Big East Summer Capsules: Louisville CardinalsPosted by mlemaire on August 1st, 2012
While most relish the onset of Summer, college basketball junkies do not. Most of the news surrounding the sport is recruiting rumors and commitments or injuries and transfer news. In order to help keep folks up-to-date on what their teams are doing during the summer, we put together these summer capsules for each team in the conference. Next up is Louisville.
1. The rotating door was busy this summer, and some folks don’t like it.
Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is no stranger to controversy and criticism, and this summer was no different as a multitude of injury-laden reserves left the program raising concerns about Pitino’s roster management strategy and questions about whether he is cutting ties with less important players to make room for new ones. Before the end of last season news broke that reserve forward Jared Swopshire would transfer so he could play right away in his final collegiate season. Then, just two days after highly touted recruit Montrezl Harrell signed with the Cardinals and people began to wonder where the extra scholarship would come from, backup and injury-prone big man Stephan Van Treese announced he was leaving also only to reverse course later that month. That reversal came just a week after another injury-prone reserve, Rakeem Buckles, announced he would transfer to Florida International, once again freeing up a scholarship that Van Treese happily took back. There is absolutely no evidence that Pitino forced any of these players out and it’s entirely possible these players saw the writing on the wall and transferred to a place where they could find more playing time. But perception is also a big deal, and if recruits perceive that Pitino is jettisoning lesser talents to make room for younger players, it will certainly make them think twice before they sign on with Louisville.
2. Just how good can Louisville’s frontcourt become?
Center Gorgui Dieng was somewhat of a revelation last season given the strides he made and the big man will likely be one of the best defensive players in the country and an All-Big East candidate as a senior next season. Chane Behanan was up and down as a freshman but still averaged 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds per game, numbers he should improve upon as well. The aforementioned Harrell has drawn rave reviews for his physicality and rebounding prowess with Team USA’s U-18 national team and should step into a contributing role right away. And then there is Van Treese, who at the very least should contribute minutes, size, and rebounding provided he stays healthy. The Cardinals have a veteran roster and they probably have more depth at the guard positions, but that is quite a talented foursome up front for Pitino. Everyone keeps saying Louisville’s success this season depends on the play of point guard Peyton Siva, but Siva is going to be fine — but improvement from the big men will be just as if not more crucial to the team’s sustained success. If Dieng continues to improve, Behanan adds offensive polish, Harrell’s learning curve isn’t steep, and Van Treese can stay healthy, this might be the most formidable frontline in the conference.
3. What can Hancock do for you?
According to Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, the Cardinals were the country’s best defensive team last year in terms of adjusted defensive efficiency. The problem was on offense, where they ranked just #103 in adjusted efficiency and often relied too often on Siva’s playmaking ability and their hit-or-miss long-range shooting. Enter George Mason transfer Luke Hancock, who sat out all of last year and was named a co-captain (along with Siva) of this year’s squad. The 6-foot-6 junior averaged 10.9 points per game and shot 35.9 percent from three-point range as a sophomore at George Mason, and the Cardinals expect big things out of him this season on the offensive end. He sat out last year so he should be familiar with the team’s offensive system, but with Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith now gone, he and the mercurial Russ Smith appear to be the team’s two best pure scoring options. Rest assured, Siva is going to make plays to get the ball in Hancock’s hands and he is going to create open shots for Hancock with his penetration, it will be up to the Virginia native to prove that he can handle Big East competition and become a stalwart for the Cardinals. Pitino and the rest of the country also expect big things from now-healthy sophomore Wayne Blackshear, but he missed a lot of last season and will undoubtedly continue to go through growing pains as he gains experience. This means that the onus will be on Hancock to provide the steady and dependable hand on the wing.