I was a co-host on the Weekend Sports Buzz on 1450 AM over the weekend. Here you can find both podcasts. Listen as we talk NBA Finals, Kentucky Football, Louisville Football, Kobe vs Lebron, etc.
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The hiring of Mark Stoops at Kentucky has seemingly brought new life to the Wildcats. A program that has consistently been the doormat of the SEC, is now recruiting like a powerhouse of the SEC.
With two of the latest additions to the ‘Stoops Troops’ (can’t believe I said that, never let me do it again) Kentucky has moved into 5th overall in the 247sports.com 2014 Recruiting Class Rankings. It’s completely unbelievable that Kentucky Football has been able to recruit like this, even this early. It’s quite unearthly, that Kentucky could be rated higher than schools like Michigan, Oklahoma, in anything even remotely close to football. But, that’s exactly what has happened. A team that went 3-8 last year is recruiting better than 1 loss teams. Let that sink in. It’s quite a wonderful feat.
Mark Stoops deserves complete credit for what he has done. He’s done something that Joker Phillips, or even Rich Brooks came close to doing.
He should be praised for that.
However, after receiving emails and seeing things claiming ‘Kentucky will beat Louisville’, ‘Kentucky will contend for an SEC Championship soon’, I realize that a certain reality needs to be noted.
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops and company have created a excitement around Kentucky football that has never been seen.
But, it is sure to die enough…at least for a bit.
To say the Kentucky Football team would win any more than 3 games would be a stretch. Therefore the excitement will eventually die down, when the Cats actually take the field. What happens when the excitement dies down? What happens when Alabama comes into to the Commonwealth and notches a 30 point victory? Where is the excitement level at then?
The point is, Kentucky will be competing against- and most likely losing- to team’s that they’ve won recruiting battles against. When 17-18 year old prospects see this, their perception of the program will change. And sadly for Kentucky, the NCAA doesn’t allow NLAs to be signed in June. Thus their verbal commitment will surely be tested and their will be some defections. I believe Kentucky will be just fine with that happening, but it surely means expectations need to be tempered a bit.
To Kentucky (some, not all) fans, I say this: Slow down. Your football program is headed in the right direction. The new coaching staff has given you a reason to be excited and you should be. But, you should allow games to be played, before you boost about them being victories off the field.
It’s no secret that Rick Pitino has got it going once again at Louisville. The Cardinals will come into the 2014 College Basketball season as the defending National Champions, and also with a proven product. The Cardinals will return 3 players who have been on Back-to-Back Final Four teams and played critical minutes in both, in Wanye Blackshear, Chane Behanan, & Russ Smith.
No other team in the Country can say that.
No other team in the Country can say they have the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player returning…and coming off the bench in Luke Hancock.
Not to mention, the Cardinals return over 75% of their scoring of a National Championship.
While the Cardinals lose glue guys in Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva, they replace them nicely. Taking over in the 5 spot for Gorgui Dieng, will most likely be Sophomore Montrezl Harrell. Harrell has shown nothing but promise in his short time at Louisville. Some mock drafts already have him going in the Top 15 of next year’s draft, as he appears to be poised for a monster season. As for Peyton Siva, replacing him will be quite the challenge. Siva was the undisputed leader of the 2013 Cardinals and a proverbial glue-guy. However, the Cardinals will look to replace him with JUCO Player of the Year and Freshman Chris Jones. Jones certainly has the pre-requisites to be a superstar at Louisville. A prolific scorer in High School, and a guy who has won two National Player of the Year awards at the JUCO level.
Many will cite Peyton Siva’s absence as reasoning for having the Cardinals out of the #1 spot. However, for a Country that seems all but resigned to the fact that the Kentucky Wildcats, will win the 2014 National Championship with a group of Freshman; I find it strange that they can trust 1 at Louisville.
It’s took me a week to write this.
It’s took a week to sink in.
Countless numbers of heartbreaks. Several “What ifs?” And many sayings of “If only.”
Not this time.
Louisville has finally won a College Basketball National Championship.
And they deserved it.
As we learned this season, the 2013 Louisville Basketball Team was flat out ‘special’. A group of guys that exemplified the team motto of “Louisville First. Cards Forever.” More than team though, a brotherhood. A brotherhood that sparkled more than ever, in one of Louisville’s darkest moments.
As you know, Kevin Ware suffered one of the most gruesome injuries ever seen on a basketball court, in the NCAA Tournament. In that moment, it was when America realized what brothers this team was.
Russ Smith drowned his face in tears. Chane Behanan threw his body to the ground in horror. Peyton Siva went to his knees, and said a prayer, although at the time, he knew not what for. All of this, for their fallen sibling.
As Kevin Ware laid on the Lucas Oil Stadium court, perhaps in shock of the terror of his knee sticking six inches out the skin, he wasn’t worried about it. He didn’t fret about the distinct danger that his basketball career was over. No.
His concern? Win the Game.
Once again, the strength of Louisville’s brotherhood had shown. It was also in that moment, that it was shown, that Louisville deserved to win the National Title.
Of course, it’s nothing unique for a team to show they are deserving of an NCAA Championship. Kentucky did it last year, Others the years before. But Louisville’s case was different.
Generally, it’s a crazy spurt of athletic plays, a crazy scoring run to finish a game that just makes you say “Wow”. But in the case of Louisville, it was the moment where sports meant so much but so little. Where instead of saying “Wow”, you were shedding a tear.
In this moment, you realized, brotherhood trumps all and Louisville deserved success.
I simply have no words right now. Never seen such a tough team in my life. Kevin Ware broke his leg in the first half in the most gruesome injury I’ve ever seen. His response, wasn’t about his pain, it was about the team. “Win the game” Ware said, “I’ll be fine”. As tears came down Louisville Guard Russ Smith’s face, he huddled his team together, and they blew Duke off the court. If Louisville doesn’t cut the nets down in Atlanta, something’s wrong. They won for Kevin. Recap coming tomorrow.
It’s been a turning, twisting road for the 2013 Louisville Basketball team. A group full of youth and old, loud and quiet, confident and humble…they’ve had their ups and downs. They’ve went through strides of three straight losses — where people started to doubt if they would be what others expected in the pre-season — but then they’ve had the highs- a Big East Championship, a Number 1 overall seed.
All of this, has led to one destination…Indianapolis, the place where the Cardinals will fight for the right to get to the Final Four; and subsequently, have a chance to cap off one of the best season’s in Cardinal History. First things first, Louisville has a date with the (underseeded) Pac-12 Champion Oregon Ducks. Let’s take a look at the 2 biggest Keys for the Cardinals to win Friday night and advance to the Elite Eight.
Make Oregon Be Oregon
Out of all the teams left in the NCAA Tournament, the Oregon Ducks commit the most turnovers, at just over 14 per game. Out of all the teams left in the NCAA Tournament, the Louisville Cardinals force the most turnovers, averaging 11.2 steals per game (ranks 2nd Nationally). Seems to spell doom for the Ducks, right? Add in the fact that Oregon starts a Freshman PG, who has never been been on this stage before, and things get downright scary for the Ducks.
Louisville needs to force Oregon into doing with they’re accustomed to doing — committing turnovers. The bonus for Louisville? The Cardinals are coming off two of their best defensive performances to date.
In the 1st round opener, the Cardinals had an NCAA Tournament Record 20 steals against North Carolina A&T. Impressively enough, the Cardinals followed that up in the second round with 18 steals against Colorado State. Even more impressive? The Rams only averaged 11 turnovers per game, ranking them near the top in America at taking care of the ball. Needless to say, the Cardinals have taken it up another level, so to speak.
I think we’ll see this high production defensive trend here. The challenge for Louisville will be sitting up their press against a team, which gets the ball out of the net and up court quickly. The Cardinals will have to execute steals in the half-court and I think they will.
What They Say:
“The speed of the way they take the ball out, the speed of their guards, it’s going to be a very difficult challenge to get into [our] press. They’re like a North Carolina the way they get it out of the net and advance it up the floor. A few years back we had trouble getting into our press against North Carolina.” –Head Coach Rick Pitino
Guard the 3:
The great equalizer — as Head Coach Rick Pitino will tell you — is the three point shot. How does a team with less talent beat a team with more talent? Knock down the 3 point shot.
We’ve already seen it in this tournament thus far. When number 8 seed Wichita State knocked off Gonzaga, they knocked down an irregular 14 three pointers. 14. When 15 seed Norfolk State knocked out 2 seed Missouri in 2010, they knocked down 10 three pointers. Oregon will need to do this Friday night; Louisville will need to stop them.
Main Deep Threat
Forward E.J Singler, shoots 36.2% (highest percentage on team) from beyond the arc, averages 1.5 made 3 pointers per game.
The key match-up here will be Wanye Blackshear against Singler. Physically they are nearly equal, but Singler can be deceptively quick. Blackshear will need to be sure to stay in front of Singler, especially on the perimeter.
Louisville will need to focus extra attention on Singler along with Damyean Dotson (33%) and Carlos Emory (32%). While Guards Dotson and Emory have been successful at knocking down the 3, it’s less of a concern for Louisville. The backcourt of Siva & Smith has been one of the fastest in the Country all year, and gives them less chance at open looks. The main concern for Louisville Friday, will be E.J Singler’s ability to find open looks, Louisville must avoid that.
TIME & NETWORK: Approx. 7:15 PM (EST)
LOCATION: Indianapolis, IN
VEGAS LINE: Louisville -10 over Oregon
PREDICTION: Louisville 84, Oregon 67. Oregon will try to run with the Cards and for a half…they’ll succeed. Eventually though, Louisville’s constant pressure will wear the Ducks down in the 2nd half. Louisville goes away easily late, but the final score is not indicative of how close the game actually was.
Over 300 teams started with the vision of making the NCAA Tournament. Now, that dream is only realized by 64 teams.
One dream- going to a National Championship. That dream can only be realized by one.
Today 32 dreams will be shattered to 16. The next day, it will happen again.Dreams realized and Dreams lost.
It’s time for March Madness.
Are you ready?—Chris Hatfield
My names Chris Hatfield (that’s me, above, interviewing Former Louisville Cardinal Kyle Kuric- I’m sure Syracuse fans are familar with him) and I’ll be covering the Louisville Cardinals throughout the tournament (hopefully it’s a long stay for them). I am a freelance writer, who…
While Louisville got a favorable location in the NCAA Tournament, they certainly didn’t get an easy draw. The Midwest Region includes 8 Top 25 teams, 3 Hall of Fame Coaches (if not already in, shoe-ins to do so), 7 Conference Champions, and a Pac 12 Champion in Oregon who is a 12 seed. A freakin’ 12 seed.
Let’s take a look at a few things to watch and how I see the match-ups shaking out for Louisville.
Darkhorse of Region:
If there is anyone that needs to have a chip on their shoulder, it’s the Oregon Ducks. Oregon won the Pac-12 Championship-a conference that we refer to as a ‘power conference’- and got a 12 seed. The team they beat in the Pac-12 Championship game? They got a 6 seed.
The Ducks (I refuse to call them ‘fighting ducks’) will need to use the disrespect card to fuel them in the NCAA Tournament. Although Oregon got a 12 seed, they don’t have to travel too far from home. Oregon will play their first and possibly second round game(s) in San Jose, California. First round opponent Oklahoma State & Marcus Smart will await Oregon, if they get past that; they’ll most likely face St. Louis. Two tough opponents but two opponents they are certainly capable of defeating.
PG E.J. Singler will be the key for Oregon. He’s scored in double figures 3 out of the last 5 games, and is also shooting the 3pt ball pretty well (shooting 41% his last 5 games). If Singler can continue his hot play, don’t count the Ducks out from making a Sweet Sixteen run.
Player Louisville Needs to Show Up in NCAA Tournament:
Luke Hancock. I never thought I would write his name in that context. Constantly a glutton for punishment early in the season from both Louisville critics and fans (myself included), Luke has turned into a key a contributor. Hancock has been nothing short of amazing this past month. Louisville can still win without Hancock, actually they can probably still win it all without him, but his presence makes the road clearer.
Hancock has shot 54% from 3pt land in his last ten games, and was a key factor (once again) in Louisville’s comeback win in the Big East Championship. He has also scored in double digits 6 of his last 10 games. Keep in mind, this all from the bench.
The biggest question with Louisville coming into the season was ‘Who can make the 3pt shot?’ Hancock has answered that pretty soundly. He’s taken the load off of others at times and added another scoring option; not to mention picking up the slack where Wanye Blackshear couldn’t.
Predictions/Match-ups for Louisville’s Midwest Regional Games:
Game: Louisville VS Liberty (Why the Hell Not?)
Location: Lexington, KY
Result: Louisville 94 Liberty 54
Why? Louisville is much better at basketball than Liberty. Also, Louisville has three wins over teams 245 or worse in KenPom Rankings; they beat two of those by 40 or more. Liberty has a KenPom ranking of 251. It’s freakin’ science y’all!
Round of 32:
Game: Louisville VS Missouri
Location: Lexington, KY
Result: Louisville 72 Missouri 55
Why? The last time these two met, Louisville won by 24 points. It’s hard to take much out of a game nearly four months ago- so I won’t. The big reason I have the Cards-and why I have them so comfortably- is Missouri PG Phil Pressey. Phil Pressey likes to give the ball away and Louisville is pretty good at taking said ball away (despite what Woody Paige may think). Pressey has had 3 or more turnovers in 6 of his last 10 games, as a team Missouri ranks near the bottom of the SEC with 13 turnovers per game. Louisville takes advantage, wins going away.
Round of 16:
Game: Louisville VS St. Louis
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Result: Louisville 66 St. Louis 56
Why? This certainly won’t be a pretty match-up for Louisville. St. Louis is going to do everything in their power to slow down this game, but in the end- they will fail. Louisville’s speed & athleticism will get the best of the St. Louis in the waning moments of this game. Louisville has been in this position before, St. Louis hasn’t. Also, you really think Pitino is going to lose his first Sweet Sixteen game to St. Louis? A freaking Billiken? Think again. The guy is 10-0 in the Sweet 16 and still has no clue what a Billiken is…neither do I.
Game: Louisville VS Duke
Location: Indianapolis, IN
Result: Louisville 68 Duke 61
Why? Revenge. Louisville will show exactly why Gorgui Dieng is so important to Louisville. If you remember correctly, this is a rematch of the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship. A game in which Duke won by 2. A game in which Louisville’s Starting Center Gorgui Dieng was out. With Gorgui Dieng back in the line-up, this turns into an absolute slugfest between Plumlee/Dieng. Dieng, the 2013 Big East Defensive Player of the Year, gets Plumlee frustrated offensively early & often. Duke can’t recover as Louisville’s Guards take advantage of a worn down Seth Curry late. Louisville prevails in a classic.
Louisville faces New Mexico in the Final Four. Indiana faces Georgetown in the other National Semi-Final.