BOZICH | What directions are Louisville and Indiana basketball h - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | What directions are Louisville and Indiana basketball headed?

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Conference play heats up for Rick Pitino and Louisville (left) as well as Tom Crean and Indiana this week. Conference play heats up for Rick Pitino and Louisville (left) as well as Tom Crean and Indiana this week.

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (WDRB) — It’s New Year’s. Time to check everybody’s ID.

What does Rick Pitino have at Louisville — the team that beat Kentucky or the one that played as disjointed as the Cardinals regularly play against Virginia?

What about Tom Crean? Which games were the anomalies — the wins over North Carolina and Kansas or the losses to IPFW and Nebraska?

It’s a stretch to microwave an answer from the aftermath of Louisville’s 77-62 victory over Indiana Saturday at Bankers’ Life Fieldhouse.

But stretching is what we do on press row. Watch 40 minutes of basketball and project what it means for the next 400 minutes.

Saturday was a superb day for the Cardinals — and not simply because they beat a (current) Top 25 team by 15 points. 

Duke lost to Virginia Tech.

North Carolina lost to (gulp) Georgia Tech.

Virginia lost to Florida State (in Charlottesville!).

Pass the Dom Perignon. The Cards are perched at No. 9 in Ken Pomeroy’s latest power rankings as well as No. 8 in Jeff Sagarin’s predictor formula.

The Cards’ wobbly performance against Virginia suddenly doesn’t sting as much as it did Wednesday night. The Tar Heels and Blue Devils are stuck in the bottom half of the Atlantic Coast Conference with Rick Pitino’s team — and if Virginia is capable of losing to FSU at home this will be a scrum all the way into March in the ACC.

Pitino pushed multiple motivational and strategical buttons with his team. Most worked.

He did not start Donovan Mitchell (in part) because he did not like the growing hesitation he saw in Mitchell’s eagerness to shoot from the perimeter.

Check.

In his previous seven games, Mitchell took 38 shots from distance. He made nine. Against Indiana, Mitchell took eight threes. He made four, his best performance in 45 games as a Cardinal.

Should that be credited to new aggressiveness? A flaw in Indiana’s defense? Just one of those days?

Mitchell credited it to an encouraging text message that he received from his sister.

Said Mitchell, “She was just talking to me about, ‘Where’s my brother at? He’s there off the court, but he’s not there on the court. Go out there and kick butt and just be the player we all know you can be.’ “

It made a great story. It certainly brightened Mitchell’s day. 

But Mitchell was a 25 percent three-point shooter last season who has only improved to 29 percent this season. He’s got more work to do before I’m ready to compare him to Luke Hancock or Taquan Dean as a perimeter threat.

Pitino watched Mangok Mathiang fail to score a field goal in three consecutive games and shifted more of his minutes to Anas Mahmoud.

Credit Mahmoud with 34 minutes, more time than he has played in any game this season. He outscored (and outplayed) Thomas Bryant, the center many expected to be the top center in the Big Ten this season.

What Mahmoud lacks in bulk, he overcomes in length. What he lacks in strength, he overcomes with touch.

It’s time for him to continue to get more minutes than Mathiang in the middle. Mahmoud is a team guy. He was ecstatic to contribute in a game that his parents were able to watch by live-streaming it in Egypt.

“I found out Thursday (that he was starting),” Mahmoud said. “(Coach Pitino) didn’t really tell me anything. He just wanted me to focus on rebounding, which I didn’t do very well.

“He wanted me to focus on defense and blocking shots.”

Mahmoud can do those things. He makes Louisville better on both ends.

Notre Dame is next for the Cards, Wednesday night in South Bend. The Fighting Irish (12-2) do not have a bruiser like Zach Auguste, Jack Cooley or Luke Harangody this season. Mahmoud should be fine against Notre Dame, the first of nine straight games the Cards are favored to win in Pomeroy’s basketball analytics formula.

In fact, Pomeroy projects that Louisville will finish 12-6 in the ACC, locked in a three-way tie for second with Duke and North Carolina, behind the Virginia team that could not beat Florida State.

Warning: Wild ACC season ahead.

As for Indiana: Two weeks ago Pomeroy’s numbers also had the Hoosiers at 12-6 in the Big Ten, one game behind Purdue and Wisconsin.

That is not what the numbers say today. 

The numbers on Jan. 1 have Indiana at 10-8, four games behind Purdue, three behind Wisconsin and one behind Michigan.

That’s what happens when you lose games you should have won against Butler and Nebraska and finish 15 points behind Louisville.

If you listened to the crowd in Indianapolis Saturday, you heard some of the grumbling that crackled across the landscape last season after the Hoosiers stumbled against Wake Forest and UNLV in Hawaii — and then got roasted at Duke.

The grumbling last season was premature and overwrought. Indiana rallied and won the Big Ten regular season title.

The grumbling this season is premature and overwrought. But only if the Hoosiers stop losing games this team should not lose (read: IPFW and Nebraska). The Hoosiers have slipped to No. 24 in Pomeroy's formula and 18th in Sagarin's predictor ranking. Indiana has not lost three straight games since March 7, 2015.

Tom Crean was asked after the Louisville game is his team was at a ... (not my question) crossroads?

"I think that's pretty drama filled right there," he said. "Not that you would be. I know you wouldn't be.

"No, we just lost to a really good team. We didn't play well the other night (against Nebraska) ... We didn't shoot well. You're not going to see Rob Johnson go 1-for-13 too many nights ...

"My biggest thing is I don't want them trying too hard. I mean, we've got a group of guys who are going to be back in the gym and trying to work their way out of it. There's a time and a place for that. We haven't had a good week."

Crean and James Blackmon Jr. were correct in one part of their post-game analysis. Indiana rarely shoots as poorly as the Hoosiers shot against Louisville. If you have forgotten the numbers, they were 32.2 percent overall and 19.0 percent overall. This is a team that made 48 percent of its threes against Kansas and 38 percent against North Carolina.

Credit some of the struggles to the U of L defense, always one of the nation's best. But Robert Johnson was a 46 percent shooter from distance who missed eight straight, many uncontested. If Johnson makes his usual percentage (and Mitchell and Deng Adel make theirs), it’s a different game.

That didn’t happen. Indiana did not adjust. The Hoosiers flaws were on display.

Thomas Bryant has been outplayed by guys who bother him with strength or length. There is too much aimless dribbling. De’Ron Davis looks ready for more time, others likely deserve less. 

This team misses the individual skills of Yogi Ferrell and Troy Williams to flash past a defender and get a shot late in the shot block. One of the most telling plays of Saturday’s game was Indiana’s shot clock violation on the game’s first possession.

The silly turnovers are killers — like Juwan Morgan picking the ball up near mid-court and getting stripped after IU had cut U of L’s lead to six midway through the second half.

The turnover issue should be correctable. But until they are corrected, they suggest a carelessness about the value of every possession.

On Tuesday Crean’s team has a chance to change that perception against a team that has dominated the Big Ten in recent years because its players do not do crazy things with the basketball.

That team is Wisconsin, a program that has gone an astounding 15-2 against Indiana since Jan. 31, 2008.

If the Hoosiers beat Wisconsin, the IPFW and Nebraska games return to the Anomaly pile. Lose to Wisconsin and people will return to checking Indiana’s ID.

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