Louisville stressing offensive balance


Louisville stressing offensive balance

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville's team concept is such that the term ``go-to guy'' applies to just about anybody on the roster.

At least, that's the philosophy of Cardinals guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith and center Gorgui Dieng, who are expected to lead a return to the Final Four along with forward Chane Behanan. It's reflected in last season's scoring, where Smith averaged 11.5 points per game while Siva, Dieng and Behanan all averaged 9.

Though they believe more experience will boost their offense, they won't do so at the expense of balance and chemistry.

And with a roster that goes about 10 deep, the Cardinals believe anybody is capable of having a big game. This group is eager to set the example, but the goal is making sure everyone shines.

``I think that's what makes this team so deadly, that we can score from all five positions,'' Siva said during Sunday's media day. ``We have Chane and Gorgui down in the post, we have Luke (Hancock) and Wayne (Blackshear) on the wing, and Kevin (Ware) and Russ (Smith) also on the wing.

``We have that well-balanced attack that anybody can go off on any given night and that's the way our team has always functioned.''

But it's clear the aforementioned group is trying to advance their games.

Gorgui, who averaged 9.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks as a sophomore, spent the offseason bulking up his 6-foot-11 frame to prepare for the expected inside pounding in the Big East Conference. Though listed at 245 pounds in the media guide, the lanky native of Senegal hinted he was bigger without saying how much.

Dieng said he's ready to score more if needed, but stressed that his priority is developing defensive skills.

``If I need to, I will do it but it's not my first goal,'' the junior said. ``I'm the guy that wants to do everything I can to help this team win and wants to do everything to make this team look good. But if I need to score to help this team, I'm going to do it.

``Everybody loves to score, and if Coach (Rick Pitino) puts you in a situation where you're going to score, you can score.''

Smith, better known as a defensive expert after setting a school record with 87 steals last season, showed his offensive potential during Sunday's second Red-White scrimmage.

The junior's 20 points led the White team in an 85-74 loss to the Red squad, frequently leading its transition game and going strong to the basket. His 6-of-16 shooting showed where improvement was needed, but five of his seven teammates scored in double figures.

And that's the way it could be during the regular season.

``Being in practice, and messing up every day in practice, that's the only way I'm going to get better,'' Smith said. ``So, when I get to the games, I won't make those mistakes.

``We have so many (players), nobody knows (who can step up). It could be Kevin, it could be Wayne, Chane, Gorgui, it could be me. You just don't know with this team. We're really deep.''

Siva agreed with Smith, but emphasized that he's trying to do his part by playing more under control offensively and trying to cut down on turnovers. Louisville's first scrimmage last week showed that it's a work in progress as Smith had six assists with five turnovers, but his 12 points keyed a balanced attack where five players scored 11 or more.

``Coach has allowed me to create more and look for my shot more, so it's definitely given me a lot more confidence,'' said Siva, who played just 7 minutes Sunday after turning his ankle following a collision with Smith. He is expected to only miss Monday's practice.

Pitino was pleased with his progress.

``If you ask me who has stuck out in practice,'' Pitino said, ``it's been Peyton and Luke, Kevin, those three have stuck out as being consistent players at both ends of the floor.''

The player drawing the most attention is Behanan, who started 37 games as a freshman and was named the West Regional's Most Outstanding Player last spring.

Besides averaging 9.5 points and 7.5 points, the 6-6 Behanan brings size, versatility and an outside shot. Pitino would like to see him cut down on turnovers as well but said he's progressing.

Benahan had 13 points and 11 rebounds in 34 minutes on Sunday, displaying energy on both ends. Siva cited his intensity of the strides many of the veterans have made to help bring balance to the Cardinals.

``He's a workhorse, he's got a high motor, a high-intensity guy (who is) really focusing on (improving) his weaknesses,'' Siva said. ``He can get rebounds and is so strong and really showed it in the last scrimmage when he had (22) rebounds. You just expect a lot of rebounds from him and him always playing hard.

``It's going to be tough for teams to scout us.''

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

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Road ahead suggests a wild finish in Eastern Conference playoff race

The Eastern Conference standings are so closely bunched as of today that the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers are only 1 1/2 games ahead of the sixth-place Philadelphia 76ers. With roughly a dozen games remaining for each NBA team, much can and likely will change over the next several weeks.

That is common for this time of the year, but a closer look suggests we could be in for some chaos in the final stretch. There are lopsided remaining schedules and impending personnel changes which could all contribute to one of the wildest regular season finishes in recent memory.

The Wizards are smack dab in the middle of the East playoff race and have their own circumstances to navigate. Let's take a team-by-team look at the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff picture, knowing the top two seeds are all but locked up by the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics...


3. Cleveland Cavaliers (41-29, 12 games left)

Monday was a crazy day for the Cavaliers. First, they announced their head coach Tyronn Lue is taking a leave of absence to deal with an undiagnosed health issue. He will be replaced by associate head coach Larry Drew in the interim as he hopes to heal up before the playoffs.

Then, news broke they were getting Kevin Love back from a broken wrist after missing 21 games. Love returned to put up 18 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two blocks in a big win over the Milwaukee Bucks. 

The Cavaliers will be without their coach for an undefined period of time, but now have their second-best player back on the court. That makes their final part of the season extra fascinating.

The Cavs are the team to watch of this group. Even though this season has been filled with turmoil, they still have LeBron James. He and Love have helped form the core of the last three Eastern Conference champion teams. If they pick things up, it's not crazy to consider them among the favorites to get out of the East again.


4. Indiana Pacers (41-30, 11 games left)

The Pacers are mostly healthy as they only feature a slew of minor injuries to big men Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis. But Indiana's remaining schedule is unusually tough and it could make the difference in where they end up.

With only 11 games remaining, the Pacers still have to play the first-place Toronto Raptors once and the Golden State Warriors twice. Six of their last eight games will be on the road. They also see the Heat, Pelicans, Nuggets and Clippers.

The Clippers are currently ninth in the West and battling to make the playoffs. The Pacers will play them twice.

Keep in mind the Wizards own the season series over Indiana and will have a playoff seeding tiebreaker if they end up with the same record. Also worth noting is the Pacers have been much better at home (24-13) than on the road (17-17) this season.


5. Washington Wizards (40-30, 12 games left)

Though the Wizards' schedule is finally letting up soon from the 13 straight playoff teams stretch they have had to endure dating back to February, they too have a tough road ahead. The Wizards still have to play the Spurs (twice), Rockets, Cavaliers, Celtics and Nuggets. Four of their last six games are on the road and they have three back-to-back sets in their final seven games.

That's brutal. They may not have to see the defending champions twice like Indiana does, but the Wizards don't exactly have it easy.

The Wizards will, however, get John Wall back at some point. The five-time All-Star is slowly but surely working his way back and could participate in a full practice by the end of the week. Ideally they will get some games under his belt before the playoffs, but any time an All-NBA player is coming back to your team it's a good thing.

The problem is that there is little room for error in the standings and head coach Scott Brooks will have to reinsert Wall into the lineup during a tough schedule and while Wall is on a minutes restriction. It will be a tricky task to balance his lineups. 


6. Philadelphia 76ers (39-30, 13 games left)

The Sixers may have the most ideal road ahead of these four teams, at least in terms of their schedule. They still have the Timberwolves, Nuggets, Cavs and Bucks. But none of those teams are the juggernauts that Golden State, Houston and Toronto are. And of their final 13 games, the Sixers will play nine against teams outside of the playoff picture.

Philly also does not have to reincorporate a major piece into their rotation, like the Cavs do with Love and the Wizards with Wall. Their biggest injury is to Markelle Fultz, the 2017 No. 1 overall pick. If he does return this season, it will likely be in a minimal role, at least to start.

What could work against the Sixers is their inexperience and recent struggles against good teams. The Sixers are relying on very young players who have never been here before to carry the way. And since Valentine's Day, Philly has just one win against a team above the .500 mark, when they beat the Cavs on March 1. During those 14 games since Feb. 14, they have beaten up on the bad teams but lost to the Wizards, Bucks, Pacers and Heat (twice), basically all the teams surrounding them in the standings. 

Philly also lost their season series against the Cavs and Pacers, tied with the Wizards and are down 2-1 against the Bucks with one game to go. They may go to the finish line without a playoff tiebreaker against all the teams they would want one against.

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

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Ryan Grant reportedly signing with Colts after failed physical with Ravens

It looks like Ryant Grant has found his new home, again.

After a failed physical with the Ravens, James Jones of NFL Network reports Grant plans to sign with the Colts.


Grant originally agreed to a four-year, $29 million deal with the Ravens, before the team pulled the offer citing an ankle injury that dated to the Redskins' final regular-season game, according to reports.

Baltimore eventually signed Michael Crabtree to a three-year deal, while Grant had visits with the Colts and Raiders.

His agent, Rocky Arceneaux, says Grant has been working out, running routes, and his ankle had been cleared by Dr. Robert Anderson in a second opinion.

In 2017 with the Redskins, he appeared in all 16 games, with 45 receptions for 573 yards and four touchdowns.