Quite a bit was made of the team meeting called by UConn forward Alex Oriakhi on Friday, and how it may have sparked a revival of the reigning national champions. But maybe that should have been another red flag, given the first couple of paragraphs in the Hartford Courant recapping the Huskies' 69-46 win over Seton Hall. Oriakhi mentioned that he'd been advised by people to call a team meeting, and while the junior is getting used to a new role within the team as its elder statesman the fact that such a push would need to be made is far more concerning than anyone seemed to realize.
The Huskies hit the road on Monday without head coach Jim Calhoun for the first time, and after hanging around for most of the first half things went downhill in a big way as Louisville rolled 80-59. Louisville hit UConn in the mouth, going on a 14-2 run halfway through the second half to push their lead out to 58-34, and instead of fighting back the Huskies seemed to play dead in hopes that the Cardinals would let up. What happened instead was a parade of Louisville players to the basket for emphatic dunks with some backbreaking three-pointers mixed in.
"I sure hope they do," remarked interim head coach George Blaney when asked if the players were embarrassed by their showing. "That was a pretty good beating in the second half. Fifty-one points and 50 percent shooting, seven or eight threes I think."
Gorgui Dieng, who was a gametime decision due to a sprained ankle suffered in Saturday's win over Rutgers, outplayed the UConn front court and finished with 15 points, six rebounds and six steals and guard Chris Smith scored a team-high 16 points. Ryan Boatright led the Huskies with 18 points and five assists, but it was troubling to see that as a team the Huskies finished with seven assists to 15 turnovers. Those mistakes were converted into 20 points by the Cardinals, with 12 of those points coming in the second half. It also didn't help matters that Louisville did such a good job on Jeremy Lamb, limiting the All America candidate to seven points and three turnovers.
"[Dick McGuire] said inferior guards play on the sidelines and great guards play in the middle," said Louisville head coach Rick Pitino of his late friend. "What we try to do with guys like that is to keep them on the sideline as much as possible. We try to take their talents away, and we did a great job of that today."
Louisville looks to be in good shape, but the same cannot be said for UConn with two of their next three games being Syracuse (on the road) and Marquette, a team that will fight for every inch of real estate on the court. Lamb, Oriakhi and Shabazz Napier have not stepped up to a championship level from a leadership standpoint, and the other guys are either too inconsistent (Andre Drummond was practically non-existent on Monday night) or in the case of Boatright really haven't played enough to cement themselves as the team leader. Who steps up? That remains to be seen, but if they all don't show up in the Carrier Dome looking for a fight this season's going to get even worse.
Other Notable Happenings (with some Sunday notes mixed in)
1. Reggie Johnson shines on Super Bowl Sunday as Miami wins for the first time at Duke.
Few people (if any) outside of the Miami basketball family gave the Hurricanes any chance of picking up their first-ever win at Cameron Indoor Stadium, seeing it as one final bit of hoops entertainment before watching the Super Bowl. But the Hurricanes believed, and thanks in large part to an outstanding afternoon from their big man Miami not only beat Duke 78-74 in overtime but may have also revived their NCAA tournament hopes. Reggie Johnson outplayed the Duke front court, scoring 27 points and grabbing 12 rebounds to lead the way and Kenny Kadji added 15 and eight boards.
Seth Curry (22 points) and Austin Rivers (20) led the way offensively for the Blue Devils but the poor performances of their front court didn't allow Duke to take advantage of Miami's starting guards (Malcolm Grant, Shane Larkin and Durand Scott) shooting a combined 6-for-29. Duke has some things to figure out ahead of their battle with North Carolina on Wednesday night, most importantly getting consistent production from the Plumlee brothers and Ryan Kelly.
2. Draymond Green shakes off his knee injury to lead Michigan State past Michigan.
The health of the senior forward was one of the keys to the matchup between the Spartans and Wolverines, but there was no doubt that Green would be on the Breslin Center floor. And he was highly effective as well, leading Michigan State to the 64-54 win with 14 points and 16 rebounds. Michigan State, who shot 52.2% from the field, was so dominant on the glass that Green's rebounding total matched that of Michigan's entire team (40-16 MSU edge) and the Spartans rebounded 48% of their missed shots.
That made up for Michigan State's 15 turnovers as they still finished with an efficiency of 108.5 to Michigan's 91.5. Michigan shot just 39.6% from the floor and the shooting of Tim Hardaway Jr. was one reason why the Wolverines struggled offensively as he made just one of ten shots from the field (four points). With the win the Spartans remain a game behind Ohio State in the Big Ten standings, and with two games against the Buckeyes still to be played Tom Izzo's team will contend throughout the remainder of the season.
3. Texas picks up a key win on the road as they beat Texas A&M.
Rick Barnes' Longhorns entered Monday's game in College Station with a record of 1-5 in true road games, and a return trip to the NCAA tournament will likely hinge on what they can do down the stretch away from Austin. The Longhorns shot 58.3% from the field in the second half and turned the ball over just eight times, winning 70-66 to move to 5-6 in Big 12 play. J'Covan Brown led the way with 20 points and seven assists and Sheldon McClellan added 15 for Texas, who put together their most efficent offensive showing in Big 12 play this season.
It didn't hurt to go up against a Texas A&M team without Dash Harris and Khris Middleton (Kourtney Roberson's also been out for quite some time with a fractured ankle), but regardless of who was on the floor Texas really needed a win to improve their profile. With road games against the likes of Oklahoma and Kansas remaining on the slate, this could be the confidence boost that Barnes' young team needed for a stretch run.
1. One of the things to watch on Monday was how Missouri would move on from their emotional win over Kansas on Saturday night. Oklahoma gave the Tigers all they wanted and then some, but Steven Pledger's game-tying three was off the mark and Missouri left with a 71-68 victory. Marcus Denmon scored 25 points as the Tigers won despite being out-rebounded 36-22 (Ricardo Ratliffe grabbed ten of those 22 boards). Mizzou now gets some much-needed rest before hosting Baylor on Saturday.
2. One of the tougher things to do in recent years is figure out which Illinois team will show up on any given day, and that was once again the case on Sunday as they lost 74-70 to Northwestern in Champaign. The Wildcats shot 60.4% from the field and 75.0% from two in the win, with John Shurna (24 points) and Reggie Hearn (20 points) leading the way. If Illinois is to be a factor come March they need to get more from D.J. Richardson, who scored nine points (3-9 FG) on Sunday and has reached double figures just twice since opening Big Ten play with three straight double figure scoring efforts.
3. Jamie Dixon's Pittsburgh Panthers won their fourth straight game on Sunday as they beat Villanova 79-70, and with their upcoming schedule Pitt could sprint right into an NCAA tournament bid. Tray Woodall, whose return to full strength sparked this run, scored 19 points and dished out five assists while Ashton Gibbs added 25 and they combined to go 19-for-19 from the foul line. There aren't many teams in the Big East volunteering to play the Panthers right now.
4. With a 54-46 win over East Tennessee State, Bob Hoffman's Mercer Bears moved into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic Sun. Mercer, who is tied with Belmont in the loss column but has one more win, had three players score 11 points to lead the way and Jake Gollon made up for his cold shooting by grabbing 11 boards. Not only does Mercer get Belmont at home in the regular season finale but they also host the conference tournament, which will add more suspense than last season when Belmont rolled to the crown.
5. Davidson clinched at least a share of the South Division crown in the SoCon with their 76-54 win over Wofford, limiting the Terriers to 26.9% shooting and 15 points in the first half (Wofford had as many turnovers (seven) as field goals in the half). J.P. Kuhlman and De'Mon Brooks led four players in double figures with 14 and 13 points respectively, and Bob McKillop's team turned the ball over just six times on the night.
6. A pair of Dominique Sutton free throws with three seconds remaining sealed North Carolina Central's 81-79 win over Bethune-Cookman, adding even more intrigue to the MEAC race. With the Eagles' victory six teams are separated by two games in the loss column atop the MEAC with 9-2 Norfolk State leading the way. Levelle Moton's got some talented players with Sutton leading the way, and while they'll need some outside help keep an eye on NCCU down the stretch.
7. There was some important recruiting news as 2012 forward Ricardo Gathers (former St. John's verbal) committed to Baylor. The Louisiana native has a build ready for professional football much less college basketball, and to add him alongside the slender Isaiah Austin is quite the coup for Scott Drew and his staff.
Six Notable Performances (Sunday and Monday)
1. C Reggie Johnson (Miami)
27 points and 12 rebounds in the Hurricanes' 78-74 overtime win at Duke.
2. G Truck Bryant (West Virginia) and G Gerard Coleman (Providence)
Bryant scored 32 points and knocked down the game-winning three-pointer in the Mountaineers' 87-84 overtime win at Providence, while Coleman paced the Friars with a career-high 30.
3. F Draymond Green (Michigan State)
14 points and 16 rebounds in the Spartans' 64-54 win over #22 Michigan.
4. G Marcus Denmon (Missouri)
25 points and two steals in the Tigers' 71-68 win at Oklahoma.
5. G Tray Woodall and G Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh)
Woodall accounted for 29 points, six rebounds and five assists while Gibbs finished with 25 points in the Panthers' 79-70 win over Villanova.
6. G Kendrick Perry (Youngstown State)
28 points (11-14 FG), seven steals and six assists in the Penguins' 80-63 win over Loyola (IL).