Newcomers impress in Louisville’s intrasquad scrimmage

Leave a comment

Despite losing Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, two key pieces from last year’s championship team, Louisville returns a slew of talented players that will have Rick Pitino and Co. challenging for a national championship once again. Player of the Year candidate Russ Smith is back for his senior season, as are Chane Behanan and Luke Hancock among others.

Three key pieces that weren’t on the floor last year will be relied upon to help fill the void that Siva has left, namely junior college transfer Chris Jones. Rob Dauster called Jones one of the top “X-factors” for the coming season, and posited that many may be overlooking just how important Siva was to last year’s squad. Siva was often the one ensuring Russ Smith played within himself — at least, he tried to — and the onus this season may fall on Jones to accomplish that.

It is more than just Jones, however. Freshmen Terry Rozier and Anton Gill will be relied on, as well.

After an intrasquad scrimmage this past weekend, Rick Pitino told The Courier Journal:

“Rozier is as cool a customer as you’ll see. I don’t think Chris played particularly well tonight, but I’ve watched him in practice do some things that are just outstanding. I think Anton is a smooth basketball player…With all three of them, they don’t rattle. They know how to play the game.”

Anyone who watched Louisville play last year knew they hung their hat on the defensive end. For all the attention Smith receives on the offensive end with his explosive first step and propensity to get to the basket, he’s also one of the best perimeter defenders out there.

Pitino’s defense isn’t easy to grasp, but Smith is pleased with what he has seen of the newcomers thus far: “No new guy knows our defensive intensity, and that’s no disrespect to them. We play a certain way that guys have to pick up on. But they’re coming along. I think they’re the best class to come in and pick stuff up that I’ve seen.”

Highlights from the Red vs. White scrimmage are found below:

Luke Hancock is hero in Louisville win over Syracuse, but Siva concerns remain

Leave a comment

On a day when Peyton Siva, Chane Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear combined to go 2-of-21 from the floor, including 1-of-14 from three-point range, Louisville needed another scorer Saturday at the Carrier Dome. The answer ended up being a 6-6 transfer from George Mason, junior Luke Hancock.

Hancock was 4-of-5 from three-point range off the bench for the Cardinals for 12 points, including two big three-pointers down the stretch as Louisville pulled away for a 58-53 victory Saturday in Syracuse, N.Y.

There has been no disagreement that Louisville’s offense can be stagnant at times this year. Saturday was no show of offensive firepower either. In the Big East tournament or NCAA tournament, a 36 percent shooting night could mean the difference between getting knocked out or advancing.

Much of that falls on the shoulders of Siva, whose improved play down the stretch last season was one of the main reasons the Cardinals were able to make a run to the Final Four.

There have been moments where he has shined, including 14 points and seven assists in a win over then-No. 25 Marquette. But he was also 1-of-6 from the floor and fouled out in Louisville’s five-overtime loss to Notre Dame and, added to Saturday’s performance, there should be at least some room for concern.

Which highlights the key word: consistency. With every game being an elimination game in the postseason, any one night when Siva struggles puts Louisville at an inherent disadvantage. When he is not either scoring or creating, we see the struggles ripple outward to Behanan, Blackshear, and others.

In a worst-case scenario, that could ultimately mean an early exit in March.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Louisville defends no. 1 ranking, pushes past UConn

Leave a comment

Early in the first half, Louisville, fresh off their newly-minted no. 1 team status on Monday afternoon, looked shaky. And you could hear the pundits on Twitter, wondering how the Cardinals would respond.

The second half was their response.

The Cardinals(16-1, 4-0 Big East Conference) held the Huskies (12-4, 2-2) without a point for over four minutes in the half, surged ahead, eventually making it a 73-58 final margin in Hartford.

The start for UConn was as good as they could’ve imagined, stretching their lead to 29-19 with 4:11 left in the first half. The half concluded with Omar Calhoun taking advantage of a Louisville mistake when, as the shot clock expired, Chane Behanan gave up on a rebound with two seconds left on the game clock. Calhoun laid the ball in for a 34-28 halftime edge.

However, the defensive pressure, the thing the Cardinals are known for, went up in the second half. The Cardinals got it back to a tie at 36-36 just three-and-a-half minutes into the half and, tied at 41-41 with 15:30 left, went on a 19-3 run over the next 7:36 to pull away.

The Cardinals outscored the Huskies 45-26 in second half, shooting 60.7-percent overall and 42.9-percent from three-point range. UConn shot just 16.7-percent from three in the half.

Russ Smith finished with 23 points and kept Louisville in the game early, scoring 15 of the team’s first 24 points. Calhoun had a career night for UConn with 20 points.

The first defense is the hardest, and Louisville did their job, though I’m not sure a start like they had on Monday night will be able to fly on Saturday night, when they play at home against Syracuse.

Unfortunately for UConn, this is the first time this season that I’ve seen a glimpse of last year’s Huskies. They got down during the offensive slump midway through the second half and allowed the Cardinals to pounce. I’m in no way saying this team will revert back to that form, they wont because Kevin Ollie has this team’s total focus, but they did that tonight. Though it’s easy to see why with Smith and Peyton Siva forming possibly the best backcourt in college basketball.

Gorgui Dieng finished with 16 rebounds to go along with six points.

David Harten is the editor and founder of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Christmas Wish Lists: Forward’s free throws, 3’s and a third threat

Leave a comment

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 need. It’s the spirit of the holidays. We’re in a giving mood.

What do other teams have on their Christmas Wish Lists? Click here to find out.

Gotta have it list-topper: Free throw shooting from the forwards

The guards and wings seem to have no problem knocking down the freebies – Peyton Siva hits 87.5-percent from the line, along with Russ Smith, Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear all hitting 70-plus-percent. But as a team, Louisville is only hitting 68-percent from the charity stripe, and it starts in the post. Chane Behanan, a guy who lives in the paint and takes more contact than anyone on the roster, is shooting an embarrassing 45.5-percent from the line. The problem extends further, with Gorgui Dieng (before injury, obviously) and Montrezl Harrell, shooting sub-65-percent on free throws as well.

Stocking Stuffer: Three-point shooting

I tried to think of something else to not copy Dauster this afternoon, but this is a need. This is something that has been on the Cardinals Christmas list since last season. Louisville is shooting 31.4-percent from deep, with not a single player hitting better than a 38.5-percent clip (that’s Russ Smith, obviously). Peyton Siva’s 33.3-percent, Wayne Blackshear’s 30.2-percent and Luke Hancock’s 25-percent aren’t awful numbers, but in Rick Pitino’s system, there needs to be better production on the perimeter. I’m sure Pitino would like to see the rest of his shooters hit the three’s on-par with Russdiculous.

Planning on re-gifting: The search for a third scoring threat

When two players carry the scoring load for a team, some ask ‘where’s the rest of the production coming from?’ This has been a phrase uttered by a few pundits and fans on social media about Louisville. In this case, who cares? Russ FREAKING (as Dauster has to include) Smith is clocking in 20.3 points per game and Siva is chipping in 10.9 per game. But after that, three Cardinals, Blackshear, Dieng and Behanan average eight-plus points per. After them? Hancock and Harrell average six-plus points. With balance like that Pitino doesn’t need a third major threat. So go ahead and let someone else have that gripe.

David Harten is a sportswriter and college basketball blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Cody Zeller, Peyton Siva headline Blue Ribbon Yearbook Preseason All-Americans

Leave a comment

Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook has released its annual Preseason All-American team.

The 2012-13 team follows last year’s team that featured three NBA first-round picks (Terrence Jones, Jared Sullinger, and Harrison Barnes) and a national champion (Jones).

Take a look at Blue Ribbon’s 2012-13 team below:

Peyton Siva, Louisville

Siva, fresh off a Big East tournament title and a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans, enters his senior year as the point guard for a team that will have high expectations.

Alongside Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan, Louisville is likely the favorite to win the conference and some will predict a national championship for the Cardinals.

Last season, Siva averaged 9.1 points, 5.6 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game for Louisville.

Michael Snaer, Florida State

Last week, Snaer expressed his belief that he is “the best two-guard in the country” and a selection to Blue Ribbon’s team might help to validate that assertion.

He averaged 14.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game in a breakout season for the Seminoles in 2011-12. Perhaps Duke fans will remember him most for this huge shot at Cameron Indoor which allowed FSU to escape with a win.

Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State

Thomas decided not to follow his teammate Jared Sullinger into the draft and is a Preseason All-American because of it.

He averaged 15.9 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season, but the biggest question will be whether he picks up the defensive intensity.

“I like playing defense now,’’ Thomas was quoted as saying during the NCAA tournament last season. “It’s a game-changer. Last year, I used to just come in the game, chuck threes. I didn’t care about defense. I take very good pride in it now. It’s just that scoring mentality. Coming out of high school, I had the green light. So now I can do more: put it on the floor, pass, knock down open shots.’’

Doug McDermott, Creighton

As just a sophomore last season, McDermott put up a stellar 22.9 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for Creighton.

He now returns and is the centerpiece of a team looking to improve on a 26-9 finish. He was an AP All-American in 2011-12 and will look to repeat this season.

Cody Zeller, Indiana

Speaking of centerpieces, Zeller is just that for the team that many expect to be No. 1 when the first poll is released this fall.

The 6-11, 230-pound sophomore averaged 15.6 points and 6.6 rebounds per game for an Indiana team that reached the Sweet 16.

Indiana welcomes an important recruiting class for the 2012-13 season, but Zeller will once again be the focus.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Louisville can cut down nets without MVP performance from Peyton Siva

Leave a comment

During his MVP performance at the Big East tournament in New York, Peyton Siva did just about everything, averaging over six assists and scoring in double digits in every game.

The Siva that has emerged in the NCAA tournament is scoring less, but the Cardinals are still winning, which means Louisville can survive without an MVP performance from him.

Saturday night was a prime example of that, as Siva had just nine points, but added eight assists and had just one turnover. He then fouled out with four minutes to play.

“This is one of the first times that I really handled the one in like a situation that was so serious,” said guard Russ Smith about Siva fouling out.  “And it could have potentially cost us the season.  I was very nervous.”

That may not be the raw confidence that Pitino would prefer his players to exude, but at least it’s truthful. Smith, put in that situation, was able to make Louisville work in the last few minutes.

They may have found a different way to make it to New Orleans, but they did. Welcome the Cardinals to the Final Four.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_