In a March-like atmosphere with plenty of high profile recruits in attendance, top ranked Louisville hosted 6th ranked Syracuse in a matchup of elite teams in coaches. Syracuse played without senior forward James Southerland, the team’s 3rd leading scorer, 2nd leading rebounder and a reliable three-point threat as well. Louisville was going for the team’s 12th straight victory as it took its home court as the #1 ranked team for the first time ever. After an impressive win over Connecticut on the road, the team looked every bit worthy of that ranking. Syracuse planned on challenging that notion. They came to the YUM! pumped, poised and ready to play and handed the Cards a shocking upset as the home team fell apart in the last minute of the game.
Russ Smith. The man in the #2 jersey was the MVP for Louisville this afternoon and arguably the best player on the court. While Syracuse’s tough zone defense took away his ability to penetrate off the dribble, he was unstoppable on the fast break. At this point in the season, I do not know of one team in the open court that is capable of stopping him in the open court. He is going to either score on you or get to the free throw line. He finished with a game high 25 points and played outstanding defense as well, as he did an admirable job on Syracuse’s backcourt and finished with 4 steals. Despite the loss, he proved on a national scale on a huge stage that how worthy is of National Player of the Year talk.
Wayne Blackshear. Before talking about Wayne, let me say that I thought Luke Hancock played admirably today. He hit two big threes and despite not being on the same level athletically as the other 9 guys on the court, he has incredible basketball IQ. Having said that, playing him 22 minutes to Blackshear’s 18 minutes makes little sense to me, even with his foul trouble (he finished with 4). Today was the best Wayne has played in some time. He looked confident, controlled and was hitting shots. Yes, he hit some nice outside shots, but was aggressive off the dribble as well. He finished with 9 points and at times, appeared to be Louisville’s best offensive option. It would have been nice to see him out there a little more.
Montrezl Harrell. I am not sure the last time a Rick Pitino-coached freshman played with so much confidence. Maybe Preston Knowles, but other than that I cannot think of any for some time. He is a beast in the offensive paint, and he truly believes he can take it up on anybody. He scored 8 points and grabbed 3 rebounds in 14 minutes. I would have liked to see him out there more, especially with the second half struggles on the offensive end. After the game, Pitino said he was disappointed with someone not being in the gym enough, and WDRB’s Eric Crawford confirmed via Twitter that it was Montrezl Harrell. That likely factored into his PT a little bit. Regardless, what is done is done, and maybe he would have helped had he played more, maybe he would not have. It is going to be very fun to watch this young man continue to get better over the next few seasons, though.
Brandon Triche. Give credit where credit is due. He put on one of the most impressive performances by an opposing player in the short history of the YUM! Center. While he cooled down in the second half (and Michael Carter-Williams heated up), he was unconscious in the first half. I thought the perimeter D could have been better on him, but much of it was him creating space for himself off of screens and just knowing where to be on the court. Tip of the hat to him and the entire Syracuse squad for that matter. Simply a fantastic performance by a fantastic team.
Chane Behanan. I think this was the most challenged he has been this season on the offensive end, but he still quietly had another solid performance, as he finished with 9 points, 11 rebounds and 4 steals. I think with the pace of the game, it was hard to notice the individual play of any player not named Russ Smith on Louisville’s team. Chane was challenged on the offensive end, and credit Syracuse’s front court for that, but he still proved to be one of the better players on the court. Well done, Chane.
Peyton Siva. This past week at Connecticut, Siva’s play while he was on the court led many to believe that he was by far the team’s most valuable player. That is still the case, but his performance against Syracuse was not exactly the sequel he or anyone wanted to see. His offense was nonexistent as he was ice cold from outside, going only 1 of 7 from three-point land and 1 of 9 for the game overall. His defense on Brandon Triche in the first half could have been much better as wellThen, there is the gut-wrenching turnover that gave Syracuse the win. Louisville had the momentum with less than a minute left and the game tied. They barely had it, but they had it, nonetheless, despite a poor-shooting second half. Perhaps he did not want to be the only man named Peyton to make a poor decision leading to a pass being intercepted to give the opponent the game. Michael Carter-Williams was just waiting for it, and Siva delivered him a gift. Up to that point, there was no doubt that Louisville was going to win the game. To go from that thought process to “Oh sh**, this is bad,” is enough to make a man going insane (keep reading). However, let’s all remember this is a TEAM game. Anyone who puts this loss on Siva’s head is just as ignorant as those who put the Broncos loss on the other man named Peyton. This is a team sport, and the Cards had plenty of opportunities to win. Back off of Siva, people.
Gorgui Dieng. The three most valuable players on this Louisville team are Peyton Siva, Gorgui Dieng and Russ Smith. Of the three, only Russ played like an MVP today. Now, before getting too critical, Gorgui did some very good things today. His passing out of the zone was superb as he tied Siva for a team-high 6 assists. Gorgui Dieng. 6 assists. You read that right. He also brought down 8 rebounds and appeared to play aggressive all game long. His offense today was not what the team needed. In 33 minutes, he only managed 4 points despite having a size advantage over everyone in the front court. He only made 1 field goal and attempted just 5. Offense is not what defines his game, obviously, but the team would have liked to have seen the big man be a little more effective on that end of the court. The last play of the game, too, was something that should never happen. Siva, in an attempt to redeem himself made a bounce pass to Gorgui in the paint. All he had to do was catch it cleanly, put it in and POOF! Overtime. However, he bobbled the pass, allowing himself to be stripped. Game over.
The officiating. Just awful. There were calls that seemed to be just bad at first that turned out to be game changing. There was a terrible out of bounds call, where the ball very obviously went off of a Syracuse player, but was rewarded to the Orange. What was a 2-point lead with the Cards, who had momentum, turned into a 2-point swing as Syracuse capitalized on the horrendous call to tie the game. There was also the terrible blocking call on Russ after he was forearmed to the ground by Michael Carter-Williams. I never blame any loss on officiating, but it certainly did not help, either.
The NBA. This was a January game. Still 2 months from March. This will go down as a great win for Syracuse and Louisville will still likely be a 1-seed come tournament time. Yet, this atmosphere made this game look like a Final Four game. The crowd was electric, the game was hard fought and well executed by both teams for the most part. You will NEVER see a regular season NBA game like this. EVER. This game epitomizes why college basketball is so great. Every game matters and these matchup between top-10 teams are always dog fights, despite the time of year. The fans are always loud, despite the time of year. This game is a perfect example of why the college game absolutely trumps the professional game.
Knee jerk Twitter reactions. I am a lot of things on Twitter. A smart ass, a movie quoter, a horrible comedian…but one thing I always try to refrain from is tweeting in the heat of the moment. Tweets like that never go over well and rarely make any sort of sense. I did that today when I referred to this loss as “catastrophic” and a “terrible, terrible, terrible loss.” While I do believe that was the worst minute in the short history of the YUM! Center, this was a good game between 2 elite teams, and oh yeah…it’s freaking January. Not March. Losing at home to the Orange as they played without hot shooting James Southerland left me with a bitter taste in the mouth, and I fumed worse than Pitino at the post-game press conference after that last minute turnaround. So to all you ripping me, sorry to go a little Skip Bayless on everyone with the hyperbole.
Nobody goes undefeated in this game and certainly not in the Big East. Losses will happen. Home losses hurt, but this team is veteran enough to bounce back from this. I admit, the way Louisville lost this game, it worried me how it would affect them emotionally. If the postgame locker room was any indication, the quotes from players makes it appear the team is ready to move on and learn from this. It may be on its final breath, but the Big East is still the Big East. This is not the SEC where a top ranked team can just coast through conference playing against Mickey Mouse teams. This league is for the big boys. Even the game’s elite teams cannot go through this league without a loss or two. It will happen. It only matters how a team bounces back. This Cardinals team is good enough and smart enough to learn from this and become an even better team because of it. Keep Villanova in your thoughts and prayers, as come Monday, this Louisville team is not going to be playing very happy-go-lucky.