College Basketball Nation: Adjehi Baru

People sometimes panic during the first few days of the college basketball season.

Kinks and flaws are magnified, even though the sample size is far too small to be used as evidence to produce a realistic conclusion about any program. That doesn’t stop us, however, from making assumptions.

From worrying.

From anticipating doom.

Think Virginia Tech’s fans care that the Hokies’ 64-63 loss to South Carolina Upstate on Saturday was just the first of many games? Think defending ACC champ Miami’s supporters feel calm after Friday night’s 66-62 loss to St. Francis (N.Y.)?

At least those teams had problems that were easily identifiable in the offseason.

Louisville, the defending national champion and No. 3 squad in the Associated Press preseason poll, probably prompted jitters within its fan base after its sloppy start against a bold Charleston program that was down just 49-45 with 6 minutes, 41 seconds to play Saturday at the KFC Yum! Center. A late run finished the Cougars.

But don’t believe the 70-48 final score. Charleston was tougher than that.

For a chunk of the matchup, Louisville was inefficient and ineffective. Missed layups and jump shots. Squandered fast-break opportunities.

Charleston forwards Adjehi Baru and Willis Hall combined for 15 points and 13 rebounds against Louisville. They were probably more comfortable than they would have been with 6-foot-6 forward Chane Behanan, currently serving a suspension, available for the Cardinals. Plus, Luke Hancock was injured.

[+] EnlargeMontrezl Harrell
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyMontrezl Harrell played 33 minutes in Louisville's season opener and had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Still, Louisville launched a 21-3 rally in the final 6:41 that was created by the full-court pressure that has killed the dreams of many Cardinals opponents in recent years. They were brilliant down the stretch.

So what was the problem before that run?

Well, this is not last season's Cardinals squad. That’s obvious, I know.

But Louisville in 2013-14 is different from the team that won the national championship trophy in April. No Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng.

Other players have accepted new roles. Wayne Blackshear goes from young reserve to critical piece in Rick Pitino’s rotation. Montrezl Harrell will play center at times this season when Louisville uses a smaller lineup. He averaged 16.2 minutes per game last season. He played 33 on Saturday.

Chris Jones, the highly touted junior college transfer, was solid in a Division I debut (12 points, six rebounds, five assists and two steals) that justified the hype that preceded his arrival. Russ Smith (21 points) struggled from the field (1-for-5 from the 3-point line), but he helped the Cardinals finish strong.

Smith played the last three seasons with Siva next to him. He and Jones could be one of America’s best combos, but they’ll also play some rough basketball -- they certainly did Saturday -- as they continue to learn each other’s tendencies.

Until the Cardinals pulled off that impressive run in the final minutes, a loss seemed possible.

Blackshear, Jones and Smith were 15-for-44 from the field. The Cardinals made 22 percent of their 3-point attempts and 61 percent of their free throws. Not their best day.

But that effort shouldn’t serve as an exhibit for critics. The Cardinals are good. They’re versatile, athletic and relentless on defense. Charleston committed 21 turnovers.

They’re also a team in transition as new faces join old ones and players adapt to new individual expectations. And it showed throughout their first game of the season.

Louisville reached the Final Four in back-to-back seasons with a group that had learned from its experience in 2012 and used that to its advantage in 2013.

Although some of the same players from those teams are on this season's roster, the Cardinals lack continuity. A big part of that change involves Louisville’s switches at key positions (point guard and center) and its reliability on new players.

But the Cardinals can still build a similar level of chemistry. It will take time, though. Behanan and Hancock will return. Harrell and Blackshear will become more comfortable as starters. Freshmen Mangok Mathiang (seven points, 10 rebounds, one block) and Terry Rozier will grow.

But this isn’t last year.

That doesn’t mean Louisville can’t match that team’s achievements, because it can.

Moving forward after losing key players and asking others to assume different roles, however, is never an easy adjustment. Even for a national champion.

That rocky stretch in Saturday’s game proved as much.

And that’s all it proved.
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  • How does Michigan State get points against Syracuse's two-three zone? The Only Colors has a pretty decent idea: "[...] The big-picture key is to find the right balance between (1) showing enough patience to get a clean look at the basket without forcing the ball into a position that's vulnerable to trapping (i.e., the corners) while (2) being aggressive enough with the ball to 'make the zone work.' Doing those things will require a full team effort, but two players have skills that will be of particular use. Durrell Summers' ability to elevate on his jumpshot can turn a marginal 3-point look into a clean one. MSU can't afford for him to have a prolonged shooting slump in this game. Draymond Green, meanwhile, will be the guy trying to break the zone down from the high post, making passes over/through/under the lengthy Orange defenders. MSU was at its best Saturday vs. Bowling Green's (obviously less formidable) 2-3 defense when Green was distributing the ball from the key area."
  • Meanwhile, Tom Izzo has admitted his team is not as good without departed senior guard Chris Allen, who Izzo tangled with over attitude issues before Allen's transfer this offseason.
  • On the other side, Syracuse fans are eager to find out just how good -- if they are indeed good -- this 8-0 team really is: "The Syracuse Orange are 8-0 but it doesn't take a Jim Boeheim Press Conference snide comment to know they're not exactly wowing the nation. A quick look at the AP rankings shows you that opinions vary when it comes to the Orange, who have struggled in almost every game they've played so far this season. A lot of SU fans don't feel like we know this team's potential yet. Or worse, they fear that we DO know this team's potential, or lack thereof. Fans will have a much clearer idea of where their Orange stand after Tuesday night's bigtime showdown with the Michigan State Spartans at Madison Square Garden."
  • Ahead of their matchup with Memphis, the Kansas fans at Rock Chalk Talk are suitably pleased with Kansas' offensive ability, but there is slight concern about the team's ability to shoot from deep: "If you had to nitpick, the biggest concern on the offensive end has to continue to be the outside shooting. It's improved since the very early going and honestly Kansas has done a fairly decent job ranking 32nd in the nation in this category from a percentage standpoint, but it's the volume that might lead to the conclusion that Kansas has very few weapons in this are. Right now through seven games the Jayhawks sit roughly 20-25 made baskets below the totals for most major players in the top 25 in terms of three point attempts. Now I'm not suggesting anyone start launching threes at the expense of passing the ball inside to the Morris twins for an easy two, but the stat would seem to suggest that Kansas is passing up open looks during the course of the contest. [...] It may never become a problem if the inside game continues to carry the load, but one does have to wonder if teams will slowly start to pack it in and force others in the Jayhawk backcourt to shoot."
  • The Memphis Tigers did some sightseeing after they arrived in New York City this weekend, but beginning Monday morning, coach Josh Pastner was all business, according to the Memphis Commercial-Appeal: "Starting (Monday) morning, it's straight business trip," said Tigers coach Josh Pastner. "This is a businesslike mentality, because you know why?" Pastner said. "After this game, our next game, Austin Peay, is just as important. Then after that, it's Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. Then you've got Georgetown. In college basketball, there's not one game more important than the other unless you're in the NCAA Tournament, when it's one and done."
  • Ballin' Is A Habit breaks down the strange recruitment of Adjehi Baru, a 6-foot-9 forward who became a top-50 recruit after a brilliant summer in AAU hoops who ended up at College of Charleston after a confusing series of commitment announcements.
  • In case the Georgetown fans out there were wondering who to root for tonight, allow Casual Hoya to rather bluntly clear things up.
  • Dan Hanner lists the most important players in the SEC and Big Ten thus far.
  • Why should Butler fans take heart? Because their team isn't looking all that different production-wise than last year's squad. And, in the meantime, providing a blueprint for other mid-major teams facing huge monetary imbalances. The answer? Cherish the rock. From Kyle Whelliston: "The key gap between mid-majors and the power elite is, unsurprisingly, money. Duke, for instance, spends $13.9 million on its men’s basketball operations (as per the U.S. Department of Postsecondary Education), while Butler spends $1.7 million annually. One way that a team like the Bulldogs can narrow that gap, and avoid from getting beaten elevenfold on the court, is to enter the currency exchange market. The rebound and the turnover have had floating values since long before the gold standard was abolished, and as colleague John Gasaway noted in a fine essay in this year’s dead-tree Prospectus, the “Incredible Shrinking Turnover” costs major-conference teams 1.28 points per incidence, on average. For small-conference teams who can’t really afford boards, reverse-hoarding turnovers is just good economic sense."
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  • Gary Parrish's Monday Poll Attacks were, per the usual, thoroughly entertaining. Somewhere, there's a man named Whitelaw who does not agree.
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  • The timing of Minnesota guard Al Nolen's injury has been fortuitous for the Gophers, but that doesn't mean fans want him sidelined any longer than necessary.
  • And, of course, some in-house ESPN stuff. Andy Katz has a host of fun details on Jimmer Fredette's much-anticipated return to Glens Falls, N.Y., as well as a preview of Michigan-State Syracuse and a conversation with Tom Izzo, Jim Boeheim, and Bill Self. Dana O'Neil's preview of the Memphis-Kansas undercard is here. And don't miss Diamond's feature on UC-Santa Barbara star Orlando Johnson, who might be the Gauchos' first NBA draft pick in more than 20 years.