Let's start with this: that was the worst team that Louisville has left on its schedule. It's never going to be as easy as it was last night again, so I hope everyone enjoyed it.
The other thing Virginia Tech had going against it was a style that simply does not work against Louisville anymore. Buzz Williams' team lives and dies with the three because it doesn't have any other choice. That's fine if you're playing against Syracuse, whom the Hokies nearly knocked off two Saturdays ago, but not so much against the Cards.
I think after seeing that style knock his team out of the NCAA Tournament in consecutive seasons -- Darnell Archey and Butler in 2003, then Lionel Chalmers/Romain Sato and Xavier in 2004 -- Rick Pitino resigned himself to never be beaten by a 3-point barrage again. It hasn't always worked (think Jeremy Hazell and Seton Hall), but by and large, no team in college basketball has been better at defending the perimeter over the past decade than Louisville.
That all being the case, it's not particularly hard to see how the Cards had this one well-in-hand early on in the second half. It couldn't have come at a more perfect time, however, as U of L knew it had played well against North Carolina, but still needed to exorcise some of that leftover frustration.
Hard to start anywhere other than Chris Jones, who broke the career-high for assists that he set against Wake Forest by handing out 11 of them on Tuesday night. I agree with Rick Pitino that we're probably not going to see him pass up the same types of semi-open looks on Saturday when Duke is the opponent, but Jones figured out early on that he could get clean looks for his teammates fairly easily, and he remained committed to making that happen throughout his 30 minutes on the court.
The biggest difference between Chris Jones now and Chris Jones a month ago (and there are plenty) is how well he's keeping his dribble. It used to be the second that someone effectively blocked his move the basket, Jones either stopped dead in his tracks, looked to make a pass to the nearest man around him, or rose for a bad shot. Now, he's adopted the Peyton Siva mentality of calmly keeping his dribble and seeing what the defense is giving up in order to impede his progress. It's a shift that keeps Louisville's offense from stopping dead in its tracks, and one which has often led to easy shots both around the rim and along the perimeter.
Duke has a lot of veteran guards, and one really talented young one in Tyus Jones, but they had no answer for Miami's Angel Rodriguez off the bounce on Tuesday. The good news is that Jones has the ability to do a lot of the same things that Rodriguez did, but the bad news is that the Blue Devil guards are going to come into the Yum Center extra motivated.
Saturday will be an enormous test for Chris ... and also an enormous test for the Chris Jones photoshoot season turnaround theory.
Montrezl Harrell spent a solid portion of the first half of the game again looking frustrated. Then an easy dunk early on in the second half changed everything. Trez finally started playing as if the game was fun again, and picked up his intensity level both on defense and on the glass.
I think the best thing Trez can do right now is remember that he would have been a high draft pick a year ago, and he would have been so without having proven that his footwork has improved or that he can make outside shots. Harrell got to where he is nationally by running the floor, blocking shots, and working hard to put himself in a position to score easy baskets in the paint that were set up by his teammates. And that's fine.
Making effective moves after catching the ball with your back to the basket and stroking an occasional 3-pointer are both great, but Harrell needs to remember that this isn't the only way he's allowed to score. There's no shame in camping out on the baseline and then dunking a great feed from one of your guards. This isn't gymnastics, NBA scouts aren't deducting points for lower levels of difficulty.
If Trez can get back to excelling in those little areas that originally made him a standout, then all that other good stuff is going to come naturally.
This was the star of the Virginia Tech Tweetcap that took place in my heart:
Look for Matz losing rebound out of bounds as image on UVA ticket.— Cardinal Laws (@CardinalLaws) January 14, 2015
Loved seeing Mangok step it up when he was given a chance to reclaim his starting role. Still, college basketball is more about matchups than any other major American sport, and this was very much a matchup that fit Mangok's game better than Nanu's. That doesn't mean he doesn't deserve praise for scoring 10 points and snagging 8 rebounds in the first half, it just means that we should probably pump the brakes on any sort of "huge corner has been turned" talk.
I think the same person who designs every adult church league uniform was tasked with creating Virginia Tech's road look for this season. A couple of guys could have been wearing the wrong shorts and it would have looked natural.
I am much more of a believer in Quentin Snider -- both in terms of his ability to help this year's team and in the likelihood of him being Louisville's point guard of the future -- now than I was heading into this season. He's playing with a lot of composure at the moment, a fact exemplified by his four assists and 0 turnovers in 17 minutes last night. Yes, he was 0-for-8 from the field, but only two of those shots were taken when the game was anywhere close to being in doubt.
We're getting close to a point where Rick Pitino can feel comfortable with Snider running the show in a tight game against an elite opponent if the situation demands it. I don't think we were anywhere near that place in early December.
Loved the first Wayne dunk. When he realized it wasn't going to be contested, he got up to a point where his hands were a solid foot above the rim. The threes were nice too, but that type of aggression around the rim is what I think everyone wants to see more of.
One of the things that I'll never understand about Wayne's game to this point is his reluctance to put himself in a position where his shot might get blocked. If he goes up with the same confidence that he did on that uncontested dunk Tuesday night, then there are going to be very few instances in which he doesn't either finish or get fouled. And if he does get his shot blocked, so what? The other team doesn't get points for that, and that result is actually better than the one that comes with shooting the ball over the backboard, something Wayne did in the first half of the UNC game.
Use that frame and that athleticism the same way you do when there's nobody around, and your success rate around the rim is going to increase dramatically.
On the same night that he made his game thread talisman debut, the frontman of the Tikes 4 Trez movement was also seeing the Cards in person for the first time.
@CardChronicle look who's in the building tonight! First game ever. pic.twitter.com/SoFIT7m0Nn— Sean Payne (@seanpayne8) January 14, 2015
This kid is my new personal hero.
Terry is so good, you guys. I don't really have anything more in depth to say about him than that. We've reached a point where he does something at least once a game that makes you drop your jaw for a second and then tell anyone within shouting distance how good he is. As if they already weren't aware.
I don't care if they've lost two in a row, Saturday is going to be so much fun.
Nine McDonald's All-Americans and a Hall of Fame coach are going to be coming into our building out for blood, and there's going to be a huge segment of the sporting public tuning in. These are the types of events we signed up for.