Spread check (basketball): Louisville by 3.5.
Spread check (football): LSU by 3.
Virginia has done a terrific job at making Louisville embrace the Cavaliers' pace in each of the last four meetings. It's a trend Tony Bennett hopes to continue tonight.
Some late submissions to the Card Chronicle Christmas collection:
@CardChronicle Doh! We missed the annual submissions. Blaming it on our intense focus and prep for this Sat. pic.twitter.com/Im4nU9VaiJ— Andrea Farris, CPA (@FarrisCPA) December 27, 2016
@CardChronicle The Sample Family is psyched for the next domination Bowl victory. Happy New Year to all in CC land. pic.twitter.com/UeAfoBg49V— Stevie B (@SsampleB) December 28, 2016
James Hearns and Henry Famurewa have both made the trip with the team to Orlando, but did not practice on Tuesday, and will not play in the bowl game.
Despite being ranked sixth in the country, NBC doesn't have much faith that Louisville can challenge Duke and/or North Carolina for the ACC crown
Not as top heavy, but there may be more balance: Both Louisville and Virginia are elite defensively, but with Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel failing to improve as much as some (namely me) thought and with Austin Nichols getting the boot, those two look like they're a step below the Tobacco Road blue-bloods, even with last week's wins over Kentucky and at Cal, respectively. That said, teams like Notre Dame and Florida State have been impressive in non-conference play while the likes of Virginia Tech, N.C. State, Pitt, Clemson and Miami all look as if they'll be good enough to put together a tournament profile worthy of at-large consideration, at the least. And then there's Syracuse, who has the talent to be a top 25 team but has yet to have the performances on the court to back that up.
Another Challenger outside of Tobacco Road?: Duke and North Carolina are the two best teams in the league. I say that because I think both of those teams are among the top six teams in the country - along with Kentucky, Kansas, Villanova and UCLA - and I think there's a pretty clear delineation between the top six and the rest of the country. That said, there are a trio of teams that are at least worth mentioning here. Louisville has proven to have the nation's best defense, but there are enough question marks with their shooting that we cannot put them in the same breath as the blue-bloods. Virginia is essentially dealing with the same problem: They're elite defensively but do they scare you offensively? Notre Dame is the exactly opposite. The Irish don't turn the ball over at all and they shoot the lettering off the ball. But are they tough enough to get stops in crunch time? For my money, I don't think any of those three will mount a serious regular season title challenge.
POWER RANKINGS, POSTSEASON PREDICTIONS
1. Duke: The Blue Devils are just so loaded, but the one thing to watch for is the thing we've been warning you about since Derryck Thornton transferred: Does Duke have a point guard? When they faced a stingy defensive team in Tennessee State, the Blue Devil offense looked bad.
2. North Carolina: This team is going to go as far as Joel Berry II and Justin Jackson take them. Their front court is good enough, they have good role players that can do a job and Roy Williams has as much experience in the tournament as anyone. But Berry and Jackson are the difference-makers, and they've unquestionably made a difference this season.
3. Louisville: I'm still not really sure what to make of the Cardinals, although that win over Kentucky sure seemed pretty convincing. They're elite defensively but they haven't shot consistently. Their front court length has actually been the strength of this team through 12 games, and while that's a good thing for Rick Pitino, I'm not sure this team has Final Four potential if Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel aren't the two most indispensable pieces on the roster.
4. Notre Dame: I really do love this Notre Dame team. The way they spread the floor, the way that over-looked players like Matt Farrell and Bonzie Colson have been playing at an all-ACC level, the way that Mike Brey is totally willing to roll with four guards and a 6-foot-5 "big man". They have to get tougher, however, and learn to close out wins.
Louisville's win over Kentucky vaulted the Cardinals to No. 6 in the latest power rankings from ESPN.
Yahoo ranks the 10 best college hoops games of the 2016 calendar year, and has a predictable No. 1.
Ed Oliver may have destroyed us last month in Houston, but he still got Chron'd by Brad Reynolds.
Sports Illustrated has a really positive read on former troubled Cardinal Zeke Pike, who appears to finally be in a healthy place.
Bud Elliott is in Orlando for the Under Armour All-America game, where he had these notes on the pair of Louisville commits who are participating.
Louisville four-star cornerback Russ Yeast says that schools understood he had shut down his recruitment. He believes it took a while for his recruiting profile to gain traction because he missed several games as a junior. Yeast is a former Kentucky commitment, and his father Craig played for the Wildcats.
Louisville safety commit C.J. Avery, from Grenada (Miss.) said that he never considered flipping to Ole Miss, and that the only option would have been Auburn, had coach Wesley McGriff stayed with the Tigers and not accepted the defensive coordinator job at Ole Miss. He believes Ole Miss media made up the rumors.
SEC football is fading, and Bill Connelly says it's because everyone keeps hiring boring coaches who can't compete with Nick Saban.
Jeff Greer examines how U of L was able to slow down Malik Monk last week.
The LSU football team went to the Buffalo Wild Wings in Orlando Tuesday night and consumed more than 4,000 chicken wings.
I break down the start of ACC play here, and here's my predicted order of finish:
Projected order of finish
1. Duke (15-3)
2. North Carolina (13-5)
3. Louisville (13-5)
4. Notre Dame (12-6)
5. Virginia (11-7)
6. NC State (10-8)
7. Florida State (10-8)
8. Pittsburgh (9-9)
9. Clemson (9-9)
10. Virginia Tech (9-9)
11. Miami (9-9)
12. Syracuse (6-12)
13. Wake Forest (5-13)
14. Georgia Tech (3-15)
15. Boston College (1-17)
Joe Giglio does the same thing for the Charlotte News & Observer, and has Louisville winning the conference.
Predicted order of finish
1. Louisville (15-3): The last time the Cardinals beat Kentucky (in the 2012-2013 season), they won the national title. A Dec. 21 home win over the rival Wildcats might not equal another national championship but the ACC race is there for the taking.
2. Duke (15-3): If Grayson Allen, Jayson Tatum, Luke Kennard and Harry Giles were all healthy and mentally focused, the Blue Devils would have a serious shot at 18-0. With only Kennard and Tatum locked in, Duke is still the odds-on favorite to win the league but an early trip to Louisville on Jan. 14 (and no return date in Durham) looms as a potential tiebreaker.
3. UNC (13-5): Lots of preseason and early season talk about Duke, not much about a veteran UNC team. If junior Justin Jackson can continue his current trajectory, the Heels might take home a second straight ACC title.
4. Notre Dame (12-6): Teams with a better ACC record than the Fighting Irish (25-11) since Louisville joined the league: Virginia (29-7), Duke (26-10) and that's it. A softer league schedule has helped but coach Mike Brey has done more with less than anyone else in the league.
5. N.C. State (11-7): The parts are in place for sixth-year coach Mark Gottfried to put together his best team. The Wolfpack will need the steady play of senior Terry Henderson and sophomore Torin Dorn to balance out the learning curve of two uber-talented freshmen (Dennis Smith Jr. and forward Omer Yurtseven).
6. Virginia (11-7): Tony Bennett has won at least 11 ACC games every season since the conference schedule expanded to 18 games in 2013. That streak won't change but the Cavaliers, however good on defense they are, just don't have enough skill to avoid a slight drop off.
7. Virginia Tech (10-8): The Hokies haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2007, that should change this March. Guard Ahmed Hill and wing Chris Clarke, a pair of sophomores, have come back from injuries to boost Buzz Williams' third team.
8. Clemson (9-9): Coaching is not Brad Brownell's problem it's the talent collection part of the job. Transfers Shelton Mitchell (Vanderbilt) and Elijah Thomas (Texas A&M) might be able to push the Tigers back into the NCAA picture after a five-year absence.
9. Florida State (9-9): The Noles have some nice wins (Minnesota, Florida) to build an NCAA tournament resume but are a classic "Could beat or lose to anyone in the league" team. Hence the .500 prediction.
10. Miami (8-10): A transition year for coach Jim Larrañaga's crew, coming off a 27-win, Sweet 16 season. The Canes will make everyone earn it but a lack of scoring firepower is the primary problem.
11. Pittsburgh (7-11): Seniors Michael Young and Jamel Artis are superb but don't have enough help and the Panthers, by far, have the most difficult ACC schedule.
12. Wake Forest (6-12): The young Deacs will be frisky, as usual, at home but they've got to figure out a way to get better on the road in ACC play (4-56 the last seven years).
13. Syracuse (6-12): The Orange don't have enough shooters, as difficult losses to UConn, Georgetown and St. John's (?!?) illustrate. It's going to be a long ACC season in upstate New York.
14. Georgia Tech (2-16): The Jackets' win at VCU was a good sign for first-year coach Josh Pastner. So is the development of junior big man Ben Lammers (15.2 ppg, 10.4 rpg).
15. Boston College (1-17): The way Syracuse is losing to former Big East foes, don't be surprised if the Eagles start 1-0 in the ACC ... and then lose 17 straight.
He's always been a better fan than me.
NBC Sports names Quentin Snider as its college hoops Player of the Week.
Bobby Bowden once denied LSU to build Florida State, and now Jimbo Fisher is doing the same thing.
Some days you're the windshield, some days you're the running back who projectile vomits to violently that his quarterback misses the snap.
The Cards are getting after it in Orlando.
Drills. Drills. Drills. Enjoying the grind in Orlando. #CitrusBowl #L1C4 pic.twitter.com/MEhyTXuC5J— LouisvilleFootball (@UofLFootball) December 27, 2016
With the non-conference portion of the season now mostly in the books, ESPN college hoops writer Myron Medcalf looks at what we thought we knew before the season and compares it to what we know now.
Clemson's Ben Boulware wants to be able to play dirty without being labeled as a dirty player.
Montrezl Harrell has quietly been on a tear since being inserted into the Rockets starting lineup.
Lamar Jackson talks post-Heisman life and bowl prep in Orlando.
"I heard from a lot of famous people," Jackson told reporters after a Tuesday workout in Orlando. "I can't name them all, but a lot of players reached out to me."
He did name one celebrity, however. "DC Young Fly, he inboxed me. So it was cool."
More common is people treating him like a celebrity. Even at Universal, Jackson was recognized.
"It was fun. I never went on rides before. That was the first time, so I had a ball," he said. "All of us were having fun, running around meeting a lot of people. . . . People see me and it's like shock sometime. People stop me and say, 'You Lamar?' So, I'm just, Yep. I don't know what to say sometimes, but it's cool."
Now, however, Jackson is looking to get back down to business and focus on a thrill ride of a different kind -- the challenge of facing one of the nation's toughest, most-athletic defenses in LSU.
"They have a great D-line and great secondary. We've just got to be ready, that's all. . . . From watching film, that D-line. They have nice speed, can move a lot."
Jackson said he missed his time away from the football field while tending to Heisman business.
He said he went about a week without throwing a ball, and he could tell when he returned to workouts at U of L's Trager Indoor Practice Facility.
"My first pass, it was above, a high pass, so I was kind of mad," he said. "My first pass was horrible, so I just had to get used to it."
Bleacher Report's Matt Hayes has a great look at why LSU's Derrius Guice always "runs angry."
As ACC play begins, Louisville's tournament resume is pretty solid.
Randy Edsall is back at UConn, which is adorable.
Absolutely wonderful weather we're having today:) pic.twitter.com/SXDQ4QVjdK— Ethan (@ethan_sammons44) December 26, 2016
A church accidentally printing Tupac's "Hail Mary" lyrics in the program for its Christmas mass is beautiful.
The C-J's All-State football team is here.
Romeo Langford seemed to enjoy his first Louisville-Kentucky game.
Romeo Langford on his first U of L-UK experience: "It was crazy. ... (especially) when Quentin Snider was going off on Bam."— Kyle Williams (@kwill_cj) December 23, 2016
Four-star LB Breon Dixon will announce his commitment to either Louisville or Ole Miss during the Under Armour All-American Game on Jan. 1, but he plans to let both staffs know of his decision today.
SEC Country attempts to predict the X-factors in the Citrus Bowl.
The Spread likes Virginia to cover against the Cards tonight.
And finally, R&R is previewing tonight's Virginia game from 3-6 on 93.9 The Ville. John is out today so I'm flying solo and could use some company. Listen here and call into the show at 815-0939.