Posted on: April 22, 2011 2:30 pm

Morehead State erects 6 billboards in Kentucky

Posted by Matt Norlander

Talk about getting a lot of mileage out of one win.

Morehead State gave us one of the biggest upsets of this year's NCAA tournament when the 13th-seeded Eagles knocked off in-state foe, No. 4 Louisville, in the second round of the Big Bracket. The drama came on the opening Thursday, in Denver, and not only was I there to write about it, I also predicted such an occurrence. (I'll continue to ride off that trifecta upset pick for a few more weeks, so just deal.)

The 62-61 Eagles win delivered a lot of great things, including some of the best photos from this year in college basketball. But nothing's as fantastic as what's popping up along the interstate pathways of Kentucky: a gleeful reminder for Morehead State fans; a depressing recollection for Cardinals lovers who hoped to make a deep run in this year's Dance; and as good of an excuse as any other for Kentucky's faithful to laugh their heads off while they cruise about the Bluegrass State.

KentuckySportsRadio.com, the site whose proprietor is our very own Matt Jones, spread the knowledge about the Eagles' billboards yesterday, so a tip of the hat to them for tipping us off to this. But now the local pride is spreading national, as many sites have picked up on the roadside reminders. The blog can't deny a good showing of school pride, local ribbing and thinly veiled jocularity.

With that in mind, we give props to Card Chronicle for taking the joke in stride. All in good fun. Let the billboards do the talking in the offseason, and how about Louisville and Morehead State schedule each other every year from now on? The teams, separated by 138 miles of I-64 highway (Lexington serves as a halfway point), have sporadically played each other in recent years, Louisville winning every meeting in history until the most recent one. It's time to make this an annual thing.
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 19, 2011 2:12 pm

2012 recruit decommits from Louisville

Posted by Matt Jones

There continues to be a great deal of turnover around the Louisville basketball program and it is now clearly having an effect on the Cardinals' recruits as well. Today, 2012 small forward commitment Negus Webster-Chan announced he was decommitting from Louisville and would reopen his decision process.  The small forward is universally ranked in the Top 50 in the Class of 2012 and has been rising in some analysts' eyes due to his explosive athleticism.

He said today that the staff changes at Louisville had made him uncomfortable with it as his final destination:

“I just didn’t feel comfortable with all of the changes at Louisville. I had a great relationship with Coach [Mark] Lieberman and with his new role [as Director of Basketball Operations], I just didn’t feel like it was the best fit for me. I appreciate all of the Louisville fans that have showed their support for me and hope they understand."

Since the end of the regular season, Rick Pitino has seen all three of his assistant coaches change, with Steve Masiello leaving to take the head coach position at Manhattan, Tim Fuller leaving to be an assistant at Missouri and Mark Leiberman being reassigned to Director of Basketball Operations. Pitino has filled one of those vacancies with his son Richard Pitino, but the rest of the staff is still up in the air.

Since those changes were announced, Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods has been rumored to be reconsidering his commitment to Louisville and top 2011 recruit Kevin Ware has chosen Central Florida as his future college destination instead of Louisville. Pitino is scrambling to put a staff in place and most importantly, keep the commitment of top 10 point guard Rodney Purvis. The five star 2012 recruit was brought in by Fuller and keeping him from departing the Cardinal family could be the difference in a small loss of players turning into an all-out flood of change.

Category: NCAAB
Tags: Louisville
Posted on: April 15, 2011 11:14 am

Making the Leap: Big East forwards test waters

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Louisville has a chance to be one of the deepest teams in the country next season, although the potential loss of Terrence Jennings would throw a wrench into the equation.

Jennings, a 6-foot-9 big man, will test the NBA draft waters but will not sign with an agent.

Head coach Rick Pitino thinks Jennings will return to the Cardinals for his senior season.

“It will be great for T.J. to see how people work in this environment and the type of competition, and I’ll get feedback from every general manager on what he needs to work on,” Pitino said. “I think it’s almost good because . . . all the things I’ve been telling him, they’ll reinforce it.”

Jennings averaged 9.6 points and 5.6 rebounds last season, but could return to be part of a loaded Louisville team with Final Four aspirations.

Peyton Siva is poised for a breakout year at the point, while Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith and Mike Marra will man the wings. Jennings, Gorgui Dieng and Rakeem Buckles are solid down low. The recruiting class will make an immediate impact, with small forward Wayne Blackshear leading the way. Chane Behanan is a banger down low, and Zach Price is also effective around the basket.

If Jennings returns, the Cardinals have a chance to make a deep run next season.

NBA Draft

Scott quietly tests waters

In a move that went under the radar of most college basketball enthusiasts, Notre Dame forward Carleton Scott announced he was entering the NBA draft.

Scott, a 6-foot-8 senior with one year of eligibility remaining, will not sign with an agent, leaving open the option of returning to the Fighting Irish next season.

“We’re just going to test the waters to see how the stock is on the next level,” Scott said. “We’ll just see how the process works out and go from there.”

Scott is a versatile forward who averaged 11.2 points and 7.4 rebounds last season, but he is not ready for the next level at this point.

Mike Brey loses Ben Hansbrough and Tyrone Nash, but the Fighting Irish should have a nice core if Scott returns as expected. Guard Tim Abromaitis is capable of carrying the team offensively at times, while Scott Martin is a nice inside-outside forward. Scott gives them another option at that end of the floor. Eric Atkins showed he is capable of running the team from the point guard position, and Jack Cooley is a banger down low. Incoming freshman Pat Connaughton is a big-time scorer.

It was a quiet decision, but Notre Dame can make noise again next season if Scott returns.

Photos: US Presswire

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 5, 2011 5:30 pm
Edited on: April 5, 2011 5:30 pm

Counting down the top 10 moments

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Monday night’s title game between Connecticut and Butler ended the 2011 NCAA tournament on a somewhat sour note, as Butler had a historically bad shooting night and neither team was particularly impressive for 40 minutes. This year’s Big Dance, though, was a lot more than just the national championship game. The Final Four was the most unpredictable in history, with zero No. 1 or No. 2 seeds reaching the national semifinals for the first time ever. Two mid-majors reached Houston, including one that would not have been included in the NCAA tournament last season. There was Cinderella runs, upsets, buzzer beaters and outstanding individual performances – everything you could ask for in an NCAA tournament. When we reflect on the 2011 NCAA tournament, what moments will stand out? Here’s one man’s take.

10. John Calipari and DeAndre Liggins: The battle between Kentucky and North Carolina in the Elite Eight was one of the best games in the NCAA tournament. Big baskets by both teams, trash-talking from players, intensity all over the place. Up one with 35 seconds left, Kentucky’s DeAndre Liggins knocked down a 3-pointer to give the Wildcats a four-point lead they would never relinquish. Liggins went over to head coach John Calipari, who hugged Liggins and gave him a kiss. Kentucky was going to the Final Four.

9. First day finishes: The first Thursday of the NCAA tournament is always must-see basketball. Last year was arguably the greatest first day in history, but 2011 gave it a run. Within the first seven games of the day, we had Butler senior Matt Howard’s game-winning layup against Old Dominion; Temple’s Juan Fernandez’s leaner to beat Penn State; and Richmond’s Kevin Anderson’s running fallaway with 18 seconds left to clinch a win over Vanderbilt. There were two other buzzer-beaters in that first set that we’ll get to in a bit.

8. Derrick Williams’ block: Similar to what he did against Washington in the regular season, Arizona forward Derrick Williams saved the Wildcats’ win against Memphis with his block of Wesley Witherspoon in the final seconds. It seemed as if Witherspoon had an open lane to the basket, but Williams stepped over from the other side of the basket to send Witherspoon’s shot the other way. Arizona would escape, 77-75.

7. Bradford Burgess’ layup: Down one with the ball under Florida State’s basket with 7.1 seconds left in overtime, everyone was curious what Shaka Smart was going to design. Bradford Burgess slid to the basket, though, getting a perfect pass from Joey Rodriguez and beating Derwin Kitchen for a game-winning layup. Florida State would fail to get a shot off at the other, allowing VCU to win, 72-71, and advance to the Elite Eight.

6. Title game guards: Connecticut’s Kemba Walker and Butler’s Shelvin Mack knocked down too many big shots throughout the tournament – we could make a top 10 of plays by just Walker and Mack. Walker scored 33 points against Cincinnati, 36 against San Diego State and hit a clutch step-back jumper against Arizona to help get the win against the Wildcats. On the other side, Mack simply refused to miss in the final minutes of games. He knocked down a huge 3-pointer against Florida with 1:21 left to give Butler a lead, then went on a tear against VCU in the national semifinals.

5. Demonte Harper’s jumper/Kenneth Faried’s block: This was another one of the fantastic finishes from the first Thursday. Trailing by two in the final seconds, Morehead State’s Demonte Harper hit a pull-up jumper from the top of the key with 4.2 seconds left to give the Eagles a one-point lead. At the other end, Louisville’s Mike Marra seemed to have an open 3-pointer to win it – but Kenneth Faried skied out and blocked the shot, preserving the first round’s biggest upset.

4. VCU beating Kansas: Everyone knew VCU needed to play the perfect game to beat Kansas. Well, the Rams weren’t exactly perfect – and they still managed to win by double-figures. They became the third No. 11 seed to reach the Final Four, but they were the first team that needed to win five games in order to get to the national semifinals. Just three weeks earlier, people had been complaining that VCU was even in the NCAA tournament – Shaka Smart and company proved everyone wrong.

3. Arizona vs. Texas ending: Talk about a change of emotions. Texas led Arizona by two in the final 15 seconds, when Derrick Williams was blocked by Tristan Thompson. Jordan Hamilton called timeout when he picked up the loose ball. On the ensuing inbounds, Cory Joseph was called for a five-second violation – although the five seconds were only about four and change in reality. Arizona would throw it in to Derrick Williams, who finished a 3-point play to give the Wildcats a one-point lead. J’Covan Brown missed at the other end – Arizona would survive. Again.

2. Brandon Knight’s game winners: Both of Brandon Knight’s last-second shots could be top-five moments. In the second round, Knight drove the lane and made his only basket with 2.0 seconds left to hold off upset-minded Princeton. Knight was at it again in the Sweet 16. Facing top-seeded Ohio State, Kentucky was tied in the final 10 seconds. Knight drove past Aaron Craft and pulled up from the right elbow, knocking down a jumper with 5.4 seconds left to give Kentucky the win.

1. Pittsburgh vs. Butler ending: As soon as it happened, everyone knew it would be the defining moment of the 2011 NCAA tournament. Andrew Smith gave Butler a one-point lead with 2.2 seconds left on a layup. On the ensuing desperation play, Pittsburgh’s Gilbert Brown was bumped out of bounds by Shelvin Mack. Brown went to the free-throw line, making the first. He would miss the second free throw, with the rebound falling in the arms of Butler’s Matt Howard. When Howard tried to turn and heave it towards the other end, Pitt’s Nasir Robinson barreled into him, committing a foul 90 feet from the basket. Howard would hit the game-winning foul shot and send top-seeded Pitt packing.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 28, 2011 3:49 am
Edited on: March 28, 2011 8:49 am

Southwest wrap-up: VCU makes history

VCU celebrates a Final Four berth

Posted by Jeff Borzello

SAN ANTONIO – Well, where to start?

How about the most impressive Final Four run in NCAA tournament history?

VCU’s First Four to Final Four story is the first of its kind, and certainly won’t be repeated for a very long time, if not ever. Two weeks ago, the majority of people were saying the Rams didn’t belong in the NCAA tournament. Now, there’s very little room left on the bandwagon. The chances of VCU making the first Final Four in program history after finishing fourth in the CAA were next to nothing; this run is absolutely mind-boggling.

The emergence of Shaka Smart as the hottest name in the coaching world has been a story itself. The affable young coaching whiz has had a weirdly interesting relationship with the media throughout the entire regional. Media members love him, swoon over him, stop at nothing to praise him. At the same time, Smart has played the “nobody believes in us” card every game, using media clips to demonstrate the doubt.

A loose, easygoing group of disrespected kids led by a likeable young coach who feeds into that personality? It’s easy to fall in love with the Rams, and their play on the court has cemented that feeling. They pressure the ball defensively, knock down 3-pointers on the offensive end and get up and down the court in a hurry.

Write off VCU at your own peril. Your words are sure to be repeated over and over, and then rubbed in your face afterwards.

And you’ll still love this team and its leader.

Regional MVP: Jamie Skeen, VCU. Skeen’s performance against Kansas on Sunday was nothing short of extraordinary. Going up against three future first-round picks in the Morris twins and Thomas Robinson, one might think Skeen was at a disadvantage. All he did was go out and finish with 26 points and 10 rebounds, knocking down four 3-pointers in the process. He played 38 minutes and didn’t pick up a single foul.

All-regional team

  • Joey Rodriguez, VCU
  • Bradford Burgess, VCU
  • Jamie Skeen, VCU
  • Brandon Rozzell, VCU
  • Marcus Morris, Kansas

Game to remember: VCU 72, Florida State 71. The only overtime game in the regional, and a welcomed change after four third-round blowouts and a 20-point Kansas-Richmond margin. Florida State overcame a nine-point deficit in the final seven minutes to force overtime, and it looked like VCU’s run might be over. Not with Shaka Smart at the helm. With six seconds left, Smart designed a play that got Bradford Burgess a wide-open layup to give VCU the one-poiint win.

Game to forget: Florida State 71, Notre Dame 57. Blowouts are ugly. Florida State plays ugly. When the Seminoles are on the winning end of a blowout? Hideous. Second-seeded Notre Dame shot 32 percent from the field, and Florida State led by as many as 23 points in the second half. The Seminoles completely dominated the Fighting Irish with their physicality and athleticism.

Biggest disappointment: Everyone. With only three higher-seeded teams advancing out of the round of 64, this region had its share of disappointments. Purdue and Notre Dame were manhandled in the third round and Kansas also fell earlier than expected. When a No. 11 seed wins the region, it’s tough to single out just one disappointment.

Best individual performance in a losing effort: JaJuan Johnson, Purdue. It wasn’t Johnson’s fault that Purdue was blown out by VCU, 94-76. Johnson went for 25 points and 14 rebounds, blocking three shots and shooting 11-for-20 from the field.

Most memorable moments

Team to watch out for next year: Louisville. The Cardinals vastly outperformed expectations this season, despite not having much talent on the roster. Next season, that will change. Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan are McDonald’s All-Americans, and Rakeem Buckeles and Jared Swopshire should finally be healthy. Peyton Siva and Kyle Kuric are also primed for breakout seasons.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 21, 2011 4:47 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2011 4:53 pm

Better luck next year (seriously)

Posted by Jeff Borzello

This silver lining won’t cheer up any teams that were ousted during the first weekend, but it’s a silver lining nonetheless.

12 of the 16 teams remaining in the NCAA tournament were already home by this time last year, with only Duke, Ohio State, Butler and Kentucky making back-to-back appearances in the regional semifinals.

Part of the fun immediately following the Final Four is the early preseason top 25 rankings that everyone puts out, even though no one has any idea of the players that will go pro or transfer. The following list of five schools is fool proof, though – these teams will still be around for the second weekend next season.

Syracuse: The Orange didn’t live up to expectations in the NCAA tournament, getting bounced by conference foe Marquette in the third round. Jim Boeheim will be back next year, though. They only lose Rick Jackson from the rotation, and also welcome a very good recruiting class. Michael Carter-Williams will prove a legitimate scoring threat from the perimeter, and Rakeem Christmas will provide rebounding and defense. If the young players continue to improve, Syracuse will be fine.

Louisville: The job that Rick Pitino did with this roster was admirable, despite the upset loss to Morehead State. Pitino will bring in more talent next season and will also get some veterans back from injury. Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan highlight the recruiting class, while Rakeem Buckles and Jared Swopshire should be healthy. Peyton Siva is primed for a true breakout season, and Kyle Kuric is slowly developing into one of the most underrated players in the Big East.

Vanderbilt: The Commodores had all the pieces for a deep tournament run this season, they just never seemed to put it together when it mattered. If Vanderbilt can finally get past the round of 64, expect a run to at least the Sweet 16 or Elite Eight. Jeff Taylor and John Jenkins could leave Vandy and go to the NBA, but this team is primed for a huge season if they return. Dai-Jon Parker will add more perimeter toughness and Kedren Johnson can handle the ball.

Texas A&M: This team is not pretty or fun to watch, but it’s highly effective and seems to get to the NCAA tournament every year. Next season will be no different, and that could be the year they finally get out of the first weekend. B.J. Holmes is the only personnel loss, but incoming freshman Jamal Branch will step in immediately at the point. Khris Middleton should develop into one of the better scorers in the Big 12, and the Aggies are guaranteed to defend their tails off.

UCLA: If everyone returns, look out. The Bruins have some of the most talent in the country, with NBA prospects littering the roster. Tyler Honeycutt could be the best player in the Pac-10, while Reeves Nelson and Malcolm Lee are also future pros. Josh Smith has to lose weight to become more consistently effective down low, but Ben Howland also welcomes David Wear and Travis Wear, two talented transfers from North Carolina. Point guard play could be the key again.

Keep an eye on these three:

- If Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins return to Georgia, the Bulldogs will have a formidable nucleus to go with stud freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.

- Texas’ Jordan Hamilton and Tristan Thompson both said they would return to Austin, but the jury is still out. This is a top-five team if both come back.

- Memphis has a host of young players with NBA aspirations. If the roster remains intact, freshman Adonis Thomas will join a tremendously talented team.

Photo: US Presswire

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Posted on: March 17, 2011 4:40 pm
Edited on: March 17, 2011 4:43 pm

Morehead State shoots down Louisville

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Matt Howard had the first buzzer-beater, Morehead State has the first upset.

Demonte Harper knocked down a pull-up 3-pointer with 3.6 seconds left to beat fourth-seeded Louisville, 62-61. 

The Cardinals had a chance to win it on a last-second shot, but Kenneth Faried made a terrific defensive play to block Mike Marra's 3-point attempt. 

In such a volatile year, this could be the first of many Round of 64 upsets.

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Posted on: March 12, 2011 1:00 am
Edited on: March 12, 2011 1:02 am

Video: Pitino talks postgame on title-game tilt

Posted by Matt Norlander

Who had Louisville in the Big East title game back in October? Yeah ... that's what I thought. I snared Rick Pitino for two minutes before he was released to the scatter-shot of media waiting in the hallway, so I got him to discuss his team's "overachievers," how they came back against Notre Dame's stiff defense, and why or if seeding means much to him.

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Category: NCAAB
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