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Wagner leads No. 7 Michigan past No. 2 Louisville to advance to Sweet 16

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INDIANAPOLIS — Despite senior point guard Derrick Walton Jr. finally coming back down to Earth, No. 7 seed Michigan remained red-hot with a 73-69 second-round upset win over No. 2 seed Louisville on Sunday in the Midwest Region.

Walton only went 3-for-13 from the field, and finished with 10 points, but he attacked the basket and made a tough, driving layup with Michigan only leading by two with 23 seconds left.

Although Walton couldn’t figure out his shot until late in the game, he was picked up in a big way by his Wolverine teammates — specifically the inspired play of sophomore big man Moe Wagner.

Finishing with 26 points on 11-for-14 shooting, Wagner was the interior force that the Wolverines needed to match up with Louisville’s bigs. Wagner is a talented perimeter threat for a big man but most of his damage came on the interior.

Winners of seven consecutive games, Michigan (26-11) is one of the most dangerous teams left in the Sweet 16, especially if Walton is able to get back on track. D.J. Wilson also added 17 points for Michigan while senior Zak Irvin also finished in double-figures with 11 points. Walton struggled to find his shot, but still contributed a solid overall floor game as he added six assists and seven rebounds while not turning the ball over one time.

Louisville (25-9) held the lead for the nearly the entire game until Michigan mounted its final charge. The Cardinals held a double-digit rebounding advantage (33-22) over Michigan but they couldn’t knock down perimeter shots as Louisville ended Sunday’s game at 25 percent (5-for-20) from three-point range.

Sophomore Donovan Mitchell paced Louisville with 17 points while Deng Adel had 16 points, including a huge first-half dunk on Wilson that had Banker’s Life Fieldhouse buzzing. Mangok Mathiang tallied 13 points in his final college game for Louisville

Michigan advances to face face the winner of No. 3 seed Oregon and No. 11 seed Rhode Island next week in the Midwest Region. The Wolverines winning also means at least three Sweet 16 teams for the Big Ten as Michigan joins Wisconsin and Purdue in the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

No. 2 seed Louisville runs past No. 15 seed Jacksonville State in Midwest Region

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Louisville made easy work of its first opponent as the No. 2 seed Cardinals ran past No. 15 seed Jacksonville State, 78-63, in a Friday first-round game in the Midwest Region.

The Cardinals (25-8) were never seriously threatened on Friday but the Gamecocks also didn’t go away very easily.

Mangok Mathiang led Louisville with 18 points while Deng Adel and Quentin Snider both had 16 points each. Raymond Spaulding also finished in double-figures for the Cardinals with 11 points. Even with sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell having an off-night by only going 3-for-15 from the field, Louisville was able to win by double-figures because of their balanced scoring.

Mitchell still finished with a respectable line of nine points, 10 rebounds, four assists and three steals.

Jacksonville State (20-15) was led by Norbertas Giga as he finished with 30 points on 5-for-5 three-point shooting. Giga was 11-for-13 from the field, but he didn’t have enough help on the offensive end as Malcolm Drumwright (12 points) and Greg Tucker (11 points) were the only other double-figure scorers.

Louisville advances to face red-hot No. 7 seed Michigan on Sunday in Indianapolis after the Wolverines beat Oklahoma State earlier in the day.. This one should be riveting for a second-round matchup as the Wolverines are one of the hottest teams in the country after winning the Big Ten Tournament. The matchup of guards between Donovan Mitchell and Quentin Snider against Derrick Walton Jr. and Zak Irvin should be a ton of fun to watch.

No. 8 Louisville holds off No. 19 Notre Dame

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Louisville avenged a loss from earlier this season on Saturday afternoon as they were able to hold off No. 19 Notre Dame for a 71-64 ACC home win.

The No. 8 Cardinals (24-7, 12-6) lost to Notre Dame earlier this season on the road but Louisville had much stronger overall play from its big men the second time around. Senior Mangok Mathiang stepped up and finished with 18 points and 11 rebounds–including six offensive boards–as the big man provided an interior presence that the Cardinals didn’t have in the first matchup between these two teams.

Louisville’s improved interior play helped them corral 16 offensive rebounds on Saturday afternoon as they outrebounded the Irish 44-27.

Donovan Mitchell paced Louisville with 20 points as the sophomore guard bounced back from a subpar outing in a loss to Wake Forest earlier this week. Junior guard Quentin Snider also had a solid game for the Cardinals as he finished with 17 points and six assists.

Although sophomore forward Deng Adel struggled to a 2-for-8 night from the floor, he did knock down a key three-pointer to help make it a two-possession game as Notre Dame started to make a late rally.

This is a nice win for Louisville to end the regular season but this is still a tough team to get a read on as we inch closer to the NCAA tournament. The Cardinals have a number of talented perimeter options, and a solid stable of interior big men, but it is hard to say what their true ceiling is since so many of their players can have inconsistent day-to-day showings.

If Louisville makes a solid run in the ACC tournament they are going to be in position to be a potential No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament. But even with that potentially great seed, it just feels like there hasn’t been very much national championship buzz for Louisville from a national standpoint, even though they sit so highly in the polls at this point in the season and college basketball doesn’t have a consensus national-title favorite.

Maybe Louisville should be happy to fly under-the-radar for this sort of thing. One thing is for certain: I wouldn’t want to face that defense in March.

As for Notre Dame, this loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Irish (23-8, 12-6) as they did everything they could to make a late push in this one. Bonzie Colson paced Notre Dame with 20 points while V.J. Beachem (17 points) and Matt Farrell (11 points) also finished in double-figures.

Notre Dame’s struggles to find scoring outside of its core four (Colson, Beachem, Farrell and Steve Vasturia) has been well-documented and that issue again came to light on Saturday when Vasturia only finished with eight points. Since the Irish didn’t have much help from others to make up for Vasturia’s off-day they ended up playing from behind to close out the game.

This loss shouldn’t be seen as too big of a deal for Notre Dame either way. The Irish are a veteran team that knows what they need to do in order to win. It’ll simply come down to execution for Notre Dame as they ideally need those four guys playing at a high level to make another second-weekend run.

No. 8 Louisville takes down Syracuse in overtime

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Louisville was able to hold off Syracuse in overtime as the No. 8 Cardinals held on for a 76-72 ACC road win over the Orange on Monday night. With a chance to tie with two free throws with 2.7 seconds left, Syracuse senior missed both of them.

After blowing a late lead in regulation the Cardinals were able to rally in overtime and hold on once again during a late Syracuse charge as the Orange lost their second straight game.

Donovan Mitchell led Louisville with 16 points while Quentin Snider had 14 points as five Cardinals finished in double figures.

The win keeps Louisville tied for second in the ACC with a crowded field at the top. With the NCAA tournament men’s basketball selection committee naming Louisville as a No. 2 seed — and No. 7 overall — this was a solid road win over a potential tournament team.

Here are two takeaways from this one:

1. Louisville needs to figure out how to close

Louisville will certainly take a conference road win against a team like Syracuse but this game also offered a disturbing trend in which the Cardinals nearly blew late leads in both regulation and overtime.

Now that Snider has returned from injury, the Cardinals have plenty of backcourt options to help close out games but Louisville continually missed free throws and had some poor offensive possessions while holding the lead late.

When Snider was out with injury, Louisville really seemed to get in an offensive groove as they were putting up a lot of points while getting some blowout wins. Things have slowed down with Snider back in the lineup and I still think he and Mitchell are figuring out the best way to share the ball and co-exist in the Louisville backcourt.

Syracuse also wanted to keep the tempo a bit slower than Louisville usually likes to play with its zone but the Cardinals offense spent time sputtering at the end of both halves.

Deng Adel will have better games than his off-night on Monday but the Cardinals need to figure a few things out on offense during this final regular season stretch.

2. Syracuse missed another chance at a signature win

With the Orange currently fighting hard for one of the last at-large bids in the NCAA tournament, this is the kind of loss that could come back to bite Syracuse. While Louisville certainly deserves credit for the win, the Orange’s offense was very stagnant for a good portion of the second half.

Now with two consecutive losses, Syracuse needs to finish at least .500 to feel comfortable heading into the ACC tournament. The Orange get two games with Georgia Tech — and winning in Atlanta has not been easy this season — as well as a home game against Duke and a road return to Louisville.

We’ve seen that the Orange can go toe-to-toe with the Cardinals but it feels like Syracuse might need to beat either Duke or Louisville to feel comfortable.

Syracuse also deserves credit for two late comebacks when they could have quit fighting. Most of the team struggled offensively. Senior Andrew White was only 2-for-14 from three-point range but he still figured out ways to score late as he totaled 22 points.

Big second half run leads No. 12 Virginia past No. 4 Louisville

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Virginia used a big second-half run to secure a big home win in the ACC as they beat depleted No. 4 Louisville 71-55 on Monday night. The Cavaliers found themselves down at the half only to start the second half on a monster 22-4 run.

Playing without Deng Adel and Mangok Mathiang (suspended for violating team curfew), the Cardinals didn’t have the firepower to stay with the Cavaliers once Virginia went on its big run. The No. 12 Cavaliers broke a three-way tie for second place in the ACC with the win as they try to keep pace with North Carolina.

London Perrantes led Virginia with 18 points while Isaiah Wilkins had 13 points and 11 rebounds as Virginia had a balanced offensive attack that outscored Louisville 39-21 in the second half.

Here are two takeaways from this one.

1. Virginia has Louisville’s number (and it will help the ‘Hoos NCAA tournament seed)

The Cavaliers (18-5, 8-3) just seem to have the Cardinals figured out. With four consecutive wins over Louisville and five wins over the last six games, Rick Pitino’s teams have struggled against Virginia since joining the ACC.

Most importantly for Virginia, two wins over Louisville this season gives Virginia a nice footnote for its NCAA tournament profile. Virginia’s non-conference wins ended up being worse than originally thought (wins over Iowa, Providence, Ohio State and Cal aren’t all that helpful) but beating the Cardinals means that Virginia might get two top-10 wins from one opponent.

With Virginia dropping a road game at Syracuse over the weekend, this win should elevate the Cavaliers back up to a potential top-three seed as they continue to try to stay with the ACC’s elite. If Virginia can keep winning games like this they’ll have a chance to climb even higher in tournament seeding since so many top-25 teams have lost games lately.

Virginia has a tough schedule to conquer the rest of the regular season but it also offers this team the chance to stockpile some more quality wins.

2. Being shorthanded finally caught up to Louisville but they’ll be near full strength soon enough

Louisville (19-5, 7-4) is already accustomed to playing without its full lineup as point guard Quentin Snider and reserve guard Tony Hicks have missed recent time due to injury. But two suspensions made matters even worse for Louisville with the loss of Adel and Mathiang on Monday.

With those two in the lineup, Louisville might have tried to press Virginia for the entire game — using its length, athleticism and depth to try to wear down the ‘Hoos and change what they’ve been doing in the past.

As I alluded to above, Louisville has struggled to figure out Virginia in ACC play the last few years so they really could have used those Adel and Mathiang in a game like this. It did give a chance for others to shine, as freshman V.J. King scored a career-high 24 points, but the Cardinals were also missing the depth that helps make them so effective.

With only King and sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell (16 points) scoring at all, Louisville’s offense really struggled, especially in the second half. The Cardinals also got destroyed on the glass as they were outrebounded 38-19.

Missing those two players certainly hurt Louisville in this one but the schedule gets quite a bit easier from here.

Louisville only has one ranked team remaining on the regular season schedule as they get two against Syracuse and games with Wake Forest and Miami. Those are three tough teams trying to fight for the NCAA tournament but the Cardinals should also be favored in most of those games as long as they have most of their lineup.

That means the Cardinals can still compete for the ACC regular-season crown if they win out — especially with a crack at conference-leader North Carolina on Feb. 22.

With Louisville expecting Snider to be potentially back by the weekend, they should be back to full strength for the stretch run.

Five Takeaways from No. 10 Florida State’s win over No. 12 Louisville

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Using a hot start in which they jumped out to a 16-2 lead, No. 10 Florida State held on from there as they outlasted No. 12 Louisville for a 73-68 ACC home win.

The Seminoles (18-2, 6-1) led for the entire game as this was a one-point game with under two minutes left with a chance for Louisville to take the lead.

Florida State ultimately held on as I have five takeaways from this one.

1. Jonathan Isaac is getting comfortable

Florida State’s stud freshman registered 16 points and 10 rebounds on Saturday, making a number of key late plays on both ends of the floor. Isaac has put together three straight double-doubles and it looks like the 6-foot-10 forward is getting very comfortable with this team. The Seminoles become so dangerous with Isaac playing like this because they already have talented scorers like Dwayne Bacon, Terance Mann and Xavier Rathan-Mayes around him.

Isaac fits in very well alongside those guys because he doesn’t need the ball in his hands to be productive like Malik Beasley did last season. At 6-foot-10, Isaac can rebound both ends of the floor, is a menace defending multiple positions and he’s making tougher face-up plays on the offensive end. With Isaac playing this way, Florida State can reach a new level.

2. Louisville will be fine without Quentin Snider during his injury

When Florida State jumped out to a 16-2 lead before the first television timeout, it looked like Louisville was going to be in deep trouble. Credit first and foremost goes to Louisville for fighting back and making this a one-point game with under two minutes left. The Cardinals looked like they had no business taking a go-ahead shot with the way they played early.

It also showed that Louisville should be okay without point guard Quentin Snider during his injury. After dismantling Clemson at home, the Cardinals went toe-to-toe with a top-10 team on the road and fell just short after a slow start.

Louisville obviously needs to find someone who can start more quickly so that the Cardinals don’t have an awful start like they did on Saturday. But this team shouldn’t make a big slide down the standings without Snider in the lineup.

3. Florida State’s defense can take away main options

One of the impressive things about Florida State’s defense on Saturday was how they took sophomores Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel and neutralized them after the duo combined for 36 points in the win over Clemson.

Mitchell and Adel were only held to 18 points on 6-for-23 shooting on Saturday as the Seminole defense did the best they could to harass those two into a bad game. With Mitchell and Adel struggling to drum up consistent points, the Cardinals had to turn to Tony Hicks as the senior graduate transfer took 17 shots and led the team with 17 points.

If Louisville wants to beat elite teams, then Tony Hicks can’t be the guy shooting that many shots. If teams are going to be keyed in on Adel and Mitchell then Louisville needs to adjust its gameplan or have a more balanced backup plan in place for offense.

Back to Florida State’s defense though, they have the type of long and athletic defenders that they can throw at you in waves and they also have length at the rim with guys like Michael Ojo and Isaac. They’re a tough group to score on if they’re focused.

4. The Florida State offense still needs work

Florida State’s March ceiling will ultimately come down to which offense they bring to the NCAA tournament. The Seminoles have the length, athleticism and rotation to wear down teams on defense if they want to. As we’ve seen with Leonard Hamilton teams of the past, the Seminoles’ offense can be maddeningly inconsistent.

The good news is that Florida State has been efficient as a whole. We know that Florida State might be built to last because they’re pulling off the impressive feat of ranking in the top 30 in KenPom in adjusted offensive efficiency, adjusted defensive efficiency and adjusted tempo.

Not many teams in the country play fast and can play well on both ends of the floor. Florida State can. But the offense can still stall out at times and go to too much hero ball. Lots of talent remains on the floor for the Seminoles but isolation-heavy sets can take foot. When this team stops moving the ball they can be in trouble.

5. We’ll know if Florida State is in the ACC race after this three-game road trip

For as much praise as we’ve given Florida State this season — and much of it justifiably so — the Seminoles also only have one true road win this season.

That road win happened to come at Virginia, which has been one of the toughest places to play in the country the last few seasons, so that erased some doubts for Florida State, but this next three-game trip should teach us a lot about this group.

With three winnable games coming up at Georgia Tech, Syracuse and Miami, the Seminoles can make a statement that they can compete for the ACC title if they take care of teams like that on this trip.

If Florida State returns from that trip 3-0 then it will be time to really take them seriously in the ACC race.