This is a game that I have been looking forward to for quite some time and chief among the reasons is that I will be calling it on 89.5 FM WSOU. So all you SOJuicers out there - listen on in on your radios or online at WSOU.net. Pregame starts at about 6:45, with the tipoff set for 7 PM.
Now, the Cardinals have feasted on their relatively weak schedule, but they have faced three ranked teams, throttling then-number 18 Butler (who is now unranked and just lost by 24 to UW-Milwaukee), getting a quality win over then-number 19 UNLV, and getting beat most recently in their last game by Kentucky.
Here's the full report:
20010-11 record: 11-2 (0-0 Big East)
2009-10 record: 20-13 (11-7 Big East, NCAA First Round)
Key losses: Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith, Reginald Delk, Samardo Samuels
Key Returnees: Preston Knowles, Peyton Siva, Terrence Jennings, Jared Swopshire, Kyle Kuric, Gorgui Dieng (freshman), Chris Smith (walk-on, transfer)
The Cardinals came into the year without some key pieces in Sosa, Smith, Delk, and Samuels, who declared for the NBA Draft to the surprise of many. Head Coach Rick Pitino noticed that this left him without a ton of proven talent, and therefore came into the season with one plan in mind: RUN. RUN. AND THEN RUN SOME MORE.
For the most part, the Cards have been successful, as their record indicates. However, in their most recent showdown with in-state archrival Kentucky, they showed that when forced into a halfcourt set, they tend to struggle, especially when Peyton Siva cannot penetrate into the lane. While the Pirates have been mostly successful in transition this year, they cannot afford to try and run with the Cardinals because it plays right into their hands. It is an interesting dilemma for a team that cannot generate offense in the halfcourt whatsoever at the moment.
Defensively, in the halfcourt or in their patented Pitino Press, they guard with a frenzy and an intent to turn you over and get you to play faster than you want to. Bobby Gonzalez tried this style of turnover-or-bust basketball with the Pirates, but Pitino's version is built upon trapping as well as the increased speed aspect. He's been running it for years, and he's not going to stop now, especially when he has Preston Knowles and Siva using their quick hands to force about 12 steals per game, first in the Big East.
Knowles has stepped up his game almost by default. The 6'2" senior is averaging a team-high 15.7 PTS. He has seen it all, and he's shooting the ball with extremely high confidence this year, to the tune of 43% from deep on a team-high 90 attempts. He is extremely dangerous on the catch-and-shoot, and also can drive to the basket and draw contact to get to the line, where he's shooting 87%. He is also the Cards' best individual defender to boot.
Siva has assumed the starting point guard role and has used his quickness to draw the defense on his drives so he can kick out to open shooters on the perimeter. He's second on the team in scoring at 11.1 PTS along with 4.9 AST, by far the best on the team. He's shooting almost 50% from the field, but those are mostly layups generated from the drives he executes into the paint. He lacks a consistent outside shot, making only 27% from there, so Jordan Theodore and Keon Lawrence would be advised to play off him and make him make shots.
The Cardinals are extremely thin up front, as injuries have decimated their depth. Both their big men (Terrence Jennings and Gorgui Dieng) are long and athletic shot-blocking types, which fit nicely into Pitino's system, but nevertheless rebounding has not been a strength for them (5.2 REB for Jennings, 4.8 REB for Dieng). The Cards' leading rebounder, Rakeem Buckles, is out with a spiral fracture in his finger. The loss of Buckles combined with the slower pace of the game gave Kentucky an edge on the boards that took over when Louisville started to miss shots. Jared Swopshire has been out for a long time with a groin injury that could end his season. It is imperative that the Pirates rebound in this game, because the Cardinals, while a good shooting team overall, are very streaky. When they go cold, Herb Pope, Jeff Robinson, Patrik Auda and the rest need to be Windex men to clean the glass.
Other contributors that the Pirates need to not lose track of are skilled Manhattan transfer and walk-on Chris Smith, standstill shooter extraordinaire Kyle Kuric, and the streaky Mike Marra. Marra has been hobbled by a sprained ankle recently, so that should help the Pirates if he continues to be bothered by it.
PIRATES WILL WIN IF:
- They control the tempo. It will be the crucial concept of this game. The team that controls the tempo will win the game.
- They keep Peyton Siva out of the lane. Much of the halfcourt offense (when the Cards are not on the break) revolves around Siva making plays off of penetration.
- They rebound on the defensive end. If the Pirates focus too much on offensive rebounding, it could lead to run-outs by the Cards' offense, which will spell doom for Seton Hall.
CARDS WILL WIN IF:
- They make threes. The Cards are almost impossible to stop when those deep shots are dropping.
- They control the tempo, forcing Jordan Theodore and the Pirates to play too fast for their own good.
- Jennings and Dieng hold their own against the more skilled Pirate frontcourt.
That's all I've got for now. Remember- 89.5 FM WSOU or WSOU.net at 6:45 to hear me on play-by-play. You can also call up Hall Line afterwards to talk about the game and/or the team at 973-761-WSOU (9768). Tune on in. A win in Louisville for the first time since 1952 would be huge for a team that is lacking much confidence coming off the loss in Cincinnati. Do the Pirates have what it takes to help Kevin Willard against his mentor as well as his dad?