Posted on: December 3, 2011 1:18 am
Edited on: December 3, 2011 11:57 am

Pitino's Cards aren't worthy of No. 6 spot - yet

By Jeff Goodman

LOUISVILLE - When my eyes scrolled across the court in the plush Yum! Center prior to the start of the game, it hit me. The ball didn't even need to be tossed up, Rick Pitino didn't need to make a substitution or bark at one of his players. This wasn't the sixth-ranked team in the nation. Couldn't be. 

Pitino's Louisville Cardinals earned a hard-fought overtime victory over a Top 25 club, Vanderbilt, on Friday night after Peyton Siva provided the heroics with the game-winner with 1.4 left on the clock. It was a win to celebrate, for Pitino to pump his first with emotion, yet another reason to marvel at a Hall of Fame coach who in the past year-plus has done wonders -- arguably his finest coaching job. 

"Maybe it's the injuries or that other teams have more talent," Louisville's Kyle Kuric said. "But we understand we can't just show up and win." 

Pitino maintains that there are three NBA players that took the court for his Cards in the 62-60 victory -- Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan. 

That could be the case. It could also be accurate that not a single one plays in that league down the road. But that's not what's relevant to Pitino right now.

"Not since 1987 have I had this much fun coaching as I have in the past two years," Pitino said. "This team epitomizes everything you want in a team." 

Pitino's winning with a team that's fun for him to coach because these guys are more concerned with the front of the names on their jerseys instead of the names on the back - and he is optimistic that this ballclub will still maintain the same grit and determination to go along with a few more bodies, talented ones, come January. 

"Once we have all the pieces ... ," Pitino said. 

Rakeem Buckles will, barring a setback, return next Wednesday against IUPUI. Freshman Kevin Ware is expected to join the team after the first semester and give Louisville a competent backup point guard that can spell Peyton Siva. Wayne Blackshear, considered the prize of Pitino's heralded recruiting class, is slated to return to the court in January after he rehabs from another shoulder injury. Elijah Justice has a broken nose and will likely return in a couple weeks while reserve big man Stephen Van Treese is out indefinitely with a knee injury. 

"We're still waiting to get some guys back," said Kyle Kuric, who finished with 15 points and hit a couple of huge shots down the stretch. 

If Blackshear does somehow get 100 percent by the middle of Big East play - and Louisville avoids the injury bug that has plagued the program for the last year-plus, there's no reason to believe that the Cardinals can't eventually become the No. 6 team in the land. 

But they aren't there right now. 

They struggled to beat a Vandy team that is extremely vulnerable without their 7-footer Festus Ezeli on their own home court, a Commodores team that is desperately clinging to its Top 25 ranking without its least dispensable player. 

"We continue to win," Pitino said. 

Last season, with a team that was picked to finish eighth in the Big East, Pitino wound up finishing third in the most daunting league in the country. 

And this team, if and when it gets healthy, is deeper and more talented. That means Pitino can utilize his pressing defense more to his liking to speed up opponents instead of being forced to keep opponents guessing by constantly switching defenses. 

"We'll be able to play differently once we get everyone back," Pitino admitted. "And our offense will improve." 

"It's a treat to coach these players," Pitino added. 

And fun to watch them get the most out of their ability. Even if they aren't the No. 6 team in the land. 

Posted on: December 1, 2011 12:00 pm

Your SEC/Big East Challenge guide

By Matt Norlander

What do you want in a preview? I've been self-assigned (is that even possible?) to give you the rundown on all of the SEC and Big East games coming up over the next 72 hours, and I wasn't quite sure where to go with this. After all, these are early-December games, half of them are afterthoughts, and preview material is usually come-and-go outside of preseason and NCAA tournament talk.

So I looked at the games and decided I'll just give you whatever random thought comes off the top of my head. A conversational tone works best here, since there are no real true tilts of consequence involved outside of the fantastic ones going on Friday night Louisville and Syracuse. (I'll be at the latter.) If there's a stat sited, I do not have it memorized. Those I looked up. I'm not huge on predictions, so you won't find those here.

All this said, I do expect these 12 games to be better than what the ACC and Big Ten gave us Tuesday and Wednesday night, by the way. If you have any other curiosities that go beyond this post, check our SEC/Big East Challenge page, which has the history of this event and stats that go along with it.


Providence at South Carolina (7 ET): Oh this is just bad. Providence is a few years away from true relevancy, and Darrin Horn is already coaching for his job at South Carolina. NEXT.

St. John's at Kentucky (7:30 ET): Wildcats get the Johnnies tonight, less than 48 hours before Carolina comes in. I'd say St. John's would have a chance, except they're playing Kentucky. Kind of a problem. SJU doesn't have one senior on its roster and head coach Steve Lavin will not be making the trip. Kentucky will be looking ahead to UNC, but the 'Cats should win by a minimum of 23.4 points.

Ole Miss at DePaul (9 ET): Have a sick interest in this game if for no other reason than I want to know how many people show up to watch it. Have to say, the fact these teams are a combined 9-2 is a welcomed surprise.

Georgetown at Alabama (9:30 ET): Best game of the night, period. Are you sure what Georgetown is yet? We do know the Hoyas take care of the ball very well. That early trend could be bucked in Tuscaloosa, though, because Alabama is on its way to being a top-five defensive team in the country. Teams are shooting a 35.7 effective field goal percentage against the Tide. Second-worst in the country.


Florida at Syracuse (7 ET): I'll keep this strictly to basketball, because I'm not sure how much I'll be able to do that one I get there to cover the game. Basically, I'm intrigued as hell. I love Bradley Beal's (right, with Billy Donovan) game. I'm still not sold on Florida's four-guard look, even if Patric Young gets his chances to play janitor when that happens. No Erik Murphy for the Gators means they're less dynamic. I like Syracuse is a really fun one. With the Orange, you're just never sure who's going to be the player that has the big game. Looks like someone's going to need to decidedly have a huge night to beat a team a lot of people like to make the Final Four.

Cincinnati at Georgia (7 ET): Car-wreck factor has be interested. When will Cinci start playing at a level that's indicative of the talent it has on this team? Georgia's in a third-gear year, I think.

Vanderbilt at Louisville (9 ET): What do you think about this one? Vanderbilt certainly not expected to win it (I haven't checked, but I'd put the Cards at about -4.5 here). Louisville's still not at full strength, nor is Vandy. Goodman's going to be at this game. I think this one adds up to little, even if it's nice in the moment. Because come late February, both these teams will have personnel on the floor that didn't play in this game. If Vandy/'Ville are vying for the 3-seed line and you want to give the winner of this the bid, by all means, but beyond that there won't be much long-term effect from this game. I think John Jenkins struggles in this one, too.

Auburn at Seton Hall (9 ET): Oh, get it out of my face, please.


Arkansas at UConn (3:15 ET): The Hogs are without Marshon Powell and so I don't see how Mike Anderson's new team keeps this within 20. UConn's due for a really impressive, really big win. I want to see how Alex Oriakhi plays in front of the home crowd in Hartford. Oriakhi's been public with this playing-time situation. UConn will grow and stumble a little more in December, but I'm betting we're putting this team in the highest echelon by New Year's Day.

Pittsburgh at Tennessee (5:15 ET): I'd call this game the biggest true toss-up of any listed here. I'm down on Pitt this year in regard to most others. A win here would be very uplifting for Jamie Dixon's team. Same can be said for Cuonzo Martin at Tennessee, who's probably still punching the pillow after his Vols couldn't steal that game against Memphis in Maui.

LSU at Rutgers (7 ET): Just a couple of truly nondescript, non-enthralling 4-3 BCS conference teams. I think I'd rather put away my summer clothes into storage.

West Virginia at Mississippi State (9 ET): The final game of the Challenge, it's the kind of game MSU should win without controversy if it wants to be top-20 caliber. WVU is down, considerably down, this season. The Bulldogs have twice as much talent on this team -- and a lot more size, even if Denis Kilicli will bruise it up down low with Renardo Sidney and/or Arnett Moultrie. The flip side: Huggins has been known to get his team to steal wins in these kind of spots.

Photos: AP
Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:26 pm

Injury bug bites several in the opening week

By Jeff Borzello

The personnel shakeups in college basketball over the past few weeks have been alarming. There have been freshmen declared ineligible, players suspended for rules violations or NCAA issues and now injuries are beginning to hit a few contenders as well. Several players missed games over the weekend due to injury; are they replaceable?

Khris Middleton, Texas A&M

On Friday, Texas A&M announced that leading returning scorer Khris Middleton (right) had a partially torn meniscus in his right knee and would miss 3-4 weeks. Middleton, a 6-foot-7 forward, averaged 14.4 points and 5.2 rebounds last season, and already had six points in the opener before suffering his injury. In his place, Ray Turner has stepped up his offensive production. Turner isn’t as athletic or the inside-outside option that Middleton is, but he scored 20 points in each of the first two games and also grabbed 14 rebounds.

Jordan Green took Middleton’s place in the lineup, providing a little bit of everything at the guard position. Fortunately for Billy Kennedy, the Aggies have plenty of depth to replace Middleton for the near future. A&M does head to Florida on Dec. 17; Middleton would certainly help the Aggies’ chances in Gainesville.

Mike Marra, Louisville

Louisville continues to get hit with the injury bug. Rakeem Buckles was already out until at least mid-December while freshman Wayne Blackshear will also miss the next couple of weeks. Stephan Van Treese is also still out with an injury. The news got worse on Sunday, as Mike Marra tore his ACL and will sit out the rest of the season. Marra was a good weapon off the bench who could come in and knock down jump shots.

Heading into the season, the Cardinals were overflowing with wings. Now, sophomore Russ Smith and freshman Angel Nunez might need to play more minutes than expected, while Jared Swopshire could see some time at the three. When Blackshear does return, he will have a chance to make an impact immediately off the bench.

Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt

With Festus Ezeli, it’s a matter of suspension and injury. He was suspended for the first six games of the season, but then sprained his MCL and PCL and will miss six-to-eight weeks. Vanderbilt clearly misses its best inside player, as the Commodores looked stagnant offensively and lost to Cleveland State on Sunday, 71-58. The 6-foot-11 Ezeli averaged 12.8 points and 6.2 boards last season, and the Commodores are having a tough time replacing him.

Steve Tchiengang took Ezeli’s place in the lineup, and he has totaled nine points and 12 rebounds in two games. He’s a physical presence on the glass, but he lacks offensive ability. Jeffery Taylor is more of a perimeter threat, while Lance Goulbourne is not one to do much with his back to the basket. The only other frontcourt option is Rod Odom, another face-up player. Vandy needs to bide its time until Ezeli returns, relying on the perimeter group more than ever.

Short-term absences

Erick Green, Virginia Tech: With freshman Marquis Rankin already out, Green was expected to take on more of a point guard role. However, he missed the opener against East Tennessee State with an Achilles injury. He is a game-time decision for Monday night’s game against Monmouth. Without Rankin and Green, the Hokies struggled to control the ball, racking up more turnovers than assists. Sophomore Tyrone Garland better be ready. Tech is also without forward J.T. Thompson, who will miss the entire season with an ACL tear in his right knee.

Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State: Who really knows with Sidney at this point? He missed Saturday’s game with a groin injury, but head coach Rick Stansbury also said he was “sick” at one point. Arnett Moultrie stepped up in his absence, going for 28 points and 13 rebounds. Center Wendell Lewis saw an increase in minutes, but he is more of a factor on the boards and on the defensive end. Sidney should be back soon, but his attitude and conditioning is more of a concern than his injury.

Sammy Zeglinski, Virginia: The Cavaliers kicked off their campaign with a 37-point victory over South Carolina State on Sunday. Zeglinski, who played nearly 26 minute per game last season, missed the game with a sprained ankle. In his place, Jontel Evans handled the position effectively. The two split time last season, and Evans puts on more pressure at both ends. Zeglinski can play off the ball as well, and his injury isn’t expected to keep him out.

Photo: US Presswire

More College Basketball coverage
Posted on: November 14, 2011 12:09 am

Louisville's Marra out for the year with torn ACL

By Matt Norlander

Louisville, the No. 7 team in the latest edition of the CBSSports Top 25 (and one), just took a hit it could ill afford. The school annonced late Sunday night that junior guard/forward Mike Marra will be out for the season after tearing his left ACL during the Cards' game against Lamar Sunday.

Marra's injury, which occured with 12:17 to go in the game, caused him to be carried off the court -- it was then that fans feared the worst.

"A magnetic resonance imaging test at Jewish Hospital on Sunday night revealed the damage. Surgery will be scheduled later and the normal recovery time from an ACL reconstruction is 9-12 months," the school said in a statement.

Marra averaged 6.2 points and two assists as a sophomore last season, starting 11 games.

Louisville plays next at Butler Saturday.

Posted on: November 11, 2011 9:19 pm
Edited on: November 11, 2011 9:25 pm

Pitino gets 600th career victory

By Gary Parrish

Rick Pitino won his 600th college game Friday night.

That's remarkable for two reasons:
  1. Pitino is just 59 years old.
  2. Pitino spent eight of his prime coaching years in the NBA.
What most don't remember is that Pitino has actually had three different stints as a professional coach. He resigned as Boston University's head coach in 1983 to become a Knicks assistant, then left the Knicks after two seasons to become Providence's head coach. After two seasons in Providence, Pitino left to become head coach of the Knicks. He spent two seasons in New York, then became Kentucky's head coach. He spent eight seasons at Kentucky, then became the Celtics' head coach. He spent four seasons in Boston, then became Louisville's head coach.

So, again, Pitino spent eight seasons in the NBA.

And he still had 599 career victories through 25 seasons as a college coach.

Now let's do some math.

Pitino accumulating 599 wins in 25 seasons means he's averaged 24 wins per season -- or one more win per season than the average of Duke's Mike Krzyzewski, the man on the verge of becoming the winningest coach in men's Division I history. If you use Pitino's average wins per season (24) and multiply it by the number of seasons he spent in the NBA (8), then take that number (192) and add it to his current win total (600), what you'll find is that it's reasonable to assume Pitino could be approaching 800 victories before the age of 60 and thus considered a real threat to break the record Krzyzewski will soon set given that he's five years younger than the Duke coach.

Did you realize that?

I didn't realize that until this afternoon.

So while I know it's easy to make Pitino jokes, and I know some of you will, the truth is that one of the nation's very best coaches reached a milestone Friday night. It didn't happen on an aircraft carrier so it won't get the attention it deserves. But the win is worth noting, and there's probably lots more to come.
Posted on: November 2, 2011 2:30 pm

Louisville could get Blackshear back by December

By Matt Norlander

The Louisville Cardinals are becoming an prime example of attrition's impact on a college basketball team.

Coach Rick Pitino said on radio Tuesday night that his team was dealing with yet two more injuries: Peyton Siva (concussion) and Mike Marra (back). Both are unvailable for Louisville's scrimmage Thursday night against Bellarmine. Normally I think exhibitions are completely meaningless and don't serve as a fortune teller in any mild way.

But with Louisville, the team's probably going to have to examine what it has left and use that exhibition as a litmus test for which players can do what in emergency situations.

The good news: Pitino also said on his radio show that Wayne Blackshear, the highly touted freshman shooting guard, is anticipated to return to the team within six to eight weeks. So, by Christmastime. The initial fear/diagnosis was that Blackshear's shoulder injury and subsequent surgery would sideline for the entire season.

But it turns out the McDonald's All-American should be on the court in time for the big game at Rupp Arena, against Kentucky, on New Year's Eve. Wouldn't that be something? He'll probably aim to get back at least one game before that -- it'd be best not to throw Blackshear into that kind of fire.
Posted on: October 28, 2011 7:34 pm
Edited on: October 28, 2011 7:34 pm

UL's Blackshear out for year with shoulder injury

By Gary Parrish

Louisville freshman Wayne Blackshear will miss the entire season with a shoulder injury.

Blackshear has a torn labrum, according to coach Rick Pitino.

It will require surgery.

Blackshear is a McDonald's All-American whom CBSSports.com ranked No. 24 in the Class of 2011. He was battling academic questions until last week, but he was ultimately cleared by the NCAA. The 6-foot-5 wing figured to play a prominent role for the Cardinals, and he still will ... but not until the 2012-13 season.
Posted on: October 21, 2011 7:58 pm

Blackshear cleared to play for Louisville

By Gary Parrish

The NCAA informed Louisville on Friday that McDonald's All-American Wayne Blackshear has been cleared to compete as a freshman, a source confirmed to CBSSports.com. The news was first reported by Scout.com's Evan Daniels.

CBSSports.com reported last weekend that Blackshear wasn't yet through the NCAA Clearinghouse.

"But Wayne's situation is, I think, pretty good," Louisville coach Rick Pitino said at the time. "We are optimistic."

For good reason, apparently. A source told CBSSports.com that Louisville learned Blackshear had been cleared toward the end of Friday's practice. He will likely be held out of Saturday's practice because, the source added, the 6-foot-5 wing "won't be ready. "

"But he'll go Monday," the source said.

CBSSports.com rated Blackshear as the 24th-best prospect in the Class of 2011.
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com