September 6th, 2006
Basketball Preview: Louisville
Most Louisville fans would probably agree that
last year’s results were disappointing. The Cardinals were a consensus
pre-season Top 20 team, and some pundits had them in the Top 10. Granted,
those rankings were based on the previous year’s Final Four appearance and
did not take into account the loss of so many quality players. In short,
Louisville was overrated a year ago. Still, Rick Pitino’s team barely made
it into the conference tournament and ended up in the NIT. I doubt that even
the most pessimistic Louisville fans would have predicted their beloved
Cardinals missing the NCAA Tournament. That won’t happen again this year.
On paper, Louisville may be the most talented squad in the conference. They
have nine players who were ranked in the Top 100 on RSCI coming out of high
school. (UConn is second with eight.)
Obviously, injuries to key players hurt the team last year. Center David
Padgett missed 10 games, and he was slowed in many he did play in. Power
forward Juan Palacios basically played on one and a half legs, no easy feat.
But enough about the past. This is a new season for the Cardinal faithful,
and, as always, they are supremely optimistic about the upcoming season.
Despite the loss of leading scorer Taquan Dean
and the transfers of Brian Johnson, Chad Millard, and Bryan Harvey, an awful
lot of talent remains.
Padgett will start at the 5. If he's fully recovered, he's one of the top
three or four centers in the league. He averaged 11.8 ppg and 6.1 rpg
despite being less than 100%. Still, he has a reputation for playing soft,
and he is definitely more of a finesse player than a power player. Pitino
would love to see his star center become more physical in the paint on both
ends of the floor.
Palacios will start at the 4. Reportedly, his
foot problems have been resolved, which is bad news for opponents. He had a
terrific game against UConn late last season when he scored 29 points in 29
minutes, which may be a preview of what he will do in 2006-2007. The 6'8"
junior has a tendency to wander to the perimeter at times (102 trey
attempts) because he is a decent outside shooter. However, Pitino needs him
to be a force inside. Still, his versatility makes him one of the top power
forwards in the league.
The dreaded and dreadful injury bugaboo has already struck Pitino’s squad as
senior Brandon Jenkins broke his leg in a pick-up game and will miss at
least three months. When he returns, he will eventually start at one of the
two guard spots.. The question is, "Which one?" Last year he played
primarily at the point with Dean at the 2, but with two other talented point
guards on the roster in sophomore Andre McGee and freshman Edgar Sosa,
Jenkins will likely slide over to off guard. He is a good outside shooter
(39% from behind the arc), and he does a nice job of taking care of the ball
(1.7 turnovers in 32.9 mpg). Perhaps most importantly, he will provide
experienced leadership on a relatively young team.
Besides Sosa, Pitino also brought in two highly-ranked wing players in Top
50 recruit, Jerry Smith, and Top 25 recruit, Earl Clark. Along with
sophomore Terrence Williams, who started last year at the 3, Pitino has
numerous options on the perimeter. Last year Williams averaged 8.4 ppg and
4.7 rpg. If he can improve his outside shooting (31% on treys), he’ll be
extremely difficult to defend. The dilemma Pitino faces is to find
sufficient time for so many talented players.
Super-talented freshman Derrick Caracter can back up at the 4 or the 5.
Offensively, he is incredibly versatile. He can post up, face the basket and
put the ball on the floor, hit the mid-range jumper, and knock down the
three-pointer. The primary question is whether or not he will display the
work ethic Pitino demands.
On paper, this team has a lot of weapons. But there are still serious
questions. Long-range shooting is one. Only Jenkins has shown the ability to
be a consistent threat from behind the arc. The roster seems to be filled
with scorers rather than shooters.
Chemistry could also be an issue, especially if one or more of the freshmen
get significant playing time at the expense of one or more of the veterans.
Pitino’s biggest challenge may well be to manage damaged egos.
Furthermore, one has to wonder how quickly the new players will adapt to
Pitino's defensive philosophy. They seem to be athletic enough to implement
his full-court, trapping style, but not everyone is suited to handle the
mental commitment that this defensive approach demands.
One final thought: with the development of center
Terrance Farley the last eight games of 2005-2006, Pitino could employ a
platoon system this season in which he substitutes an entire second team for
his starting five a couple of times each half. That way his best players
could get approximately 25 mpg while most of the younger players could get
around 15 mpg. Not only will Pitino be able to get double-digit minutes for
10 players, but he could also keep his players fresh both within individual
games and throughout the season. Of course, I don’t really expect this to
If everything, and everyone, jells, the Cardinals could compete for the
conference title. They definitely have the talent to beat any team on any
given night. However, young players can be inconsistent, and Louisville has
two sophomores and four freshmen among its top nine or 10 players.
The Cardinals could finish anywhere from third to
sixth with fourth the most likely landing place. However, if Jenkins can not
play most or all of the season, Pitino’s charges could drop in the standings
despite the wealth of other talent on the squad.
- Predicted Finish:
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