Big East M5: 02.01.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on February 1st, 2013

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  1. The U.S. Basketball Writer’s Association released its Oscar Robertson Trophy Midseason Watch List yesterday, which featured Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams and Louisville’s Russ Smith. The Big Ten placed four players on the list, followed by the Big East and Big 12 with two apiece. The award, which recognizes the best player in college basketball each season, hasn’t been claimed by a Big East player since St. John’s Walter Berry won it in 1986. While Carter was a consensus 4/5-star recruit with NBA prospects coming out of high school, the recognition denotes a long three-year journey for Smith, who was hardly even evaluated by national scouting services out of high school.
  2. Syracuse forward James Southerland will get an opportunity to appeal his recent academic suspension before a university panel next week, but not before missing two more games. Jim Boeheim’s leading three-point shooter will sit out for upcoming bouts at Pitt and at home against Notre Dame. But in light of DaJuan Coleman’s recent knee injury, Southerland’s presence under the basket might be missed most of all: The two combine to average 9.5 rebounds per game. The Orange bench will only go seven deep for at least two pivotal games, but at least for Syracuse fans there’s a definite possibility that Southerland could return this season.
  3. Speaking of timetables, Rick Pitino revealed during his weekly radio show yesterday that there’s a chance Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware could both return for Sunday’s game with Marquette. Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Ware (“indefinite” suspension) both practiced yesterday for the first time this week. Blackshear was expected to recover from his injury this week, but news of Ware re-entering Pitino’s good graces came as a surprise to Louisville fans. He seemed firmly and perhaps irrevocably planted in the doghouse after the Pitt game, when his coach claimed he “isn’t coming back anytime soon.” We’re left to wonder what exactly it was that Ware did, but Pitino indicated it wasn’t an egregious offense like drug use.
  4. Though outrebounded by a Big East-record 55-24 margin, UConn managed to outduel Providence on the road in overtime last night, 82-79. It was a war of attrition Ryan Boatright claims last year’s Huskies would have surrendered: “Last year’s team, when it got tough like that, when they made all those runs, we would have folded.” Jeff Jacobs at The Hartford Courant outlines a strong argument that the Big East members’ agreement to exclude the Huskies from the conference tournament looks increasingly disingenuous as league members disperse to greener pastures. “It’s too bad all those schools that are fleeing the conference sit in judgment of UConn. At this point, the only schools that should count are Cincinnati, South Florida and the schools that are coming in to be part of the Big East’s future.”
  5. They may be sitting in third place in the league standings with a 6-3 record, but Steve Lavin recognizes his St. John’s team is “still a work in progress.” Despite two impressive wins over ranked teams in the top half of the conference, the Red Storm have narrowly avoided upset against their last two inferior opponents and the meat of their schedule undeniably lies ahead of them. Lavin’s players are well aware of the criticism and seem excited for an opportunity to make a statement against another hot team. Said D’Angelo Harrison, “Teams are probably still doubting us because if you look at our schedule we’ve played the bottom half of the league. We’re looking to prove ourselves at Georgetown next.”
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Morning Five: 01.30.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 30th, 2013

morning5

  1. For the NCAA, the Ed O’Bannon likeness case is the gift that keeps on taking. The latest procedural twist in the case — which will not even go to trial until 18 months from now — is that the players will have the right to make a legal claim against the billions in television revenue that the NCAA earns through the broadcasting of its football and basketball games. The plaintiffs are hoping to become certified as a class-action representation, which would allow every former and current NCAA athlete a slice of the pie if the case is eventually won on the merits. There’s a long way to go before that outcome, but by and large, the case has thus far been more favorable to the O’Bannon team than the suits in Indy.
  2. We may never get the original Magic Eight as its creator Grant Wahl abandoned us to write books about male underwear models, but there have been a number of individuals who have tried to fill the void including Luke Winn who received the Magic Eight ball in a care package from Grant two years ago. Peter Tiernan is trying to follow in those footsteps with his own formula for picking a champion. Looking back at data from the last 12 champions, he claims to have found eight key criteria a champion must have. Using his formula he has found eight teams that as of Tuesday morning meet those guidelines. Obviously the numbers from each of these teams can change over the next 45 days until we get to Selection Sunday (or is it technically the last Monday of the season?), but this could provide you with a good thing to keep in mind when you are filling out your brackets in March.
  3. We usually have to report injuries here so we enjoy being able to report that players are coming back from injuries. The biggest positive news on that front comes from Missouri where Laurence Bowers is expected to return to play possibly as early as tonight against LSU. Bowers has been out since January 8 with a sprained MCL and the Tigers have struggled in his absence going 3-2 including an embarrassing loss at Florida where it seemed like the entire team forgot to get on the plane to Gainesville. Missouri will need Bowers to be back at 100% if they are going to challenge Florida’s control in the SEC this season. Fortunately the Tigers have a relatively easy stretch (ok, you could say that about the entire SEC schedule) to get Bowers back to form before they get another shot at the Gators on February 19 in Mizzou Arena.
  4. Michigan also got some good news yesterday when it was announced that Jordan Morgan had a sprained ankle after x-rays on his right ankle did not reveal any fractures. This is obviously big news for the Wolverines with their showdown in Bloomington on Saturday night looming. Morgan will be particularly important against the Hoosiers because he would be matched up against Tyler Zeller, who would be a tough match-up even if he has had a relatively disappointing sophomore season. Before that game, the Wolverines play against Northwestern tonight, but we don’t have much information coming out of Ann Arbor except for this insightful analysis: “If he can play, he’ll play. But if he’s still hurt, he won’t.”
  5. The news for Louisville was more mixed as they announced that Wayne Blackshear will be returning from a shoulder injury to play against Marquette on Sunday, but Kevin Ware will “not be coming back anytime soon” from his suspension. We still are not sure why Ware has been suspended and schools are so secretive with this information that it could be pretty much anything. Blackshear’s return is more important for a team that has been more offensively challenged that usual in the past week, but it would be short-sighted to dismiss the contributions of Ware who has played 15.3 minutes per game. At this point Louisville could use all the help it can get to right their sinking ship.
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Walk-on Contributions Help Louisville Exorcise Late-Game Demons Against Pittsburgh

Posted by Will Tucker on January 29th, 2013

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and Big East microsite writer. He filed this report after Monday night’s Louisville-Pittsburgh game.

Louisville endured a three-point shooting onslaught from Pitt down the stretch to hold on to a 64-61 victory on Monday night in the Yum! Center. The Panthers hit five of their eight threes in the final seven minutes, but the Cardinals made the necessary plays in the final possessions — demonstrating a resilience conspicuously absent in close losses to Syracuse and Georgetown. Most impressive was the fact that the Cardinals pulled out the win in spite of sudden attrition on its wings. Wayne Blackshear (sprained shoulder) and Kevin Ware (unspecified suspension) weren’t in the lineup, subtracting 38 reliable minutes per game from Rick Pitino’s rotation.

(Credit Andy Lyons)

Louisville’s Tim Henderson played 14 sound minutes off the bench (Credit: Andy Lyons)

Leading up to the game, the two teams appeared headed in vastly different directions. Louisville had lost three consecutive Big East gut-punches and was facing the possibility of a 4-4 record in conference play less than two weeks removed from a #1 ranking in the polls; Pittsburgh had won four straight, capped off by an emphatic 38-point win over DePaul. Rick Pitino’s team needed no extra motivation (nor anxiety) to get up for Pitt, but that’s exactly what they got when they learned in the past couple days that Blackshear and Ware would sit out.

The outlook was bleak on paper, with the eighth-most efficient offense in the country entering the Yum! Center. Who would defend Pitt’s Lamar Patterson and Tray Woodall, who were shooting 39% and 37% from beyond the arc, respectively? Louisville’s lineup was about to get smaller, and it had already allowed Big East foes to shoot more than 34% from outside (fourth worst in the league). Could UofL’s increasingly anemic offense survive the void left by Blackshear’s scoring, which accounts for 12% of their points in league play?

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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.28.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 28th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Things are a little quiet this week with mostly match-ups between top and bottom teams in the conferences.  However, there are a few games that mean a lot to certain teams, including those in some of the smaller conferences. Let’s get to the breakdowns!

Pittsburgh at #8 Louisville – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

Pitino looks to end a three game slide to in-state rival Kentucky on Saturday (AP)

Pitino needs to stop the bleeding at Louisville (AP)

  • Louisville is in an absolute must-win situation. They have lost their last three games and have struggled at crunch time with opportunities to win. Everyone keeps saying the Cardinals still could be the team to beat in March. However, history shows that teams that lose three games in a row during the regular season rarely win the title. Only four teams since 1980 have lost three games in a row and still managed to win the whole thing – 1982-83 North Carolina State, 1984-85 Villanova, 1987-88 Kansas, and 2005-06 Florida. Only one team in history has lost four games in a row and still won the tourney – Danny Manning and the Miracles (Kansas actually lost five straight at one point that season). The reality is that Rick Pitino‘s team is a poor shooting team and unless they get that corrected quickly, Louisville should not be considered a threat to win it all. Pittsburgh on the other hand seems to be turning things around. After starting 1-3 in conference play, they have managed to rattle off four straight wins. Both teams need a win to stay within two games of Syracuse and Marquette in the Big East. Pitt has improved their shooting and offensive rebounding in the last four contests and has been able to play tough defense without putting teams on the line. Keep a close eye on how Pitt does in the paint against Louisville shot blocker Gorgui Dieng. The Panthers are not a threat from three, so most of their points will come from inside the arc. For Louisville, they need to convert their turnovers into points by simply hitting shots. While Pittsburgh is not as long as Syracuse, Villanova, and Georgetown, they are not short. So Pitino’s crew needs to get to the basket for lay-ups and dunks. Shooting over the top is not a great way to break a shooting slump. Watch Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, as their performance on the interior will be the key to Louisville breaking their losing streak.

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Set Your DVR: Week of 01.14.13

Posted by bmulvihill on January 14th, 2013

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Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Conference season has leveled the playing field as the remaining unbeaten teams have all lost. The Big Ten schedule is proving to be an absolute gauntlet and the Mountain West is nothing to sneeze at. Both leagues have stellar games this week along side a few other notable match-ups from around the nation. Let’s get to the breakdowns:

#1 Louisville at Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST, Monday on ESPN (****)

kevin ollie napier

  • The Louisville Cardinals are moved into the top spot in the nation after losses this weekend by Duke and Michigan and a loss by Arizona earlier last week. Their first game as #1 will be no easy contest as they head to Connecticut in a tough Big East road match-up. The Huskies are coming off a significant win at Notre Dame, which rarely loses at home, but it looks like UConn has their number, as they account for ND’s only two losses at home in the last two and a half years. UConn guards Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier will be the focus of this game, as they face intense pressure from the Louisville defense. Up to this point in the season, both players have protected the ball quite well, particularly Napier who is only giving it up on 11% of his possessions. They must be able to handle the press however in order to give the team a chance to win this game. Also, keep an eye on UConn’s Tyler Olander. He went 8-9 from the field against Notre Dame going for 16 points and 7 rebounds. He will be surrounded by very athletic big men on Louisville. UConn needs him to produce against Gorgui Dieng and company to take some pressure off the guards. The difference in this game may actually be Louisville on the offensive boards. The Huskies rank 298th in defensive rebounding percentage. With the Cardinals throwing Dieng, Chane Behanan, and Wayne Blackshear at the glass on the offensive end, it’s going to be tough for UConn to prevent second chance points. However, if they can limit turnovers, they have a shot to win at home.

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Big East M5: New Year’s Eve Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 31st, 2012

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  1. Early in the season, one of the things that the 2012-13 Syracuse Orange seemed to have on the 2011-12 edition was reliable three-point shooting. James Southerland and Trevor Cooney can both act potentially as knock-down shooters for Jim Boeheim. Syracuse has struggled to score recently, and poor outside shooting is one of the main reasons for this lull. The Orange are now shooting 32% from behind the arc this season, and are just 5-of-33 since halftime of the win over Detroit. Boeheim acknowledges this issue, but doesn’t offer up much in the way of a detailed solution after Syracuse’s win over Alcorn State: “Well, it is what it is… Whatever the stats are, they don’t lie. Shooting stats don’t lie. Some people think they do. But they don’t.”
  2. With a dwindling lead against archrival Kentucky, Louisville’s Russ Smith started doing what he’s done all season – he made huge plays. Pat Forde describes how strange it is for Cardinals fans to think of Smith as their star, even this far into the season: “The improbable rise of Russ Smith as a s-s-s-star (hard to type with a straight face) has keyed everything Louisville has done last March and so far this season.” Louisville is right about where most people expected they would be, but Smith’s breakout has shifted the focus off of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, the players that people expected to lead the Cardinals to a great 2012-13 season.  Siva, Dieng, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, and a slew of other Cardinals are still very dangerous college players, and when combined with the dynamo Smith, who is averaging a shade under 20 points per game, Louisville is set to make major noise come March.
  3. GoLocalProv sports writer Scott Cordischi thinks that Providence coach Ed Cooley needs to ‘cool’ it down with regards to calling out his players after games. When asked a question about LaDontae Henton’s stretch of 24 straight points for the Friars in a loss to Brown, Cooley ignored Henton’s offensive outburst and put down his defensive performance, calling it “awful.” Cordischi also notes that Cooley alluded to the team as soft with regards to Bryce Cotton’s injuries, and earlier in the year diminished a 13-assist effort by Kris Dunn in his first collegiate game, calling it “gross.” While many coaches in all sports use the media to motivate their teams, I can see where Cordischi is concerned that Cooley is being too negative with respect to his players. Losses to teams like Brown are frustrating, but those thing will happen with a young, raw team like Providence.
  4. The transfer of Malcolm Gilbert from Pitt to Fairfield may be disconcerting to some Panthers fans, but it isn’t coming as a huge surprise to Jamie Dixon. Gilbert has always wanted to play with his brother Marcus, who is a freshman forward for the Stags, and he will have a chance to do that next season by leaving between semesters. Pitt fans may worry about this becoming a trend for Dixon’s program after losing Khem Birch last season, but the guys at Pitt blog Cardiac Hill don’t seem to be too worried, as this transfer seems to be more about an opportunity elsewhere rather than an issue with Dixon or the Panther program.
  5. USF star Anthony Collins was taken off the floor on a stretcher after being kneed in the head while diving for a loose ball during a 61-57 win over George Mason. After the game, Stan Heath said that Collins had feeling in all of his extremities, which is obviously a positive sign, but it is always jarring to see a player taken out of a game like that, especially in today’s sports world where concussions and head injuries are so prominent in the public consciousness. The Bulls also lost Victor Rudd to a concussion in the second half, and are very banged up heading into Big East play.
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Can Louisville Adapt to a Life Without Threes?

Posted by Will Tucker on November 15th, 2012

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and a Big East microsite writer. He filed this report after Thursday night’s Louisville-Samford game.

Louisville overwhelmed Samford in all facets of the game tonight, 80-54, to advance to 2-0 and defend their #2 ranking. The box score and postgame highlights will depict a dominant display befitting of an elite team, replete with a 53-28 rebounding margin, a punishing 38 points in the paint, and numerically terrifying double-doubles from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng. But any Louisville fan that watched the game and knows a lick about basketball (read: almost all of them) will temper the glowing conclusions you’d reach from a brief recap. Their team shot 1-8 from three in the first half, but elected to judiciously move the ball into the paint more often than jack up threes. When Samford finally packed the paint with a zone defense and served up wide open looks from beyond the arc in the second half, the Cards took the bait and went 6-23, finishing at a 23% that elicited increasingly frustrated collective groans from the 20,016 on hand at the KFC Yum! Center with each successive brick.

Louisville needs to utilize Chane Behanan to score more efficiently

Despite all the things this Louisville team does well (and several things they already do great), their first two games of the 2012-13 season have exposed just how badly they lack a reliable three-point threat. Tonight’s contest refuted any notion that this Louisville team may achieve even average outside shooting. Rick Pitino had displayed uncharacteristic concern over his wings’ jump shots in his postgame press conference last Sunday, after former McDonald’s All-American Wayne Blackshear and transfer Luke Hancock combined to shoot 3-14 from beyond the arc against Manhattan. Tonight, they delivered a dismal 2-18 (11%) performance from outside, while streaky shooter Russ Smith (4-7 3FG) was the only one who salvaged Louisville’s team stat of 7-31 from long range. Blackshear and Hancock, both billed as capable jump shooters, have looked noticeably frustrated in the first two games of the year. Pitino tonight related Hancock to a hitter in a slump, forcing his shot in a fruitless effort “to make contact.” Blackshear, for his part, seems headed in the right direction, appearing much more assertive and confident as he built a somewhat inefficient stat line of 13 points and five rebounds tonight.

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Big East Opening Weekend: The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly

Posted by mlemaire on November 12th, 2012

College basketball tipped off Friday and as the weekend drew to a close, all but two Big East teams have played and only two of them lost. From Connecticut’s shocking win over Michigan State to South Florida’s disastrous debut against Central Florida, Big East fans who weren’t able to get to their televisions this weekend missed a lot of good action. Rather than recap each game individually or only focus on some of the games, we figured the best way to get the uninformed up to speed was with a broad look at some of the best and worst from conference programs this weekend.

The Good

UConn’s Surprising Victory in Germany Represented a Big East Highlight of the Weekend

  • Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie’s debut. The first year coach couldn’t have scripted a better start to his career than his team’s gritty 66-62 win over No. 14 Michigan State in Germany. Not only did the rookie head coach beat a legend in Tom Izzo, but his team played with passion and determination, especially considering they don’t have a postseason to look forward to. The good Shabazz Napier (25 points and zero turnovers) showed up for the Huskies and the defense held the Spartans to just 37.5 percent from the field for the game. Ollie isn’t going to earn a long-term contract after one game, but if he can get his team to play that hard all season, he may win over the decision-makers in Storrs.
  • Jack Cooley’s first game as Notre Dame’s offensive focal point. The team effort wasn’t great and if it wasn’t for the all-around performance of Cooley (19 points, 11 rebounds, six blocks) the Fighting Irish may have lost their season opener to Evansville. The obvious elephant in the room is that the Aces didn’t have anyone in their frontcourt remotely capable of dealing with Cooley’s size and strength, and that will definitely not be the case every week. But Cooley was ruthlessly efficient, active defensively and on the glass, and smart with the ball in the post. The Fighting Irish will need to be better on the perimeter if they want to meet expectations this season, but it is always nice to have an anchor in the post if they need it. Read the rest of this entry »
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Cards Roll After Slow Start: Notes and Observations

Posted by Will Tucker on November 11th, 2012

Will Tucker is an RTC correspondent and a Big East microsite writer. He can be found on Twitter @blrdswag

The Louisville Cardinals officially kicked off their season this afternoon with a decisive victory over Steve Masiello’s shorthanded Manhattan team. There were several intriguing narratives heading into today’s game, in which Rick Pitino’s squad sought to validate their lofty preseason ranking and answer some lingering questions about their player rotation and offense. Here are a handful of the most compelling storylines and some conclusions we can draw from the Manhattan game:

The Cards Scrapped Their Way to a Big Victory on Sunday

  • Manhattan’s odds of pulling off an upset in Louisville took a major blow hours before tip off, when it was revealed that star senior George Beamon (19 PPG) would sit out today with an ankle injury. This made it even more difficult to gauge the Cardinals. The overwhelmed Jaspers turned it over 27 times under the duress of Louisville’s athletic full-court press –– the most Louisville has forced since 2004. Masiello admitted after the game that even had Beamon played and everything had gone right for them, his team would have still lost by a comfortable margin.
  • The most anticipated competition heading into the season was at the power forward position, where embattled sophomore Chane Behanan returned today after serving a suspension for both of Louisville’s exhibition games. Pitino opted to start promising freshman Montrezl Harrell, who played extremely well in both preseason contests, but both players split minutes and spent much of the first half on the court at the same time after Gorgui Dieng picked up two fouls in the first two minutes. Harrell certainly didn’t appear eager to forfeit his place in the starting lineup, recording six points, four rebounds, a block and a steal, all the while exhibiting the unrelenting motor that recruiting analysts had raved about during his high school career. For his part, Behanan seemed to respond well to the challenge, grabbing a team-high nine rebounds, eight points, and a career-high three steals in 24 minutes. The game didn’t definitely determine the picture at the four spot going forward, but it seems unlikely Behanan, the MVP of last season’s NCAA Tournament West Regional, will tolerate the indignity of being displaced by a freshman for long. That kind of motivation can only be a good thing for Louisville fans. Read the rest of this entry »
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Tipping Off The Big East Countdown: #1 Louisville

Posted by mlemaire on November 11th, 2012

It is truly a testament to the coaching ability of Rick Pitino that last season’s offensively challenged Louisville team made the Final Four after finishing the regular season seventh in the conference. The Cardinals had trouble scoring and dealt with a rash of injuries all season, and yet when most of the dust had cleared, there was Pitino and his team, scrapping with an overpowering Kentucky team in the Final Four. In the end, Kentucky was too much, but now the roles have reversed. The team in Lexington has a lot of questions to answer, while the team in Louisville returns four of its top six scorers, including the reigning conference defensive player of the year and one of the favorites for this season’s conference player of the year. Assuming some of the team’s underclassmen progress as expected and most of the team can stay healthy, there are very few squads in the country who can match the Cardinals’ combination of talent and depth. Now it will be up to Pitino and his staff to put all the pieces together. There are still plenty of questions about where the offense will come from and the roster’s one weakness may be its lack of an accomplished outside shooter. But the Cardinals’ defense was the most efficient in the country last season and it should be almost as good if not better this season. Anything less than a return trip to the Final Four will probably be viewed as a disappointment, especially if that team in Lexington makes it back instead.

2011-12 Record: 30-10, 10-8

2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Final Four, lost to Kentucky 69-61.

Rick Pitino Has Louisville Poised To Make A Repeat Run To The Final Four

Schedule: Just a quick glance at the Cardinals’ non-conference slate should make it plainly obvious that Louisville will have little trouble with the opposition in the early part of the season. A December trip to Memphis and the home bout with Kentucky right before the New Year represent what should be the only two challenging non-conference opponents Louisville will face. As for the conference schedule, aside from a four-game stretch in the middle of January where a home date with Syracuse is sandwiched between road games at Connecticut and Villanova and then Georgetown, the rest of the conference slate should be manageable for a team as experienced, deep, and physical as the Cardinals.

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Big East Summer Capsules: Louisville Cardinals

Posted 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.

Is Pitino Running Lesser Players Out Of Town To Make Room For New Ones?

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?

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Red Hot Louisville Rides Its Winning Momentum

Posted by rtmsf on February 21st, 2012

Bill Hupp is an RTC correspondent. You can follow him on Twitter (@Bill_Hupp). He filed this report following Louisville’s 90- 82 road OT win over DePaul on Saturday.

Rise of the Redbirds

They came by the busload, making the five-hour trek up through Indianapolis and then northwest to the Chicago suburb of Rosemont. Saturday may as well have been “Occupy Allstate Arena” because the red-clad Louisville fans undoubtedly outnumbered DePaul supporters. They roared when Russ Smith was swiping steals and finishing tough drives, when Peyton Siva was driving deep into the lane and finding Chris Smith, when Kyle Kuric slipped to the left corner and buried trey after trey. Ah yes, this was Louisville basketball. After starting the season like a house afire (12-0), Louisville dropped five of its next seven games, the low point being an ugly 31-point drubbing at the hands of Providence. With Saturday’s 90-82 overtime win at DePaul, however, the Cardinals have now won seven of their last eight, the only loss coming at home by a single point to #2 Syracuse. Even with Chane Behanan struggling with the flu and Gorgui Dieng and Peyton Siva in foul trouble on Saturday, Louisville (21-6, 9-5 Big East) still managed to erase a 10-point halftime deficit to earn the win. They have the talent to play with anyone in the country, but there are a few keys that can help the Cards continue their roll and enter the postseason with momentum.

Rick Pitino and Louisville Have Given Redbird Nation A Lot To Cheer About Lately. (Getty)

  • Louisville needs Peyton Siva to stay out of early foul trouble. He loves being active at the top of their trademark 2-3 zone, but when he accumulates silly reach fouls early, he gets relegated to the bench. That disrupts Louisville’s offensive rhythm and flow because Smith doesn’t play as quickly as Siva. Russ Smith is a talented scorer off the bench, but he’s more of a two-guard than a point guard. He has a habit of over-dribbling at times and doesn’t distribute the ball nearly as well as Siva.
  • Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith must continue to stay hot from beyond the arc. Louisville’s offense becomes a little one-dimensional when Kuric’s distance shooting is taken away. Against DePaul, Kuric buried five three-pointers on his way to a season-high 25 points. If Kuric and/or Smith are hitting treys, that loosens up the defense for Siva and Smith to penetrate and get to the basket.
  • The sooner that freshman stud Wayne Blackshear can get comfortable and integrated into the team, the better. He hit a few shots early against DePaul, but then looked a little lost and didn’t play much in the latter stages of the second half. It’s hard to say how much Blackshear will be able to give Louisville in his return from a torn ACL. But there’s a reason he was expected to contribute immediately, and his return only gives Louisville more size and weapons on offense.
  • Gorgui Dieng must be a threat on defense and offense. He will always be a force on the boards and the defensive end (leads the Big East with 3.3 blocks per game). But as Rick Pitino pointed out after the game, Dieng needs to be willing and able to hit the mid-range jumper, especially when a team goes zone against Louisville. His ability to do that only increases the potency of Louisville’s attacks.
  • Difficult games against Pittsburgh and at Syracuse still await Louisville before postseason play begins. If they can avoid foul trouble and maximize their offensive efficiency, the Cardinals should enter the Big East Tournament flying high.

A Quick Look Back

Louisville made it a point to acknowledge the fans after the thrilling victory over DePaul:

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