Rick Pitino took the trip up to Providence University last night where he performed his most notable coaching miracle prior to Kentucky when he coached the Providence Friars all the way to the Final Four in 1987. Florida Gators coach Billy Donovan as the star guard of that team, and the Louisville Cardinals could have used some of Donovan's savvy last night as they drop a close one to the Friars 90-59.
Yes, you read that right -- 90-59. That's 31 points even by Shelbyville math. The #14 Cardinals (or #15 according to the coaches) performed a Neo header last night, but instead of bouncing like that worthy in The Matrix, Louisville hit the concrete like a ton of bricks, and made a hole colloquially referred to as a "crater." The Cardinal fan base immediately (and understandably) followed them by going what we used to call in the nuclear power biz "prompt critical" (for those of you interested, that's a criticality produced by "prompt" neutrons rather than delayed neutrons, forming an extreme form of supercriticality), creating a large, radioactive crater where Cardinal nation used to be. An ongoing meltdown of the remains is approaching the earth's core at this moment.
There has been much speculation among Cardinal fans (and frankly, among college basketball fans everywhere) as to what went wrong. I didn't see the game, so I don't know, but speculation seems to be running to some kind of intra-team conflict, which makes sense, but that always seems to be the speculation. It could be that Louisville is just a bad team, but having played them, I don't believe it.
It doesn't get any easier for Louisville, either. In fact, most would argue it gets much harder as Providence is considered the weakest team in the Big East. Louisville comes home versus the DePaul Blue Demons for one game and then goes back on the road for two games.
Pitino & Co. have some work to do, I think.
The Ohio St. Buckeyes also lost last night, dropping a game on the road to the Illinois Fighting Illini, 79-75. OSU outplayed the Illini in every area except the most important one -- shooting. The Illini shot an astonishing 72.2 effective field goal percentage driven by 8-10 3-point shooting by guard Brandon Paul, who scored 43 points. As a team, Illinois dropped 11 3-point field goals on OSU, and sent them to the showers wondering what just happened.
Which is why, as Paul was shooting off his back foot with a hand in his face, beating the shot clock with a swish of the net, knocking down eight of 10 from beyond the arc and scoring 43 points in Illinois’ 79-74 upset of No. 5 Ohio State, he just had to chuckle.
"I did laugh a couple of times,’’ the 6-foot-4 junior said. "After the first few went in, I just decided I was going to keep on shooting. It was big for me because I’d been looking down on myself because the shots weren’t going in.’’
When you're hot, you're hot.
Around the SEC last night, Florida bounce back from an embarrassing loss to the Tennessee Volunteers on Saturday with a round thumping of the Georgia Bulldogs in Gainesville, 70-48. Georgia had one made free throw for the game in only nine attempts, while the Gators made 15-18.
In the only other game of the evening, the Vanderbilt Commodores handled the South Carolina Gamecocks in Columbia, 67-57. Vanderbilt seems to have mostly recovered from their early-season swoon, and Festus Ezeli is making his presence felt more and more each game.
What has to trouble the Kevin Stallings, though is the way the Commodores spend possessions on turnovers. Last night, Vanderbilt had an ugly 32.7% turnover percentage, a truly abysmal number. They made up for that by shooting a ridiculous eFG% of 73.8, and against the defensive-minded Gamecocks, that's more than just a little impressive. Had Vanderbilt taken even nominal care of the basketball, it would have been a Louisvillesque blowout.
Over in the Big 12, the Baylor Bears continue their undefeated run by downing # 18 Kansas St. Wildcats 75-73. Baylor did it mostly with defense, collecting 13 steals from the Wildcats, but they also had a lot of easy transition points and high percentage shots.
By the by, how good a year are they having down in Waco -- Heisman trophy winner, top 20 football team, one of the top women's basketball and men's basketball team? Ken Starr has got to be enjoying all this.
He has as much heart as anyone in the college game, and he’s the primary reason why we think Kentucky is no worse than a co-favorite for the title. He’s grabbed that team by the scruff of the neck and is making it into something far beyond what it would be otherwise.
Coming from the preeminent Duke site and occasional rhetorical foe, we consider this high praise indeed.