Last week in a game against Seton Hall, Louisville held the Pirates to 42 percent shooting through halftime, but Rick Pitino was still unhappy with the Cardinals’ defense. He became unhinged because they forced only eight turnovers and gained five steals.
Then Pitino, his voice barely detectable, said the Cardinals were playing like “13 Michael Jacksons,” according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, meaning they weren’t talking loud enough on defense. After a few chuckles, Louisville clamped down on Seton Hall, which shot just 28 percent in the second half in a 73-58 rout. Less than a week later, Louisville was ranked No. 1, a position it could hold for quite a while because of its unrelenting defense.
As good as Louisville has been under Pitino and Denny Crum before him, this is only the second time the program has been ranked No. 1 in school history. The only other time Louisville has been the top ranked school in the nation was in March 2009 after the Big East Tournament. The Cardinals are 16-1 and 4-0 in the Big East heading into today’s game against Syracuse (4 p.m., ESPN, Radio 1520 AM).
The pressure comes incessantly, similar to Virginia Commonwealth’s Havoc defense, where life becomes agonizing for the primary ball handlers. With the constant rotating and switches, the Cardinals convert steals into layups and eventually teams become fatigued. In their last game against Connecticut on Monday, the Huskies led, 34-28, at the half but Louisville outscored UConn, 45-24, in the second for a 73-58 defensive magnum opus.
Louisville’s offense was deplorable last season but the Cardinals forced nearly 16 turnovers and nine steals a game while reaching the Final Four. Those numbers are up to 19.8 turnovers and 11.4 steals a game, which could be good enough to land Louisville back in the Final Four this season.
Firings in the middle of the season are rare in college basketball, but it wasn’t surprising when Kevin O’Neill was dismissed from USC.
USC guard J.T. Terrell perhaps described O’Neill best when he told the Los Angeles Times, “KO, any day of the week, is just priceless. You never know what you’re going to get.”
What the Trojans got was a 48-65 record in three-plus seasons. Injuries had a lot to do with the team’s struggles but O’Neill didn’t recruit Los Angeles well and the Trojans have only one player from L.A. on the roster.
He’ll probably wind up back in the NBA, where he was once the coach of the Toronto Raptors.
Considering the additions of Butler and VCU and the overall depth of the Atlantic 10, it was a reach to pick Saint Joseph’s to win the league.
It has solid talent but isn’t nearly as deep as teams like VCU, Butler or Charlotte. At 9-6 overall and 1-2 in the A-10, word around Philly is that the Hawks are underachieving. And while we’re on the subject Saint Joseph’s hasn’t made much noise under coach Phil Martelli since its memorable run in 2003-04.
Saint Joseph’s won the A-10 regular season title the next season (24-12) but hasn’t finished higher than fifth since. The Hawks have been to the NIT four times, including last season, but haven’t returned to the NCAAs.
Playing in the shadow of Villanova and Temple makes Saint Joseph’s a tough job, but when will Martelli recapture some of that ‘04 magic?
When Duke loses on the road, it’s a cause for celebration.
In the past 10 seasons, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal, Duke has lost 31 road games and fans rushed the court after 25 of them (80.6 percent). Some opponents, like bitter rival North Carolina, just like to rub salt in the wound. In March 2005, fans of the then-No. 2 ranked Tar Heels made a run for the floor after beating the Blue Devils, even though North Carolina was ranked four spots higher.
After North Carolina State beat the top-ranked Blue Devils last Saturday, Mike Krzyzewski was asked if he recalled the last time road fans didn’t rush the court. He couldn’t.
“That’s a sign of respect, a sign that it means something,” he said.
Actually, it was last season, when Ohio State didn’t budge after the No. 2 Buckeyes beat the No. 3 Blue Devils, 85-63.
Count Coach K among those who isn’t a fan of conference jumping.
He criticized realignment recently on his SiriusXM radio show, saying it is an assault on traditon while robbing the sport of some of its uniqueness.
“What sets us apart from the pros? What sets us apart from the rest of the world?” Krzyzewski said. “Intercollegiate sports is really something that only the United States has. No other country has that.
“And our thing is based on all the right values: loyalty, honesty, tradition,” he continued. “The branding that you have gotten from doing that has elevated the academic institutions that those athletic programs represent. And doing things the way we’re doing it now, based on money, I think it takes away from the academic missions and the innocence that an academic institution has.”
Honesty? Innocence? Not exactly words associated with college athletics these days.
After transferring from Central Michigan last season, Trey Ziegler was supposed to be an instant hit at Pittsburgh. So far, it hasn’t happened.
The 6-foot-5 swingman has scored in double digits just twice this season, although he did enjoy his best game to date on Wednesday in a victory against Villanova when he shot 6 of 10 and scored 13 points
Although Ziegler is shooting a career best 50.7 percent, his minutes have decreased nearly half from his Central Michigan days when he played for his father, Ernie. He’s averaging just 5.1 points, which ranks seventh on the team.