Heavily Guarded

Today marks a key moment for the University of Louisville Men’s Basketball team as the UNC Tarheels invade the Yum! Center riding a 6 game winning streak and lots of positive mojo. It was only a few weeks ago that the Cards managed to choke away a convincing 13 point lead fairly late in the second half in Chapel Hill. Not taking anything away from UNC and the freakishly impressive bucket made by Marcus Paige in that game (did it really go in??), but the  Cards were able to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory on that day by not finding ways to score.  Silver lining: That brings me to the discussion of how UofL’s guard play has continued to improve each game since the debacle in the Dean Dome.  Terry Rozier has continued to play the role of hero for the Cards with his clutch offensive prowess and smothering defense. The same can be said for Senior guard Chris Jones, who UofL fans are cautiously optimistic in believing that just maybe he has left his shooting slump in the dust and, better yet, started to finally buy in to what Rick Pitino has preached to him since this season started: UofL is a better team when he passes first and shoots second.

As was the case two weeks ago, Montrezl Harrell gets another opportunity today to justify his pre-season All-American tab by proving he can lead his team in a big game. And today’s game is, well, really big. Very few coaches this side of John Calapari have experienced more success in recent years against Rick Pitino than Roy Williams.  And dad gummit, Cardinal fans are more than ready to see Pitino remove this small monkey off his back with a win today in front a White Out crowd of 22K fans.

The Cardinals have played their best basketball away from home and that trend must be reversed pronto starting today, especially with home tilts against Notre Dame and Virginia still on the Yum! Center docket. Will the Cards play guarded and uptight? Will they break out of their shell and finally have a good shooting game from the perimeter at home? Will UofL’s role players step up and find ways to alleviate the pressure off Louisville’s “Big 3″?  These are all important questions that could vault UofL forward with lots of momentum.

The stage is set for a good one today. National powers, Hall of Fame coaches, crazy atmosphere and, hopefully, a tribute to the recent passing of the famous white squirrel from UofL’s Belknap Campus.

Neck out prediction: Cards 70 Heels 65

Til next time..,

ACC 2015 Football Schedule Preview

The ACC released its schedule earlier today and even though the season is several months away, I can’t help but take a peek at some big games coming this year in the ACC.

Boston College

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 @ Syracuse
  • Weeknight: Sept 18 vs. Florida State
  • Other notable game: Nov 21 vs Notre Dame @ Fenway Park

The Eagles get a great opportunity in their weeknight game this year as they’ll get Florida State at home. After coming so close last year, BC gets a chance to get revenge. They are also one of Notre Dame’s 5 ACC matchups this year, but this will be a fun one as it’ll be played at historic Fenway Park

Clemson

  • Rivalry: (Non-Conference) Nov 28 @ South Carolina, (ACC) Oct 10 vs Georgia Tech
  • Weeknight: Sept 17 @ Louisville
  • Other notable games: Nov 7 vs Florida State, Oct 3 vs Notre Dame

Clemson could have a real chance to do something special this year especially when you look at their schedule. They get Florida State, Notre Dame, and Georgia Tech at home. Any team with wins against those 3 should find themselves in good position for a New Year’s Six bid (if not a CFB Playoff spot). However, all Clemson fans know how the story goes by now, but I feel cautiously optimistic about this team.

Duke

  • Rivalry: Nov 7 @ North Carolina, Nov 28 @ Wake Forest
  • Weeknight: Sept 3 @ Tulane
  • Other notable games: Sept 19 vs Northwestern, Oct 24 @ Virginia Tech

Not that a rivalry game needs any more hype, but last year we saw UNC go into Durham and absolutely embarrass the Blue Devils. This year, you can be sure that Duke will be looking to turn around and do the same to the Tar Heels. Also, September 19th will be the 2nd game in the new Wallace Wade Stadium and the first against a FBS team. Northwestern may not be the best of the B1G, but this is a bigger power 5 matchup than Duke fans are accustomed to.

Florida State

  • Rivalry: (Non-Conference) Nov 28 @ Florida, (ACC) Oct 10 vs Miami
  • Weeknight: Sept 18 @ Boston College
  • Other notable game: Nov 7 @ Clemson

With the departure of Jameis Winston, no one is really sure how the Seminoles will look next season. We should find out on September 18th as Florida State travels to Boston College for their first real test of the season. Later on, they travel to Clemson who will be hungry for a victory after losing the last 3 matchups against the Seminoles.

Georgia Tech

  • Rivalry: (Non-Conference) Nov 28 vs Georgia, (ACC) Oct 10 @ Clemson
  • Weeknight: Sept 3 vs Alcorn State, Nov 12 vs Virginia Tech
  • Other notable games: Sept 19 @ Notre Dame, Nov 21 @ Miami

Even though it’s a weeknight game, I don’t think many people will be tuned in to the opener against Alcorn State. Either way, the bigger weeknight game for the Yellow Jackets will come on November 12th when the Hokies come to town. Just a few weeks later, we will find out if Georgia Tech can win consecutive games against Georgia for the first time since 2000.

Louisville

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 @ Kentucky
  • Weeknight: Sept 17 vs Clemson, Oct 30 @ Wake Forest
  • Other notable games: Sept 5 vs Auburn @ Georgia Dome, Oct 17 @ Florida State

Louisville got a schedule this year that places most of their tough games at the beginning of the season. The Cardinals get the Chick-fil-A kickoff game this year and face Auburn to open up the season. The schedule doesn’t get any easier as Clemson comes to town just two weeks later for a weeknight game. Then, Louisville travels to Florida State a few weeks after that. On the other hand, the season ends with Virginia, Pitt, and Kentucky. With a schedule like this, there are only two ways this turns out. If the Cardinals can get hot to start the season, they could find themselves in the driver’s seat of the ACC and have a (somewhat) easy road to Charlotte. Otherwise, the beginning of the season will be brutal with the end serving as a consolation for a tough year.

Miami

  • Rivalry: Oct 10 @ Florida State
  • Weeknight: Nov 27 @ Pitt
  • Other notable games: Sept 19 vs Nebraska, Oct 1 or 3 @ Cincinnati, Oct 31 @ Duke

The Hurricanes apparently didn’t get the memo about scheduling easy non-conference opponents. They face Nebraska and travel to Cincinnati before even getting in to ACC play. It’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for them as two wins here will give the team some serious momentum heading into their season opener against Florida State.

North Carolina

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 @ NC State, Nov 7 vs Duke, Oct 17 vs Wake Forest
  • Weeknight: Sept 3 vs South Carolina @ Bank of America Stadium, Oct 29 @ Pitt
  • Other notable games: Sept 19 vs Illinois, Nov 14 vs Miami

You don’t see it much anymore, but this year UNC will play all of its in-state rivals plus South Carolina. Wins in all of these games could give the Tar Heels the title of state champions and the right to be known as “The True Carolina” for at least the next year. This will be a challenge however as winning a game in Raleigh and fighting off a revenge-minded Duke will not be easy.

NC State

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 vs North Carolina, Oct 24 @ Wake Forest
  • Weeknight: Oct 9 @ Virginia Tech
  • Other notable game: Nov 14 @ Florida State

The Wolfpack open with 4 cupcake games to open the year and two of them on the road due to questionable home-and-home scheduling from a previous AD. After that, they travel to Blacksburg for their weeknight game against Virginia Tech. Later, the Wolfpack look to pick up its first win in Tallahassee since 2005.

Pittsburgh

  • Rivalry: Oct 24 @ Syracuse, Nov 7 vs Notre Dame
  • Weeknight: Oct 29 @ North Carolina, Nov 27 vs Miami
  • Other notable game: Sept 19 @ Iowa

Pitt has a great chance to make a name for themselves this year as they get two weeknight games this year. They also have home dates with Notre Dame and Louisville. Even though there’s no guarantee of winning (or even being competitive in) those games, this is a program that could really use a fresh image. Maybe a win on national television could do the trick.

Syracuse

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 vs Boston College, Oct 24 vs Pittsburgh
  • Weeknight: N/A
  • Other notable games: Sept 26 vs LSU, Oct 31 @ Florida State, Nov 14 vs Clemson

Looks like the ACC forgot to give Syracuse a weeknight game this season. Don’t worry, that doesn’t mean that Syracuse won’t be playing in the national spotlight this season. LSU comes to the Dome on September 26th. The schedule only gets tougher from there as the Orange will make a trip to Florida State, Louisville, and NC State. Don’t count them out of a bowl game yet though. Assuming they can start the season wins wins over Rhode Island, Wake Forest, and Central Michigan, 6 wins isn’t out of the question at all.

Virginia

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 vs Virginia Tech
  • Weeknight: Sept 25 vs Boise State
  • Other notable game: Sept 5 @ UCLA

After a surprisingly close game last year, Virginia will open their season playing the second half of a home-and-home series with UCLA. Many probably assume this game will be a blow-out, but remember, that’s what everyone said last year. The Cavaliers also have a weeknight game versus Boise State and after the Broncos have fallen from their former glory, this could be a good early win for UVA.

Virginia Tech

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 @ Virginia
  • Weeknight: Sept 7 vs Ohio State, Oct 9 vs NC State, Nov 12 @ Georgia Tech
  • Other notable games: Sept 19 vs Purdue, Sept 26 @ East Carolina

Two of the Hokies defining non-conference games reverse locations this year as Ohio State comes to Blacksburg and the team travels to ECU. The Ohio State game is on a Monday and should the Hokies be able to pull of another upset, it should set a great tone for the season. That is, assuming they can get past ECU this year even with that game being on the road.

Wake Forest

  • Rivalry: Nov 28 vs Duke
  • Weeknight: Sept 3 vs Elon, Oct 30 vs Louisville
  • Other notable game: Sept 26 Indiana

Well maybe it’s not the traditional Thursday night action we’re used to, but Wake will open its season on a weeknight against Elon. They also get to host Indiana, Florida State, NC State, and Louisville. If nothing else, these should be entertaining games for the fans to watch and who knows, maybe the Deacons can get a win or two from that bunch.

Did I leave any big games out?

What games are you most looking forward to?

Thoughts on Syracuse – North Carolina

If you read the final score, you will see that North Carolina won comfortably over Syracuse last night.  If you watched the game, you saw that it was anything but comfortable, as Syracuse lead for large parts of the game and played quite well.  To be sure, North Carolina was careless with the ball–but that is not uncommon for teams that rarely see the aggressive 2-3 zone.  In many ways, this game was a positive for Syracuse, as it showed it can fully compete with top 15 teams.  I know I am more positive than before.  Still… a few nagging things to note.

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O Captain, My Captain!

(Ed Note: This was supposed to be published yesterday).  Now that the University of Louisville Men’s Basketball team has had time to heal the gashing wounds laid down by the Duke Blue Devils from a week ago (Jahlil Okafor just scored again by the way), we look to see how they bounce back on Sunday when they invade the home of the PITT Panthers and the greatest slicked back coaching hairstyle this side of Steve Lavin.  It’s been an eerily quiet week from the Cards, with one exception.

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Syracuse and Rafael Addison

A caveat: Rafael Addison was my favorite player growing up.  So when Nunes Magician started discussing what off-the-radar player deserved to have his Syracuse jersey retired, I rather easily came to the defense of #12.  As it has, sadly, been nearly 30 years since Addison played, few current fans truly remember him.  But I thought he deserved some recognition.

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Syracuse Orange On Trial: A 3 Game Case Study

Opening Statement: this season is rustling a few Orange fan feathers. You might describe Syracuse’s overall play somewhere between panic-inducing, gut wrenching and dare I say exciting. Jim Boeheim’s troops currently tout a 14-5 overall record and are 5-1 in ACC play. That fact bears repeating but for the sake of redundancy, I’ll let the readers make that call. For many college basketball teams that record would be a season to tell their friends about. Throw in the fact that Syracuse has just one starting senior in Rakeem Christmas (you may have heard of him) and things might start to take form. So why is it some Syracuse fans are ready to call their doctor for a refill on their anxiety medication? Could it be that we are a spoiled fan base not used to losing a game before January? Or is it the impending doom expected when the NCAA announces its ruling in the investigation of Syracuse? While each of those questions may hold validity, I suggest the answer can be found quite easily. Look no further than the last 3 games on the schedule, two of which are wins! Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present to you the facts in the case of why Syracuse fans that have one foot on the ledge should take a giant step back to safer ground.

Exhibit A: a game dubbed “Wake Forest: The Greek Tragedy That Almost Was”. The Demon Deacons showed up to the Dome with a 9-8 record, two losses coming by the swords of Louisville and Duke. They were well known for employing a fast paced offense and would certainly look to continue that. Syracuse meanwhile was riding a 6 game win streak. Rakeem Christmas was morphing from seedling to fully grown Navel Orange while Trevor Cooney was busy finding his 3 point shot. After the few aforementioned facts presented, for the sake of argument put yourself in a Syracuse fan frame of mind. Now sprinkle in a little math and science of the ACC conference as we know it. After a few pre-game beers, this would surely lead you explaining to your buddy why this game should be a 10 point Orange victory. But you’ve forgotten one thing. Wake Forest rolled in on their Trojan horse and deployed Konstantinos Mitoglou. His 26 point performance helped Wake push the game into overtime. Not to be outdone on his home court Rakeem Christmas put up a career high 35 points and carried Syracuse to a narrow 86-83 victory. Honorable mention to Trevor Cooney with 21 points of his own. Overtime against 1-3 ACC opponent just isn’t acceptable. Albeit thankful for a win, Syracuse fans instantly begin experiencing symptoms of slight chest pains and anxiety.

Exhibit B: Littlejohn Coliseum for a late Saturday afternoon date with the Clemson Tigers. As newcomers last season, Syracuse established who they thought the real Orange around the ACC was with a 57-44 home victory. Fast forward to January 17th 2015. Subtract Tyler Ennis and Jerami Grant and you have an inexperienced Syracuse team in hostile territory. Clemson came in sporting a nice overtime win against a ranked Arkansas team earlier in the season but had losses to teams like Winthrop and Rutgers. If Syracuse fans saw this and were like myself, they might have been slightly bewildered. Despite the inexperience and a road game in the ACC, fans still expected a win. Instead, Syracuse hardly showed up. Clemson began the 1st half hotter than breakfast at a Waffle House. At the under 8 timeout, it was Clemson 21 and Rakeem Christmas 9. Halftime saw the game seemingly already won, 39-18 in favor of the Tigers. I’d bet a shot of Jameson that at this point there was a Syracuse fan watching that had already shut the game off in disgust. Clemson finished with 3 starters in double figures and shot 40% from the 3 point line. For Syracuse, the only bright spot was Rakeem Christmas again. I can’t recall a game where Trevor Cooney played worse. He went 0-5 from downtown and had just 5 points, all coming from the free throw line. Usually sound guard Michael Gbinije struggled. The Orange fell 66-53 and I sensed symptoms stemming from the Wake Forest game were being exacerbated. But a young team on the road played a poor game. They lost for the first time in ACC play. Regardless of the opponent and a few acceptable excuses for a loss, some fans had their hands on the phone ready to call to a physician.

Exhibit C: Let’s examine the most recent game against Boston College. The Golden Eagles entered the Dome at 8-8, without a single ACC Conference win. That fact might have had a few fans and perhaps players alike looking past BC. However, flashback to last year when this BC team came in and unraveled Syracuse’s historic 25-0 start (I still blame the jerseys that were worn that night). Back to present time with many of its players returning, BC came in with something to prove. They could knock off a quality opponent on the road for its first conference win. A recipe for disaster can be seen fairly easily. Meanwhile, Syracuse was looking to avoid a second two game losing streak of its season. There was no way Syracuse could lose. Right? Despite a hot BC start, Syracuse took a 35-17 lead into half. Lacking some depth down low due to a Chris McCollough injury, the team had to avoid foul trouble. In true Murphys Law fashion that I believe is contagious to Syracuse, Rakeem Christmas picked up 4 fouls by the 16 minute mark in the 2nd half. Forced to play without him for most of the 2nd half, Michael Gbinije stepped up big time and ultimately saved the Orange a second straight humiliation. The game ended 69-61 but the score fool wasn’t fooling anybody that watched. Syracuse came gut-wrenchingly close to blowing a late 13 point lead with anything but clutch FT shooting and a couple late turnovers. Fans watched what should have been a blowout turn into a close victory against a team without a conference win. And therein lies precisely my point. The team found a way to overcome adversity and win. It got help from a mostly reliable guard in Michael Gbinije. The score doesn’t matter when a team wins. Sports are beautiful like that. But it was too late for some. The calls were being made and prescriptions were being ordered. Diagnosis: Syracuse induced panic, anxiety and insomnia.

Closing argument: we see reasons why there is panic among the fan base. All of which can be argued as valid concerns. The team struggled to close out a couple sub par ACC opponents. While there are the almost automatic double-doubles coming from Rakeem Christmas, players like Trevor Cooney, Michael Gbinije and Tyler Roberson are grasping for consistent performances in the last 3 games. Late game free throw shooting and carelessness are rearing their ugly heads. But aside from the struggle to find a consistent good team performance, the fact remains that Syracuse has won two of its last three. How some fans can still be pressing the panic button is slightly maddening to me. Most likely it’s the ACC schedule that lies before us but as we’ve seen with games like NC State beating Duke, there are never any cupcakes in the ACC. I believe Syracuse fans need to slow down and look at the facts. The team has 14 wins and is 5-1 in conference play. They’re dealing with the loss of a starting freshman that before injury was a probable one and done and still winning without him. But most importantly, it’s time to remind themselves that no matter how ugly, a win is still a win. To quote BC head coach Jim Christian, “they’re 5-1, guys. I wish I was struggling like that.”