Montrezl Harrell Provides Louisville With Consistency While Guards Fluctuate

Posted by Justin Kundrat on December 10th, 2014

An uncontested putback slam off an offensive rebound put Louisville forward Montrezl Harrell on the board. Just 24 seconds later, the Louisville pressure forced a turnover in the backcourt, providing an easy forward pass to Harrell for yet another slam. Indiana then proceeded to carelessly inbound the ball right into the hands of none other than Montrezl Harrell, who finished with another effortless dunk at the rim. This was the beginning of how the 6’8″ All-American made his mark in Tuesday night’s game against Indiana at Madison Square Garden.

Montrezl Harrell (left)

Montrezl Harrell (left) is the Best Player in the Country, According to Rick Pitino

Under Rick Pitino, Louisville has become known for its full-court trapping schemes, which utilized lightning-quick, athletic guards and wings to force their opponents into turnovers and easy baskets. Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean, Earl Clark, Terrance Williams, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith all share the lineage of playing the ever-important full-court press enforcer. But the departure of Smith from last year’s Sweet Sixteen squad left the Cardinals somewhat exposed in the backcourt, lacking a true go-to player who keys the system’s success. Question marks this season have arisen around the play of Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, the pair of whom were shooting just 29.8 percent from downtown heading into Tuesday night’s Jimmy V Classic. Yet despite their, and the team’s (49.6% eFG) less than ideal shooting performances, the Cardinals have pieced together an 8-0 record. The why can largely be attributed to their defense, which ranks among the top 10 in seven major statistical categories, and with 6’10 freshman Chinanu Onuaku anchoring the post, the defensive system employed by Pitino has allowed the junior Harrell to flourish.

For the uninformed, Montrezl Harrell is a physical specimen. The 6’8″ forward boasts a 7’3″ wingspan and a motor that enables him to cover the floor end-to-end to quickly cut off guards who may have escaped the press. “I’m not sure relentless is a strong enough word,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said after the game. His long arms enable him to block shots as a secondary defender, generate steals by playing the passing lanes and effectively control the boards on both ends of the floor. With 17:05 left in last night’s game and Indiana mounting a comeback, Harrell grabbed an offensive rebound off an airballed Rozier shot and tallied an easy basket. It was a turning point in the game, a basket that put an end to the Hoosiers’ quick 9-0 run to start the second half.

Harrell is Louisville’s leading scorer this season at 16.8 PPG, and it’s the first time that a post player has led the Cards in points per game since the 2009-10 season. What’s remarkable about Harrell, though, is the efficiency with which he scores. For the season, he’s shooting 64.1 percent, mostly on dunks after slipping behind or navigating around his defender in the post. So while Jones struggles to find consistency and Rozier works to overcome the natural growing pains of a sophomore, it is Harrell who has provided the Cardinals with a steady flow of offense and a defensive presence large enough to alter game plans every time he steps onto the floor. Indiana shot 7-of-10 from deep in the first half last night, essentially hitting every open look it had, and that still wasn’t enough to outscore Louisville, who forced 19 turnovers and pulled down 24 offensive rebounds. Harrell, who finished with 21 points and 11 rebounds on 10-of-13 shooting, continued to shine. But his contributions to the team go far beyond the stat sheet. “Harrell I think is the best player in the nation, very few players can play with that type of motor… just playing every possession as if he hasn’t eaten in a week,” Pitino said after the game.

Amid all of the talk surrounding Kentucky, Duke and Arizona, Louisville has largely flown under the radar as the nation’s No. 4 team. As the Cardinals’ continue to add to their win column, that will have to change, and their head coach agrees: “I think Kentucky and Duke are at the highest level right now. We hope to get to that level. I think we have a very high ceiling.” The effective guard play that produced last night against Indiana might not always be there for the Cardinals, but Montrezl Harrell certainly will.

Justin Kundrat (175 Posts)

Villanova grad, patiently waiting another 10 years for season tickets. Follow Justin on twitter @JustinKundrat or email him at

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