In a new series, titled, "It's Time for [name of upcoming opponent's blog] to Walk the Plank" Gonzo Ball will sit down and exchange Q&A's with the unfortunate souls who operate the premiere (shameless plug for everything SBN) blog of the The Hall's next opponent. This week, the kind folks over at Card Chronicle took some time to discuss the Louisville Cardinals as they prepare for Thursday's battle with Seton Hall.
GB: I think it’s fair to say Louisville has underperformed a bit this season, much like Seton Hall has, except the Cardinals are closer (6th) to their Big East Preseason Projection (4th) than the Pirates (14th) are to theirs (10th). Outside of the loss at Kentucky, the Cardinals non-conference schedule didn’t appear very daunting, yet they dropped a road contest to UNLV and two at Freedom Hall to Charlotte and Western Carolina. They’ve won the three games in the conference they were supposed to win, however lost both toss-ups against Villanova and Pittsburgh. It’s obviously early in conference play and Louisville is far too good of a team to just wither away, ala the Hoyas last year, however, what are the main reasons for this season's slow start? I know they were a bit banged up early on, but does it go further than injuries?
CC: Performing poorly during the non-conference portion of the schedule has become a staple of the Rick Pitino era, in fact, the Cards have made it through the month of November without a loss just once over the last nine seasons. Playing without Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva certainly did not help matters, but I don't think any Louisville fans were especially surprised to see this group struggle early. Replacing a pair of lottery picks is never an easy thing to do, and this squad is still trying to figure out how to cope without Terrence Williams and Earl Clark.
GB: Louisville was favored by 4 points at Freedom Hall when the Wildcats came to town ranked 4th in the nation; the Cardinals could have surely used the win to mark their first marquee win of the young season. Things were looking up as Pitino and the whiteout were previously undefeated in their white suits/shirts and the Cardinals jumped out to a 17 point lead with 5 minutes left in the first half. A 15-5 Nova run closed the gap to 7 at the half, however the momentum had already changed hands at that point. Villanova would take the lead with 15 minutes remaining in the game and never look back as the Cardinals went ice cold from the floor, ending the game on 32% shooting. To me, it looked like the Cardinals athleticism and energy carried them to the huge first half lead, but once Villanova calmed down and Louisville tired, the game was the Wildcats' for the taking. Did the Cardinals do themselves in by asserting all of their energy early in the game or do you look at other deciding factors in the loss to Nova?
CC: I don't think it was as much Louisville's inability to sustain the same effort level as it was 'Nova's ability to properly adapt to what the Cards were throwing at them. Everyone knew the Wildcats were too good to not make a run, and when they did U of L simply couldn't knock down enough open shots to counter. Villanova's tough enough as it is, but when Reynolds is hitting everything he throws up they're almost impossible to knock off.
GB: Last year Clark and Williams averaged greater than 34 MPG, however, this season, Louisville doesn't have a player seeing more than 27 MPG. That being said, their rotation consists of 10 players seeing at least 12MPG, the same number as the Pirates. Bobby Gonzalez often makes a point of benching players for making early mistakes, however, I feel like that makes his players uncomfortable on the floor. Granted, they play a tiring full-court press at times (not nearly the intensity of Pitino's) however, I feel that they’re afraid of making a mistake or missing a shot, fearful that they’ll be quickly relegated to the bench. What do you make of the Cardinals, deep rotation? Is Pitino attempting to keep his club fresh through the rigors of his stymieing defense?
CC: There's very little difference between starter and backup at nearly every position on this year's team, which is why you're seeing so many guys logging double-digit minutes. No Louisville player has been consistently effective, so Pitino has no real way of knowing who's going to step up on any particular night. You can definitely tell that some players are uncomfortable with being on such a short leash, and I do think it's hurt U of L at times this season. At the same time, there simply isn't a better way to deal with this issue than throwing guys out there and then sticking with the hot hand.
GB: The Cardinals have 6 players on their roster that are 6’8 or taller, taking that into consideration, explain why only 2 of them are averaging greater than 4 RPG. Something doesn’t seem right in that equation.
CC: Clark and Williams were monsters on the glass, which meant no one on this year's roster has ever been looked at to haul in nine or ten rebounds night in, night out. Samardo Samuels has been widely criticized for his inability to board, and while he's improved as the season's gone along, he still doesn't have that natural nose for the ball that Earl and T-Will had. Rebounding is pretty difficult to teach, and Louisville's big men are still trying to learn.
GB: Louisville decided to retain Rick Pitino despite having a clause in the contract to fire him for, "acts of moral depravity or misconduct that damages the university's reputation." After the wild accusations and Pitino’s admission of infidelity, was the University more concerned with his reputation as one of the greatest college basketball coaches than the reputation of his personal life? Surely 6 NCAA berths in eight years helps a bit, not to mention a final four appearance and two elite eight showings.
I think the university was probably more concerned with its own reputation than Pitino's personal reputation or career.
Editor's Note: So you're saying you don't consider his act of moral depravity as damaging to the university's reputation?
GB: If the possibility of a Sopranos movie comes to fruition, tell me Ricky will audition for a leading role? Seriously, a case can be made that he’s a bigger boss than Tony himself. He’s already got the look, the white suit, the gold pinky ring, the affair, he doles out gifts in the form of a $60K Lexus IS and he even had his national championship ring RETURNED. That’s serious. Would you be on board if filming didn’t take away from recruiting and other team activities?
CC: They already play The Godfather theme when he walks out at home games, so why not?
A big thanks to the folks over at Card Chronicle for taking the time to answer our questions. Best of luck Thursday, gentlemen.