Louisville at Butler: It’s Still Going to be a Good Game… Right?Posted by Patrick Prendergast on November 18th, 2011
In college basketball they say the coaches are the stars. Thank goodness for that because when No. 8 Louisville (2-0) takes on reigning two-time national runner-up Butler (1-1) on Saturday at Hinkle Fieldhouse the marquee value on the rosters will not possess the sizzle it might have had a year, or even a couple of days, ago. While many may need to rifle through programs and online game trackers to identify players, the head coaches certainly require no introduction in a game that will prove an ample test of their considerable skills. And let’s face it, as we scour through a November slate that includes several undercard match-ups leading up to the Big East’s main events, we need something to sink our teeth into!
Rick Pitino is faced with the challenge of heading into a tough road venue with a team that has been besieged by injury. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish certainly are not coming through that door, and where is Greg Kite when you need him anyway? With junior leader and point guard Peyton Siva doubtful for the game following the recent long term losses of backcourt mates Wayne Blackshear, out six-to-eight weeks due to shoulder surgery, and Mike Marra, gone for the season with an ACL tear, the Cardinals are especially thin right now, particularly at the point. While Pitino said Siva’s injury could impact his availability beyond Saturday, he also left the door open for a cameo appearance should the game situation dictate.
It was noted here at RTC Big East yesterday that Pittsburgh may have been overrated to start the year. The same can be said of Louisville. Even without the injuries, it is hard to envision the Cards as a Top 10 team, especially as presently constituted.
Sophomore Elisha Justice represents the only experienced true point guard available, but Pitino indicated concern about using Justice in that role Saturday, citing a difficult match-up with Butler senior guard Ronald Nored, whom the coach praised as “the best defensive point guard in the country.” And we are pretty sure by ‘country’ he meant the United States as opposed to rural Indiana. Unless Pitino is playing a bit of possum with his Justice comments, look for him to manage a variety of lineup looks with Russ and Chris Smith sharing opportunities to run the offense. It is not all bad on the injury front as 6’9″ junior forward Stephan Van Treese, who has yet to play this season due to knee injury, will be back and expected to play on Saturday. In the frontcourt, freshman Chane Behanan will be a marked man as he is off to a solid collegiate start, leading the team in both scoring (12.0 PPG) and rebounding (12.5 RPG).
Butler’s roster challenges have come through attrition rather than injury, losing Shelvin Mack to the NBA along with seniors Matt Howard (31 MPG), Shawn Vanzant (28 MPG) and Zach Hahn (16 MPG). The results for Brad Stevens have been predictably mixed in the early going as the team matures. The Bulldogs lost an exhibition game to Division II Northern State (53-50) and opened the regular season with an 80-77 overtime loss at Evansville before entering the win column by defeating Chattanooga 57-46 on Tuesday. They feature an inside-outside attack with 6’11″ junior center Andrew Smith (18.5 PPG, 9.5 RPG, 2.5 BLK) and 6’1” guard Chrishawn Hopkins.
Louisville traditionally likes to force tempo and wear down its opponent, a sound strategy against an inexperienced group such as Butler. However with their lack of depth it will be interesting to see how Pitino and company play it on Saturday.