LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Here's the deal. It's late. Everybody's in a food coma. The University of Louisville basketball team beat Northern Iowa 51-46 Thanksgiving Night in its Battle 4 Atlantis opener in Paradise Island, Nassau, Bahamas.
Paradise? No way. They should have played the game over in Rock Sound, Bahamas, because that's the sound you heard after most of the Cardinals' shots.
With another game -- and what should be a really good one against Missouri -- coming on the heels of this one, there's little need for an exhaustive work of deathless prose.
Instead, I'm going to do what the Cards often did tonight -- pull up and jack up a three-pointer. So here goes -- firing away with three thoughts on tonight's U of L victory:
1). If the scoring droughts are going to stop, the threes have to stop raining down. I know, Rick Pitino doesn't want his team turning down open shots. But the numbers just don't support the offensive strengths of this basketball team. After shooting 22 of its 62 shots from three-point range tonight, U of L has taken 43 percent of its shots this season from three-point range.
That's a percentage you might expect of a team that needs to make threes to win, or that has a squad full of sharpshooters. Instead, U of L is shooting 29.4 percent from three-point range this season.
So let's do the math on this. If you're taking nearly half your shots from a place where you make less than 30 percent of the shots you take, that equals, well, not very good offense.
Pitino said before the season that this would be a team that made 6-7 three-pointers a game. He didn't say it would be a team that would take 27 threes a game. But that's what it has been.
Defenses, to be sure, are going to sag off the Cards and give them outside looks. But that doesn't mean every open three should be launched. This is a team that ought to be able to throw lobs off penetration, or to drive in for mid-range looks. It ought to be able to enter the ball to the post from the wing, rather than from a guard who drives and dishes from two feet away, where the defense can easily collapse.
Pitino said his team played selfishly tonight, and said Russ Smith "thought the was playing for the University of AND-1" tonight, referencing the street-ball tour. And he's right. Smith did some crazy things -- and turned it over five times in the second half. He also led the team in assists (5) and steals (4) and was the only player for U of L in double figures.
And interestingly, he put the game away with an "and-1" basket and free throw.
2). That defense? It'll do. The Cardinals, through four games, are giving up 17.5 points per game in the first half. In eight halves of basketball, an opponent has made more than 10 field goals only twice. Thirty minutes into this game, Northern Iowa had barely reached 30 points.
But one thing, no doubt, that will disappoint Pitino is that the Cards' defense had some key breakdowns when Northern Iowa mounted its comeback, particularly Chane Behanan losing his man a couple of times for momentum-building three-pointers.
Still, the man-to-man defense for most of this game was outstanding. You never heard the sneakers squeak in that zone quite like you do now.
This team is scoring a remarkable 37.6 percent (109 out of 290) off of turnovers. And that's fine, if you can keep causing them. But eventually somebody is going to take better care of the ball.
3). Odds and ends. Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan combined for only one field goal in the post out of a half-court set Thursday night. Those guys need to be getting the ball in post position to score more, though neither was particularly strong with the ball against Northern Iowa. Behanan, particularly, struggled even when he did get it In the lane.
-- It was an uncharacteristically flat game for Peyton Siva, who finished with just 7 points, 1 assist and 4 turnovers.
-- PItino said afterward he felt his team was tight, and that he's seen it happen with other highly ranked teams he's coached -- the get tight under the expectations.
-- Will the Missouri game be different? You better believe it. U of L now takes a major step up in competition, but could also see a faster tempo, which, if you've watched this team on the break, means more offensive opportunities, and probably good things for the Cardinal offense. What will be interesting to see is how U of L's defense fairs against a top-flight scoring team.
-- The second-half minutes were interesting, too, in this one. Siva 19 minutes, Dieng 16, Behanan 15, Smith 14, Hancock 12, Blackshear 8, Ware 7, Harrell only 5 and Van Treese 4. Harrell, Behanan and Ware give this team a different dimension when they're playing well, but they weren't out there much in the second half. On the bright side for U of L, they should be fresh on Friday.