BOZICH | Louisville's surge against Pitt tempered by loss of Tony Hicks
In the last week, Louisville has handed Clemson and Pitt their worst losses of the season while making a case for a Number One seed in the NCAA Tournament.
PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WDRB) – Shooting percentages are traditionally revealing stats. Points per possession are the modern wave of college basketball statistics.
Here are two nuggets that capture how well the University of Louisville basketball team played over the last week:
*The Cards handed Clemson and Pittsburgh their worst losses of the season.
Louisville beat Clemson by 32. Nobody has handled the Tigers by more than a dozen.
Louisville beat Pittsburgh by 55 – five times the Panthers’ average margin of defeat in their first seven losses this season. I realize Pitt quit, but the U of L players put up the STOP sign.
*Clemson players had nothing to say after the game. The Tigers huddled in a players only meeting in their locker room at the KFC Yum! Center. Eventually a school representative said they would have no comment.
Ditto for Pitt. After Panthers’ coach Kevin Stallings criticized his team’s defense, grit, energy, leadership and breath, no Pittsburgh players were available to talk about why the Panthers’ flat-lined 30 seconds into U of L’s 106-51 win Tuesday night at Petersen Events Center.
Two super-sized victories that opposing players had no interest to discuss?
You see that about as often as you find Rick Pitino wearing Kanye West Yeezy Adidas sneakers. Two powerful wins by the Cards that were somewhat tempered by the mid-day news that guard Tony Hicks will miss the next six-to-eight weeks, after suffering a broken bone in his right hand.
"Tony was just fitting in at the point position and has made great progress," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said in a statement Wednesday.
"We will keep him in great condition and hope we make a long run in the tournament so he can play in his first NCAA Tournament. It's time for Ryan (McMahon) and David (Levitch) to pick up their defense. Injuries are part of the game and we will get stronger."
Hicks and Pitino downplayed the injury after the game when questioned by Mike Lacett of WDRB Sports. But Lacett heard Hicks ask the bench if he could shoot free throws with his left hand in the second half. Hicks scored 35 points in the Cards' games with Clemson, Florida State and Pitt while filling in for Quentin Snider, who has a hip injury.
“We just had a good night,” Louisville center Anas Mahmoud said. “Everybody played really well. Everybody played their A game. It was a good win.”
“Confidence-wise, it’s big,” said U of L guard Donovan Mitchell. “It just builds confidence. All this is happening when (Quentin Snider) is out. It shows a lot of promise, not just for the starters, but for the guys coming off the bench.”
Full disclosure: Wedged between the Cardinals’ two stirring victories, Louisville lost at Florida State by five Saturday – and looked lost during the start of the game at Tallahassee.
The Cards are not unbeatable. They’re fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference as conference play approaches the mid-way point. Let’s see what Louisville does at Virginia (Feb. 6) and North Carolina (Feb. 22).
But as Tuesday night in college basketball revealed, nobody is perfect (Sorry Gonzaga. I don’t take you super seriously until the middle of March.)
Villanova lost to a Marquette team that lost to Pittsburgh.
Kentucky lost to a Tennessee team that lost to Chattanooga and Ole Miss.
Kansas lost to a West Virginia team that lost to an Oklahoma team that has lost 11 of 19 games.
What do my two favorite college basketball computer rankings say about Pitino’s team after the landscape tilted across the national scene Tuesday night?
The Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin metrics indicate the Cardinals are sniffing around One-Seed for the NCAA Tournament.
You’ll find Louisville fourth in Sagarin’s preferred Predictor formula and fifth at KenPom.com.
The Cardinals trail West Virginia, Kentucky and North Carolina in Sagarin. They trail Gonzaga, UK, West Virginia, Virginia and Villanova at KenPom.
Understand that Clemson and Pittsburgh are buried at the bottom of the ACC standings, the league’s only 1-6 teams. They’re wobbling.
But also understand that when Joe Lunardi posted his latest NCAA Tournament bracket Monday, he included Pittsburgh in the field as a 12-seed and ranked Clemson as the last team out.
In other words, Louisville just beat two NCAA bubble teams by a combined 87 points.
That’s also a reminder it’s challenging to score against the Cardinals, who'll have to navigate the absence of Hicks while hoping that Quentin Snider's hip heals in the next week.
Mahmoud has developed into a creative shot-maker who has scored double figures in half of U of L’s last eight games, blocking 17 shots during that stretch.
Bulk will give Mahmoud issues. But Clemson coach Brad Brownell and Stallings said Mahmoud’s wingspan can cloud the skyline around the rim.
Mitchell has learned how to punish defenses by forcing them to fear his perimeter shot (6 for 8 from distance against Pitt), which creates space for Mitchell to attack the rim.
After the Pitt game, Mitchell moved back into second place (behind Bonzie Colson of Notre Dame) on Pomeroy’s list of the top players in the ACC.
It’s an intriguing group, deep, improving and eager to master the Pitino system.
It’s also a group that has overwhelmed two borderline NCAA Tournament teams, leaving them with nothing to say other than, “No comment.”
Copyright 2017 WDRB Media. All Rights Reserved.