Kevin Ware’s Return is Key to the Louisville Backcourt TransitionPosted by CD Bradley on October 14th, 2013
When Kevin Ware returns from the gruesome leg injury that made him famous – perhaps as early as Louisville’s first game – he will find himself in something of a new role for the defending champions.
Early last season, the then-sophomore guard often found himself on Rick Pitino’s bad side, culminating in a one-game suspension in late January. Between then and his injury at the Elite Eight, he basically became the sole backup for starting guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith. In the Cards’ Sweet Sixteen game against Oregon, the last before his injury, he played 25 minutes and scored a career-high 11 points after Siva picked up two quick fouls in the first five minutes. Walk-on Tim Henderson, whose two threes keyed the comeback against Wichita State in the Final Four, probably would not have played had Ware been healthy. By the end of last season, Ware was able to slide into the backcourt with little dropoff in Pitino’s defensive pressure, in large part because he added a dimension that both Siva and Smith lacked: length. Listed as two inches taller than the starters, his long arms helped wreak havoc in the press and gave Pitino another option against the larger guards who sometimes gave Siva and Smith trouble. In limited shooting (37 attempts), Ware also shot 40.6% from the three-point line last year, the highest such percentage on the team.
Pitino has suggested he will bring Ware along slowly, a luxury he can probably afford given the much deeper backcourt he expects to have this year. Siva is now a Detroit Piston, but three newcomers – JuCo point guard Chris Jones (who should start next to Smith) as well as freshmen Terry Rozier and Anton Gill – will provide the Cardinals with more guard options. The roster generously lists Smith and Rozier at 6’1” and Jones at 5’10”, so Ware’s length, as well as that of the 6’4” Gill, will still be important. Perhaps more important will be Ware’s experience in Pitino’s complex defensive schemes, which often switch between zone and man on the same possession, and particularly on the press. Louisville’s trips to the Final Four have been fueled by a defense ranked first in the nation by Ken Pomeroy both years, led by Siva and Smith’s pressure up top and Gorgui Dieng’s interior paint presence. With Siva and Dieng now in the NBA, and several newcomers being added to the large returning cast, Ware’s knowledge of the system could help ease that transition once he regains his game shape. Whether Louisville can maintain its lofty defensive numbers will most likely be the key determining factor in their title defense, and Ware will play an important role in that determination.