Monday Muse Basketball

Louisville's defensive numbers are improved across the board as the Cardinals head to Wake Forest Wednesday.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Patriots by a six. That’s my Super Bowl prediction. Anthony Davis to the Lakers. That’s my NBA Trade Deadline prediction.

Bryce Harper to the Phillies and Manny Machado to the Yankees. Those are my MLB Free Agent predictions. I’ll stop there because going 0-for-4 is plenty of material for Freezing Cold Takes.

Onward, to the Monday Muse.

1. Louisville Defense by the Numbers

Louisville native Craig Meyer does an excellent job covering the Pitt Panthers for the Post-Gazette newspaper. One of Meyer’s takeaways from Louisville’s 66-51 victory here Saturday was the Cardinals pinned two scoreless stretches over about six minutes on each half on the visitors. During those periods, Louisville outscored Pitt 17-0.

Ball game.

Next question: How much better is Louisville’s defense this season?

Next answer: Considerably better.

A year ago, according to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, Louisville allowed 96.8 points per 100 possessions. This season the number has declined to 94.1. It’s not in the 80s, as it was every season from 2011-through-2016, but the trend line is where it is supposed to be.

The biggest jump Louisville has made is not allowing offensive rebounds. A year ago, opponents grabbed 31.4 percent of their misses, which ranked 291st nationally. That’s dismal. This season the number has improved to 24.2, which ranks 32nd. That’s excellent.

In ACC games, Louisville ranks second (to Virginia) in defensive efficiency as well as second (to Syracuse) in turnovers forced.

2. Wake Up

More than a third through the Atlantic Coast Conference season, four teams are stuck at the one-win total.

Louisville has played one of them — Miami.

Patsy No. 2 arrives Wednesday night when the Cardinals visit Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Notre Dame and Clemson are the other one-win teams, but I’ll argue Wake is the worst team in the ACC.

Pomeroy ranks the Demon Deacons No. 167. Not only is that 61 spots lower than Boston College, Wake is also 67 spots below Rutgers, 66 behind West Virginia, 45 behind Texas A&M and 52 behind DePaul. Among teams in the Power Six leagues, only hapless California and Washington State are worse.

Pomeroy likes Louisville by 11 Wednesday, with an 85 percent win probability against a Wake team that has lost to Houston Baptist, Richmond and Gardner Webb.

3. Tanking for Zion

The NBA has scrambled to eliminate incentives for — wink — losing while trying to gain position for the upcoming draft. But when a player like Zion Williamson persists in showing he has the ability to help a team win games and sell tickets, nobody listens.

Yes, there remains an NBA Draft Lottery to win, but the Chicago Bulls are making a determined push to increase their chances to secure Williamson. In the four-team race with the Cavaliers, Knicks and Suns to avoid winning 20 (or even 15) games, the Bulls put an exclamation point on a stretch of 13 losses in 14 games by losing to the Hawks, Clippers and Cavs.

No wonder Bulls’ vice-president John Paxson and general manager Gar Forman appeared uncomfortable when I snapped their picture before the Michigan-Indiana game in Bloomington Friday night.

I’m thinking they’ll be more camera ready, if they grab Williamson.

4. Incompetence or Integrity?

I predicted this was coming. You can’t move past horrendous calls like the pass-interference hit the officials missed in the Rams’ NFC Title Game win over New Orleans without intense howling from the conspiracy theorists.

Especially if the Richest Sports League Around ignores the controversy.

All that was required was a simple check of the officials’ biographies to uncover the news that four guys who worked the game live in Southern California.

It’s a jump I’m unwilling to make to believe they were Rams’ fans who waited until the final minutes of regulation to ensure their favorite team advanced to the Super Bowl.

But in our Conspiracy Driven World, others have not been as forgiving.

Roger Goodell and the NFL could have helped themselves by addressing the matter last week, long before the commissioner’s annual press conference before the Super Bowl.

Hmm. Maybe Goodell has property near L.A., too.

5. What Does St. Louis REALLY Think About the Rams?

How high will this story rank among the ones that everybody will deliver Super Bowl Week?

Who are people in St. Louis rooting for in the game that matches the team that left town (Rams) against the one that beat St. Louis in the Super Bowl (the Patriots)?

I’ll tell you what fans in St. Louis are rooting for — the Cardinals to sign Harper, Dallas Keuchel or another guy who can help that franchise close the gap with the Cubs and Brewers.

But Ben Frederickson of the St. Louis Post-Disptach took a swing at the topic.

6. DeMarcus Cousins Update

Early reports on the addition of former Kentucky star DeMarcus Cousins to the Golden State Warriors lineup have been encouraging.

The Warriors are 4-0 since Cousins was cleared after recovering from a torn Achilles’ tendon. He has averaged 13.5 points and 7.3 rebounds in 21 minutes per game.

I’m not ready to hand the Warriors another trophy. An injury to Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson or Draymond Green could change everything. But I like Cousins’ chances of getting a ring and making himself one of the most desirable free agents next summer.

Cousins also found time to offer encouraging words to former Indiana star Victor Oladipo, who suffered a devastating knee injury that ended his season last week.

7. Rajon Rondo: Coach In Waiting

Serious basketball people will tell you when Rondo is finished playing he intends to pursue a coaching career, likely in the NBA.

Rondo, the former Eastern High School and Kentucky star, has always been one of the game’s most cerebral players, a voracious student of video determined to find an advantage.

Rondo took his pursuit of getting ahead to the next level last week as the Lakers played Minnesota.

And he was rewarded with a technical foul.

8. Whatever Happened to Dennis Rodman?

I know that the first question that you, Will Perdue and Madonna asked today: What happened to the guy who grabbed all those rebounds for Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Isiah Thomas and Bill Laimbeer.

He can’t have all of his fun in North Korea.

Turns out that Rodman was working with actress/producer Penny Marshall on a film about his life before Marshall died earlier this month.

Marshall’s passing saddened Rodman.

9. Spring Training Countdown

Bear with me (or play along) as I squeeze more baseball information into the Monday Muse. We have finally inched to within less than three weeks of Spring Training.

The latest good sign arrived over the weekend when MLB Pipeline released its list of Top 100 prospects for the 2019 season.

I quickly scanned for guys with local ties. (OK, that’s the second thing I did after scanning the list for the six White Sox prospects.). Two players made the cut:

*Former Ballard High School outfielder Jo Adell is ranked 14th overall and fifth among outfielders. Adell, who will turn 20 on April 8, should begin this season where he played his final 17 games last season — at Class AA Mobile in the Southern League. The Angels have been aggressive while moving Adell through their farm system. He’s got a shot at a late-summer big-league call up unless the Angels prefer to manipulate his service time.

*Former Louisville pitcher/first baseman Brendan McKay is ranked 29th overall and is still listed as a two-way prospect with Tampa Bay. McKay, 23, is likely to make his move from High Class A to AA this spring.

10. Rick Pitino Twitter Update

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