I will be heading to Pittsburgh tomorrow to cover Louisville’s ACC road opener against the Pitt Panthers. While the Cards should be favored, conference road wins are tough to come by. Here are the things I’ll be looking for.
- First year Pitt head coach Jeff Capel has the Panthers off to a 10-4 start with losses on the road at Iowa, West Virginia, and North Carolina (but also at home vs Niagara. Ouch.). Still, that’s a big improvement over last year’s 8-24 (0-18 ACC) record. They’re still in rebuilding mode, and expectations in The Steel City are lukewarm, but this squad has a lot more life in them than a year ago. They’ll steal some wins in the ACC this year against teams that aren’t careful.
- The Petersen Event Center is a fascinating venue and one I’ve been wanting to visit for a while. It’s one of the newer and larger basketball arena in the ACC and, before the arrival of Kevin Stallings, was a pretty difficult road win to clinch. Not for Louisville, per se, but statistically, with Sports Illustrated calling it the toughest place to play in the Big East in 2006. It’s bright; it’s loud; and the student section, dubbed “The Oakland Zoo,” stretches the court side from end to end. USA Today awarded the Pete the second-best game environment in the country in 2013. Even if fans consider Pitt a warm-up game in week one of conference play, the atmosphere should make for a good and educational road experience for this team.
- Speaking of Pitt being a team the Cards shouldhandle, let’s hope that’s the case after the slow and sleepy starts of the last few games heading into and coming off winter break. The game against Robert Morris took more to win that it should have while the Kentucky game featured a Louisville team that wasn’t completely dialed in. Flash back to Sunday evening, where we saw the Cards give up a 15-point lead in the first half before clawing back into it and throttling Miami in the second half. Ryan McMahon said the team thought Miami “was just going to lay down,” so the Cards didn’t play hard to start the game. Will they come out tomorrow night taking Pitt more seriously?
- Look to see if Ryan McMahon starts and Darius Perry comes off the bench for this one. Actually, look to see if Darius Perry gets to leave the bench at all. Coach Mack was clearly displeased with Darius on Sunday and has stated that he’s not playing his way into meaningful minutes as of late. Against Miami, Perry had two bad turnovers in three minutes before being yanked and only returned for another minute, notching two free throws and a foul on a 3-pointer. #2 has been compared to early Russ Smith – you gotta take the turnovers to reap the lockdown defense and dynamic scoring – but it’s not Darius’ frenetic pace that’s causing him to cough up the ball. It’s an anemic passing game, the type of “casual” play that makes Coach Mack’s blood boil. It will be interesting to see how Darius will be challenged to step it up: in practice or while riding the pine.
- Much has been said about VJ King this season, and while the topic of his progress is a legitimate one, the rhetoric has been awful. He still commands the respect of his teammates, which is the most important thing. His attitude has been great, and he’s still found ways to contribute, even if they’re less flashy that some of his teammates’. His two putbacks against Miami had the KFC Yum! Center crowd roaring. That said, the guy has to find a way to get going. He’s not the only one, either. I’d put late-December Steven Enoch into the same category. We’ve seen both guys play hard and well, so the spark is there. They just need some confidence to fuel that fire, and Pitt presents the perfect opportunity to erupt for some big plays.
Be sure to follow me @DoctorColby for live updates during the game tomorrow night, as well as my random thoughts as I fan out about BTS at the Petersen Events Center.