BC Interruption: The Cardinals were a very obvious pick for a Final Four spot this season, but although UL is 16-3, they are 0-3 against top 25 teams, losing to Kentucky, North Carolina and Duke. What do those results have to say about where this team is at?
Card Chronicle: I think they say that Louisville is a very good team with a very obvious flaw, and that flaw gives them virtually no margin for error against good teams. There's no shame in having lost at North Carolina on a remarkable shot by Marcus Paige. But in the Kentucky and Duke games, Louisville defended and rebounded well enough to win. The problem? They have the propensity to go plain old stone cold from the outside. Duke and Kentucky both defended Louisville extremely well, but, Louisville still produced plenty of good, uncontested shots that they just missed. Because they just don't consistently make perimeter shots in the half-court offense, they struggle to score.
BCI: BC has struggled against teams that have played zone and are really weak for ball handlers outside of Olivier Hanlan, particularly over space. That seems to play right into Louisville's hands. What are your thoughts about the Louisville defense in general and how can BC possibly have success against it?
CC: The problem with scoring in the half-court bleeds over into this defensive question. One of the essential parts of setting up full and three-quarter court pressures that Louisville likes to run is being able to set it up off of a made shot. Because they're such a poor jumpshooting team, they've not been able to press nearly as much. But the half-court defense once the ball gets across the mid-court line is still very good. According to KemPom, Louisville is #4 in AdjD, 12th in turnovers forced percentage, 7th in two-point percentage defense, and 6th in steals percentage. Even without the shot-blocking that they'd grown accustomed to with Gorgui Dieng.
BCI: The Montrezl Harrell "let's take your captaincy away, but you're still our guy" issue is an odd one. Any insight as to what was really going on there and how has Harrell responded?
CC: Honestly, no. We on the outside really have no idea what is going on with motivational games like this and they happen all the time with Louisville. And the one thing you can be sure of is that whatever Pitino tells you about it publicly isn't the real story. There's no denying that Harrell has been frustrated by the overall team play (he flatly said it after the Cleveland State game) and by his ability to get the ball in position to score.
The good news is, after the self-stripping of his captaincy and a week off, Harrell roamed the baseline a lot more against Pittsburgh and found himself in position for many more easy baskets (read: dunks). That's good for him and good for Louisville. I suspect you'll see a great deal more of that tonight and it's a trend that bodes well for Louisville if it continues.
BCI: Wayne Blackshear seems to be the glue of this team, but Pitino took him to task earlier this year for his work habits. How has he responded and has he stepped into the role vacated by Harrell as captain?
CC: Wayne is an enigma, frankly. Sometimes you see a play from him and you think he's going to finally "click" and become a star, but those plays really are the exception that prove the rule that he's just an ok player. This Louisville team is going as far as the three-headed monster of Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, and Montrezl Harrell takes them.
Anything Louisville gets from Blackshear or the center position in a given game is a bonus.
BCI: Let's see, we have Jim Christian, you have Rick Pitino. What's it like to cover a guy who's a college basketball icon and how has handled this year's Louisville team?
CC: I'll rub it in a little further. Louisville has had just two basketball coaches in 40+ years of basketball and both are Hall of Famers with multiple national championships. We're a very blessed fan base in that regard. Stability at the top in football and basketball does so much for the long-term growth of a program. Around here, we've all come to know Rick's ways. We know he's going to lie to us left and right about what he thinks of the team's play, who is going to get minutes, and if he's worried about the team or not. We know he's going to drop Lou Holtz-level hyperbole on us about the nature of the challenge in playing Cornell or Cal State Northridge. We know the team is going to defend like hell, look like hell in January, and round into postseason shape literally as soon as the calendar flips over to February. I expect 2015 to be no different.
BCI: Terry Rozier has gone from being a role player who scored a grand total of four points in the Cards' three NCAA tournament games last year to leading this team in scoring. Talk a bit about how his game has grown and what Eagle fans can expect from him tomorrow night.
CC: Terry is beginning to play like he's finally aware that he's an incredibly gifted player. From the various gripes of fans about the offense of this team, you wouldn't know that right now, Rozier is having a statistically better season than Russ Smith did last year and Smith was a player of the year candidate and a consensus first team All-American.
Terry finishes at the basket so well because he has unusually long arms for a 6'2 guard. He's getting better from the perimeter and with everyone seeming to settle into their roles more and more on offense, he's learning to play alongside Chris Jones and still assert himself as needed.
BCI: That gets us to prediction time. I can't imagine anyone in black and red is seeing an Eagle upset. Give a score and a thought as to how this one will play out.
CC: The worst news possible for Boston College is that, for some reason, this team (and backcourt in particular) plays better on the road. I expect Louisville to win something similar to what they did at Pittsburgh and win 75-62.