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Wednesday Afternoon Cardinal News And Notes

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This news and notes post is dedicated to all the teachers that told Rami Ibrahim that he'd never amount to nothin'. To all the people that lived above the buildings that he was hustlin' in front of that called the police when he was just tryin' to make some money to buy some onesies. And all the Card babies in the struggle. Know what I'm sayin'?

I_medium Spread Check: Louisville by 17.

I_medium Clemson coach Brad Brownell on Louisville: "we can give them a run."

I_medium The latest college hoops power rankings from ESPN have the Cards staying put at No. 7.

I_medium Your Clemson game preview from CBS.

I_medium Football Study Hall takes a look at the advanced stats from the Belk Bowl.

I_medium Sports Illustrated's Chris Johnson has a good look at what to be on the watch for from every conference now that league play in college hoops has begun.


Team to beat: Duke

The undefeated Blue Devils opened conference play last weekend after navigating a tough nonconference slate that included a road win over then-No. 2 Wisconsin. Of all the reasons to like Duke, none is more convincing than the fact that it features arguably the best player in the country, Jahlil Okafor. After going for 28 points and eight rebounds against Boston College last Saturday, the 6-11 freshman is averaging 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while posting one of the top six effective field goal percentages (68.2) in the country. With Okafor and a strong backcourt featuring fellow freshman Tyus Jones, the Blue Devils are the first team that comes to mind when people start throwing around the hypothetical question, "What team can beat Kentucky?"

Game of the conference season: Duke at Virginia (Jan. 31)

Duke's high-powered offense has yet to meet a defense it couldn't vanquish. Virginia could change that. The Cavaliers, who employ a pack-line defense designed to prevent dribble penetration, are one of the few teams that may be able to shut down a Blue Devils squad leading the nation in KenPom's adjusted offensive efficiency. Virginia has limited its opponents to 35.9 percent shooting inside the three-point arc, the third lowest mark in the country, and blocked 15.8 percent of those attempts. It's worth pointing out that, for all of Virginia's virtues on the defensive end, the Cavaliers may be playing better offense right now. They've scored at least 1.25 points per possession in four of their last six games.

Sleeper team: Notre Dame

Believing in the Irish potentially risky. Notre Dame has compiled a gaudy record (15-1) on the strength of a potent offense that leads the nation in effective field goal and two-point shooting percentage, but it will need to tighten the screws defensively to have any shot at keeping pace with Duke, Virginia and other league contenders. Through Monday, the Fighting Irish ranked 67th in effective field goal percentage defense and 162nd in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency. Notre Dame will be able to shoot its way to plenty of wins -- it hit 10 threes in beating North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Monday night -- but any offensive stagnation could leave it vulnerable. It helps to have one of the best guards in the country, Jerian Grant, running the show.

One big question: What can we expect from North Carolina?

The Tar Heels may not be on the same level as Duke, Virginia, Louisville or even Notre Dame, but where do they stand in the ACC pecking order? It's hard to say. During the nonconference season, North Carolina beat two teams ranked in the top 25 of Kenpom's efficiency rankings (Florida and Ohio State) but also lost to top-40 squads Butler and Iowa. While Marcus Paige's numbers have dipped after a breakout sophomore season, Kennedy Meeks appears to have taken a step forward after getting in better shape over the offseason, and freshman Justin Jackson has made an immediate impact. It will be interesting to see whether Roy Williams' team pushes for a finish near the top of the league or falls closer to the middle of the pack.

I_medium Georgtown is interested in landing the services of Akoy Agau, who revently visited Nebraska.

I_medium The Syracuse Post-Standard gives a midseason progress report on Louisville and says that Terry Rozier, not Montrezl Harrell, has been the Cardinals' best player.

I_medium My man Sam.

I_medium Joe Lunardi says Kentucky, Duke, Virginia and Wisconsin have separated themselves from the rest of college basketball.

Apparently the Badgers' lone loss coming at home to the No. 2 team in the country by 10 points is what "separates" them from Louisville, whose lone loss came at home to the No. 1 team in the country by 8 points.

I_medium Louisville is No. 3 in this week's ACC power poll from the SB Nation league bloggers.

I_medium Congratulations to Alex Kupper, who has signed a futures deal with the Buffalo Bills.

I_medium The No. 1 college tennis player in the country is a Louisville Cardinal.

Pretty cool.

I_medium Karl Hess sucks: Exhibit 9,000.

I_medium Sports Illustrated's first Bracket Watch of the season has Louisville as the two seed in the Midwest Region, where Wisconsin is the top dog.

I_medium Taylor County star Quentin Goodin will be visiting for tonight's game against Clemson.

I_medium Traci Carter has Louisville high on his list, but also wants to clarify that he's considering more teams than just the Cards, Indiana and Seton Hall.

I_medium CBS "resets" the ACC and ranks the league's big three like this:

1. Duke : In general, I don't think there are a lot of great teams in college basketball this season. Duke is absoutely one of them though, and the scariest thing is that they can get even better. Jahlil Okafor will be tested more in ACC play, but his skill set is so diverse I don't know if film study will help teams limit his production. The attention that Okafor demands allows Tyus Jones and Quinn Cook, one of the best backcourts in the league, to facilitate the offense on the perimeter. Duke has won all 13 of its games by an average margin of victory of 24.7 points, and done so with three freshmen in the starting lineup. The wins are not just impressive on the scoreboard, either. Per the News & Observer's Laura Keeley, Duke has trailed for just 6:13 of the 520 minutes it has played this season. That kind of dominance is lacking with most of the other teams in the sport, and it's as good a reason as easy to feel confident keeping the Blue Devils in the No. 1 spot.

2. Virginia : Virginia would like to think of itself right there in the conversation of the few great teams in college basketball, and the numbers seem to back it up. The Wahoos are No. 2 in the KenPom ratings, behind Kentucky and ahead of Duke, with the country's No. 4 offense and No. 5 defense (according to adjusted efficiency). Virginia's glacial pace does not lend itself to the highlight shows, so make sure you sit down to watch a game to see the opposition struggle against Tony Bennett's pack-line defense and an offense that values every possession, knowing there won't be many to waste in the flow of a UVA game. Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill have welcomed more involved roles on both ends of the floor, with Anderson leading the way as one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. Many pundits are not ready to mention Virginia as a national title contender, but that will change after getting a shot at Duke, UNC and Louisville during a one-week stretch that begins at the end of this month.

3. Louisville: Louisville's high-pressure defense and star power with Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell easily make them a lock for the top three, but it will take more balance to overtake either Virginia or Duke. Outside of Rozier, Harrell and Chris Jones, Louisville has to rely on a committee opproach for offenisve contributions. Senior Wayne Blackshear has the experience and has been holding down a consistent spot in the rotation, but Shaquaan Aaron, Anas Mahmoud, Anton Gill and Chinanu Onuaku have all been working to find playing time, and be as productive as possible when they do get on the court. Rick Pitino has made it clear the lineup is not settled, so expect more shuffling as the Cardinals figure out the best combination to make a run at the ACC title.

I_medium The coach who keeps voting Duke ahead of Kentucky in the coaches' poll is Wofford's Mike Young.

I_medium Forbes "30 Under 30" list features two U of L speed school grads and four people with Louisville ties overall.

I_medium Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner John Swofford will speak at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium on issues facing college sports at 7 p.m. on Feb. 24 at the Brown and Williamson Club.

I_medium Here's Brad Brownell's full preview of Louisville:

I_medium Muhammad Ali has been officially released from the hospital, which is obviously fantastic news.

I_medium Your viewer's guide for all of tonight's CBB action.

I_medium Our friends at Shakin' the Southland preview tonight's game and predict a Cardinal triumph.

I_medium And finally, beat Clemson.