Does Chane Behanan Take Cards’ Repeat Hopes With Him?Posted by CD Bradley on December 31st, 2013
The Louisville career of Chane Behanan, which has veered from troubled (multiple suspensions) to exultant (2012 West Region MVP, 15 points and 12 rebounds in last year’s title game), ended on Monday.
In a hastily called press conference, an evidently disappointed head coach Rick Pitino announced that Behanan had been dismissed from the team by the university. The nature of the junior forward’s violation was undisclosed, but Pitino explicitly ruled out academics as well as anything related to basketball or the near-auction of his Final Four ring. He also explained that he couldn’t talk about anything related to a personal medical situation. Multiple observers, including former Louisville beat writer and current Louisville resident Pat Forde of YahooSports, interpreted that comment as something related to drug-test results. In any event, Pitino said that he could not envision Behanan returning to the team, and that he would advise him to transfer to a school where he could play after the first semester next season. Adam Zagoria tweeted on Monday afternoon that at least eight schools had already been in contact with Behanan.
The consensus reaction to the news, particularly in light of the Louisville frontcourt’s underwhelming game Saturday against Kentucky with Behanan in the lineup, was that it dooms Louisville’s repeat chances. ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman said that it was difficult to now imagine the Cards as a legitimate title threat, and The Sporting News‘ Mike Decourcy agreed that they were finished as a title contender. NBCSports‘ Rob Dauster took a slightly different position in that Louisville probably wasn’t going to repeat as champions, but that the reasons were bigger than the loss of Behanan — a player who, he argued, “was largely ineffective this season.”
While it’s true that Behanan has put up worse aggregate numbers this year, the junior has averaged only 18.6 minutes per game this season after playing roughly 26.0 per game as both a freshman and a sophomore. This reflects both the fact that he lost his starting job to Montrezl Harrell and that he didn’t practice with the team while suspended the first time and had been easing back into the rotation. Advanced statistics, in fact, suggest that he was playing at the highest level of his career: his offensive rating, offensive and defensive rebounding percentages, and effective field goal percentages were all up significantly this year, according to KenPom. And before this season, his best games have been the big ones. As a freshman, he scored in double figures in all five NCAA Tournament games (his longest stretch in the regular season had been three), and raised his rebounding average from 7.5 RPG in the regular season to 8.0 RPG in the Tournament. His best games last season, aside from a five-overtime 30 points and 15 rebounds against Notre Dame, came in the Final Four.
As noted by RTC’s Chris Johnson before news of his dismissal broke, the AAC won’t present Louisville with the type of frontcourt challenges that North Carolina and Kentucky did, so his absence will probably be felt most acutely in March when he has traditionally been at his best. Still, as an undersized four, Behanan couldn’t fix the biggest problem facing Louisville’s frontcourt — namely the Gorgui Dieng-sized hole in the middle. The lack of a rim protector and versatile offensive threat in the post has forced guards Russ Smith and Chris Jones to shoulder too much of the load in key moments, a major contributing factor in both losses. Redshirt freshman center Mangok Mathiang, who is starting because Pitino doesn’t have a better option in the post, has shown flashes offensively but makes frequent freshman mistakes in Louisville’s complex defensive schemes. A particular problem is that he often leaps out of position in an attempt to block shots, leaving his defender free to rebound the miss.
So Pitino again will have to scramble, trying some combination of more raw freshman Akoy Agau (who has had his own discipline problems) and small forward Wayne Blackshear to account for Behanan’s minutes. Last season, Pitino had to make due with a relatively thin backcourt, but starters Peyton Siva and Russ Smith were substantially better than the frontcourt players he has now. He reacted by bringing in three guards in this year’s recruiting class, and likewise signed four frontcourt players for next year. He even tried to add a big man who would have been eligible for the second semester this year, a plan that ultimately fell through. So he’s stuck with what he has, which might be enough to win the AAC in the Cardinals’ only season in the league, but looks a bit too small to replicate last year’s overwhelming national success.