Terry Rozier’s Rise Keys Louisville’s Charge Into MarchPosted by CD Bradley on March 1st, 2014
Louisville heads into today’s game at Memphis as one of the hottest teams in the country, riding a seven-game winning streak and 11 of 12. In a league full of top-notch backcourts, perhaps the biggest reason for the Cardinals’ success is that theirs has been the best. And the most surprising reason for that is precocious freshman Terry Rozier.
Rozier was a highly-touted recruit that Louisville fans had to wait on for quite some time due to a year-long stopover at prep school. When he finally arrived in the fall, he was overshadowed by incoming JuCo star Chris Jones. Rick Pitino eased in the freshman; in his first eight games, he never played 20 minutes or scored in double figures, averaging fewer than 15 minutes and five points per game. Despite his limited playing time, one key statistic offered a glimpse of what was to come: In those eight games, he dished out 13 assists against only two turnovers. In his next 16 games, he got more time and offered more productivity in kind. He topped 20 minutes 11 times in those 16 games, averaging 8.6 points per game and posting nearly a 3-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio.
During Louisville’s last four games, though, he appears to have made The Leap. He made the SportsCenter Top 10, as shown in the clip above, and a national writer called him the best NBA prospect on the defending national champions. He even got his Hall of Fame head coach to compare him favorably to a much more heralded freshman: “Tyler Ennis is awesome, plays all 40 minutes, and he is a great, great basketball player; one of the premier players in the country, but he is up here, and I put Terry up here too. So that is the highest compliment that I can give him.” Russ Smith, his All-American teammate, said, “He’s determined to be probably the best player in the country. He’s gonna be that, real soon.” And instead of making a freshman mistake and taking a contested jumper, he made the pass to Smith that set up the game-winning shot in the Cardinals’ signature victory a week ago at Cincinnati. He has shared the story of his unusual upbringing as well as his fear of squirrels.
In those last four games — all Cardinal victories — Rozier has averaged 23 minutes and 14.8 points per game. He’s added 15 rebounds, nine assists, seven steals and only two turnovers, and he has more games without turnovers this season (15) than with them (13). He also has the fourth-lowest turnover percentage among freshmen, in case you were wondering. In the four-game stretch, he’s shooting 57 percent, including 53 percent from three-point range. His offensive rating of 121.8 for the year ranks in the top 100 nationally, and over the last four games it’s risen to 147.5. For comparison, Russ Smith has only topped that average in two games this year, both against Temple.
Louisville rolls into March with renewed hope for a third straight Final Four and second straight national championship. Backcourt play is a key to postseason success, and no one has better guard play than the Cardinals. This is thanks in no small part to the play of a freshman who’s scared of squirrels but has no fear when the game is on the line. As he put it after the Cincinnati win, “This is what we’re made of.” As the calendar turns to March, we shall certainly find out.