1. The Louisville defense
Rick Pitino was borderline giddy after Thursday night's 59-41 win over Pitt that had the rest of the country locked in permanent stink face. The reason was that Pitino's constant emphasis on winning with defense appeared to finally resonate with his 2015-16 team.
Pitt entered last night's game averaging 85.3 ppg and ranking as college basketball's second most efficient offense, according to Ken Pomeroy's statistics. I don't care who they had played or hadn't played before Thursday night, it's mind-blowing that Pitt could bring those numbers into the Yum Center and walk out with the lowest point total of any top 25 opponent in the history of Louisville basketball .
#20 Pitt's 41 points is the lowest total by a ranked UofL opponent in school history. Previous record was 43 by #8 Saint Louis on 12/28/56.
— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) January 15, 2016
The performance jumped Louisville all the way up to No. 1 in Ken Pom's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings, and understandably so. Pitt entered Thursday night having made 10 or more 3-pointers four times this season, including in their most recent game, an 86-82 victory at Notre Dame. The Panthers connected on just 1 of 11 attempts from outside the arc against U of L, and were just 14 of 49 (28.6 percent) from the field overall.
The Cards held James Robinson, the Pitt point guard who was on pace to set a college basketball record for assist to turnover ration, to just one point, two assists and three turnovers. The Panthers as a whole finished Thursday night with a season-high 19 turnovers and a season-low four assists.
Sure, Pitt missed some open shots over the course of the 40-minute game, but those clear looks at the basket were few and far between. That was the most shocking thing about the defensive performance from Louisville: this Cardinal team which has seemed so confused by Pitino's complex defensive philosophy at least appeared to grasp it fully on this night. There were no obvious breakdowns, no situations where one guy was playing man while the rest of the team was in zone; none of that. While it'd be foolish to expect that this team just magically gained a complete understanding of everything Pitino wants them to do on defense at some point between Sunday's loss to Clemson and tip-off on Thursday, I don't think it's foolish to label this as a massive step forward in the evolution of this squad.
2. Big East throwback
If you would have told me that this was "Mid-2000s Big East Awareness Month" and that last night's game was paying homage to the state of play in the league a decade ago, I would have been understandably skeptical, but it certainly would have explained a lot of things.
Pitt and Louisville both entered last night's game with two of the top 10 offenses in the country. They wound up playing a slugfest that had to have had Dejuan Blair and Carl Krauser smiling somewhere.
While both defenses were great and both offenses have seen better nights, the officiating also seemed to go back in time. The stripes allowed both teams to be extremely physical and do dozens of things that are supposed to be prohibited by the new rules. That's fine if the game was being called like that across the board, but it isn't. My worry now is that Louisville attempts to play exactly the same way next Wednesday and Florida State winds up taking 55 free-throws.
New rules, old rules, whatever: just let us know how the game needs to be played and let us adjust accordingly. Inconsistency is way more frustrating than any particular style of officiating.
Un-numbered Bonus Thought:
Jamie Dixon is looking older and I don't like it. I want all the major players from the U of L Big East era -- Pitino, Dixon, Wright, Boeheim, Brey, JT III -- to look exactly the same until they retire.
3. Yum Center changes
It was a night of change at the Yum Center. Yes, the new security measures took forever and kept plenty of people from seeing tip-off, but that wasn't the only change. How about the slightly altered intro and the new music for the starting lineups? Is that what resulted in the incredible defensive performance? I mean, you can't definitively say it wasn't.
Also enjoyed seeing 93.9 The Ville get some love in the building.
Without question, this was the best crowd of the season, and Pitino absolutely loved it. The fans brought it ... except for the guy sitting courtside who was trying to leave the game early right as Damion Lee finished an and-1, and then wouldn't give Damion a fist-bump because he was so flustered. That guy didn't bring it .
4. Frontcourt by committee
It's pretty apparent that outside of Nanu, Pitino is going to assign frontcourt minutes based on the opponent. For instance, Pitt has two really talented forwards in Young and Artis. Both are very skilled and versatile, but neither are real bruisers who can bully their man in the paint. The result? More Ray and more Anas because of their combination of height, speed and length, and less Jaylen Johnson.
Also, Chinanu could do pretty much anything he wanted on the offensive end of the court, and so we let him.
When you get a snow day on a Monday pic.twitter.com/ppa3JHNgtO
— John Lewis WDRB (@JohnWDRB) January 15, 2016
GIF of the season? Gotta be top five.
Anyway, I'd expect this trend to continue for the rest of the season, even after Mangok comes back. There will be nights where Anas can play and nights where Anas can't play. There will be nights where we are Jaylen heavy, and nights where we can't win without Ray Spalding on the floor.
The gift of depth is a great one.
5. Rick Pitino's sprint to the locker room was glorious
This wasn't the first time that this has happened, but Pitino ripping off his jacket and running to the locker room to relieve himself last night was incredible.
It was like he'd been thinking about it for the last 20 minutes or so, then Anas hits an and-1 that puts Louisville up 13 and immediately Rick was like "f--k it, this is happening." His jacket goes flying (best part) and then he takes off for the back. The second best part was Ralph Willard telling the officials to go ahead and start the game back up without Pitino on the bench. Ralph doesn't give a damn.
Even with the under-friendly final score, it was a highly enjoyable evening at the Yum Center.