montrezl Harrell adding 15 and freshman Quentin Snider 13. But that wasn’t enough, as Wayne Blackshear went scoreless and the bench was able to produce just six points with four coming from Anas Mahmoud.
With that offensive production more was needed on the defensive end of the floor, and the effort just wasn’t there. Without Jones, the guard who sets the tone for them defensively, the Cardinals had to dial things down pressure-wise and that led to Syracuse getting too much room to operate. Remove Trevor Cooney, who shot 1-for-10, and the other Syracuse players combined to shoot 21-for-37 (56.8%) from the field overall.
Also of note is the fact that Syracuse committed just seven turnovers, a number that’s far too low for a Pitino-coached team regardless of who’s out of the lineup. And according to Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal, the lack of activity on the defensive end was a topic of conversation following the game.
They aren’t talking enough on defense. They aren’t working together enough on defense. Maybe it’s time for a team meeting.
“I’m going to talk to (Montrezl Harrell). I’m going to call a team meeting for us, just for the players,” Rozier said. “We have to figure out something we have to do to come together on defense … There’s too much individual (stuff) from the defensive standpoint. We’re not talking enough. We’re not going to win games if our defense is not together.”
How long Jones will be away from the team remains to be seen, but regardless of his status the Cardinals have some important issues to address. The problem? When it comes to both getting consistent production from Blackshear and creating more turnovers defensively, these are issues that Pitino’s had to deal with all season long. And solutions have yet to be found.
The good news for Louisville is that three of their final five games are at home, with the road games being at Georgia Tech and Florida State. But this doesn’t look like a confident basketball team right now, and that’s a concern as the season edges closer to March.
Perimeter shot selection will be key for Louisville moving forward
One of the questions entering Saturday’s showdown between No. 1 Kentucky and No. 4 Louisville was whether or not the Cardinals would be able to snap out of the perimeter shooting funk that has been an issue for most of the season. As a team the Cardinals entered Saturday shooting 42.7% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc, numbers that won’t get the job done against the nation’s best teams.
That’s exactly how things played out Saturday afternoon, as the Cardinals fell to their in-state rivals by the final score of 58-50 and shot poorly in doing so. Rick Pitino’s team made just 25.9% of its shots from the field, shooting 4-for-21 from three and assisting on just one of their 15 made field goals. And while Kentucky’s play on the defensive end of the floor certainly had a lot to do with those numbers, something also needs to be said of the shot selection of Louisville’s guards.
Chris Jones and Terry Rozier combined to score 28 points but did so shooting 8-for-33 from the field, with Jones responsible for the tandem’s lone assist. Add in Wayne Blackshear’s 2-for-9 afternoon and Louisville’s three perimeter players shot 10-for-42, a level of accuracy that won’t get the job done against many of the nation’s best teams much less one some have already pegged as a realistic candidate to run the table without a single defeat.
Bad shots were seemingly the norm for Louisville on Saturday, and as noted above credit does need to be given to Kentucky for this. The Wildcats have length and athleticism, and in freshman Tyler Ulis they have a 5-foot-9 point guard who can be a flat-out pest defensively.
But there were also multiple occasions in which a Louisville guard settled for a challenged look instead of working the ball around for a higher-quality look, with forward Montrezl Harrell (nine points, eight rebounds) not getting enough opportunities with his man sealed in the post. Harrell attempted nine shots, making four, which isn’t stunning when considering the fact that he entered the game fourth on the team in field goal attempts and averaged 10.5 attempts per game in the ten games he played.
Yet even with that being the case, and Kentucky’s interior length serving as a deterrent in the post, shouldn’t Harrell get more opportunities in the paint? One sequence that summed things up occurred with 4:15 remaining and the Cardinals trailing 50-38. Jones fired up a contested three-pointer, with Pitino calling timeout after Harrell managed to corral the offensive rebound, and it’s safe to say that the all-america candidate was frustrated in the Louisville huddle.
For Rozier, Saturday’s performance was an exception for him this season as he entered the game shooting nearly 48 percent from the field and 34 percent from three. But with Jones and Blackshear having their issues, especially from three with the former now shooting 29.8% and the latter 28.8%, they can afford to pass up some of those perimeter looks in exchange for shots of higher quality.
Against a team the caliber of Kentucky finding those shots can be difficult, but Louisville has to be more disciplined offensively than they were Saturday. That will determine just how good of a season the Cardinals manage to put together.
Conference play is right around the corner, so over the course of the next two weeks, College Basketball Talk will be detailing what some of the country’s best, most intriguing, and thoroughly enigmatic teams should resolve to do with the New Year right around the corner. What can we say, we’re in a giving mood. Thank Jessica Simpson.
LOUISVILLE PROMISES TO: Get consistent production from people not named Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell.
It will happen because: Rozier and Harrell might end up being the nation’s best 1-2 punch this season. Harrell has had an all-american caliber season and is very much in the race for the National Player of the Award right now. And Rozier? He’s been terrific too, like on Saturday, when he scored 26 of his 32 points after Harrell was ejected to avoid a loss. But eventually, a consistent third option is going to have to show up for the Cards, especially on the offensive end of the floor, and there are simply too many talents on this team for that not to happen … right?
But it might not because: At what point do we just accept that Chris Jones is who he is, a terrific defender and volume shooter who just isn’t that much of a scorer? That Wayne Blackshear is a tantalizing talent that will never consistently make threes and will never be Luke Hancock? Beyond that, who on Louisville can even be considered a scorer? Chinanu Onuaku has been good as a freshman, but he’s a low-post banger that gets on the glass. Anton Gill isn’t a scorer. Quentin Snider isn’t ready, and neither is Shaqquan Aaron or Anas Mahmoud. Someone needs to step up, I’m just not sure Louisville has anyone for that role.
LOUISVILLE ALSO SWEARS THEY WON’T: Keep letting Chris Jones be their highest-volume shooter.
It will happen because: Eventually, Rick Pitino is going to realize that Chris Jones high usage rate and low efficiency numbers are dragging Louisville down. Defensively, Jones is a sparkplug, a energetic, harassing on-ball defender that thrives at the top of Louisville’s press. When you have a senior that defends the way that he does, you give him some leash offensively; Jones earns shots with the way he plays defense. But when there are two all-americans on the roster, a guy shooting 32.2 percent from the floor shouldn’t be the most heavily-involved player offensively.
But it might not because: Jones wants to be Russ Smith. He thinks he is Russ Smith, a shoot-first lead guard that can fire away at will without having to think twice about what he’s doing. The rant that Harrell went on after the UNC-Wilmington game? The frustration that led to the outburst against Western Kentucky? That stems, in large part, from the selfishness that Jones has shown in recent weeks, a source close to the program told NBCSports.com. A key for any team is having a roster full of players that understand their roles. Do the Cardinals understand their roles?
No. 5 Louisville outlasts No. 14 Ohio State in an ugly game
It was not a complimentary performance from either team.
Ohio State couldn’t do anything right in the first half. Star freshman D’angelo Russell was forcing bad shots and throwing passes away as the Louisville-native struggled in his first trip back to his hometown, and as a team, the Buckeyes finished the first half just 6-for-25 from the floor.
The Cardinals built a 35-18 lead at the break, but they opened the second half shooting like the Buckeyes did in the first half, and if it didn’t take Ohio State until the 10 minute mark to finally wake up, they may have actually finished off their comeback.
There are a couple of things to take away from this game, and they don’t all involve some combination of “these two teams stink offensively” and “these two teams are great defensively”:
Louisville needs that Wayne Blackshear to show up this season. That was the best game that he’s played since … his freshman season? He had 22 points on 6-for-13 shooting, hit four threes and chased down Kam Williams once in the first half, forcing him to miss a layup before drilling a thrill not five seconds later. That was a five-point swing that changed momentum early in the game. Obviously, he’s not going to average 22 a night, but if he can become that third option offensively, that’s huge. Because …
… Chris Jones is not that guy. He was 3-for-15 on Tuesday, with three assists and four turnovers. He’s now shooting 28.6 percent from the floor and 10-for-33 from three with a 1.4/1 assist-to-turnover ration. But he does get after it defensively, I will give him that.
Louisville’s Anas Mahmoud is going to be really good one day, and Quentin Snider might be as well, but the Cards are going to need those two freshmen to develop fast. Their bench is non-existent right now.
Louisville needs a closer? Looks like Rozier is the guy. He hit two threes and had a driving bucket in the final minutes to hold off the Buckeyes.
Ohio State’s Shannon Scott cannot go 1-for-7 from the floor with five turnovers and no assists. He simply cannot do that as a senior.
Russell is still trying to do too much right now, but when he slows down and makes the right play, he can be a nightmare to try and slow down. The key for him? Don’t force shots. Don’t try to squeeze in passes to a tight area. Make the smart play, don’t try to make Sportscenter.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 10 Louisville.
– G: Chris Jones, Sr.
– G: Terry Rozier, So.
– G: Wayne Blackshear, Sr.
– F: Montrezl Harrell, Jr.
– C: Mongok Mathiang, So.
– Bench: Quentin Snider, Fr.; Anton Gill, So.; Shaqquan Aaron, Fr.; Chinanu Onuaku, Fr., Jaylen Johnson, Fr.; Akoy Agau, So.
They’ll be good because … : Rick Pitino should have one of the best guards and one of the best big men in the country. By now, everyone should know about Montrezl Harrell. He’s a powerful front court presence, the kind of power forward that seems to have passed the game by. There’s nothing pretty about what Harrell does on a basketball court. He’s attacks the glass, he runs the floor hard, he assaults the rim when he dunks. Everything is strength and power with him. Oh, and he may have added a jumper this season. There’s a reason he’s going to be on a lot of Preseason All-American teams.
Terry Rozier is a different story, as he’s not quite as well-known as Harrell. Rozier was originally a member of the Class of 2012, but he was forced to spend a season prepping at Hargrave Military Academy for a year before enrolling with the Cardinals. An athletic, 6-foot-2 combo-guard, Rozier is going to be the focal point of this season’s perimeter attack after what was a promising freshman season backing up Russ Smith. He’s got the ability to be a star at this level and, eventually, a lottery pick.
But they might disappoint because … : Once you get past Rozier and Harrell, there is quite a bit of unknown on this Louisville roster. Two seniors find themselves in the starting lineup this season, but both have been more enigmatic than consistent during their time with the Cardinals. Wayne Blackshear seemed poised to have a breakout season after an impressive performance in the NCAA tournament as a freshman, but due to injuries and inconsistency, he’s never lived up to those expectations.
Senior point guard Chris Jones had some promising moments last season after transferring into the program as the reigning Junior College Player of the Year, but he didn’t have the kind of season that Louisville fans were hoping for. He shot the ball too much (and at just a 39.5% clip) and, for much of the year, he wasn’t the point guard that Pitino needed alongside Russ Smith.
The emergence of those two will be key, but even more important will be Louisville’s youngsters. Every other player in Louisville’s rotation will either be a freshman or a sophomore that didn’t play much. Anton Gill, Quentin Snider and Shaqquan Aaron make up the perimeter depth, while Mangok Mathiang will likely start with a slew of big bodies backing him up.
Outlook: Louisville is a tough team to read this season because so much of their roster is a question mark. We know how good Harrell is going to be, but will Rozier live up to the vaunted expectations that have been set for him? There have been rumblings that he was the best pro prospect on the roster since this time last season. Will Jones and Blackshear be able to provide the senior leadership and veteran presence on the floor that guys like Luke Hancock and Peyton Siva have in the past?
That becomes all-the-more critical when the inexperience on the rest of Louisville’s roster gets factored in. The Cardinals will have a number of options on their bench, particularly in the front court, but how many of those options are going to be ready to play in a loaded ACC this season? And that is another major question mark for the Cards. How will they adjust to playing in a new conference with new refs and new arenas and some of the nation’s best talent and coaching?
Personally, I think that depth is overrated and that it’s hard to bet against any team with two potential all-americans and Rick Pitino coaching them. But it’s not crazy to suggest that Louisville is closer to a fringe top 25 team than a top ten team.