Rinse. Repeat. That’s been the story for the Louisville Cardinals Basketball team as of late. Each of it’s last four opponents have an RPI over 170. Louisville has beat each of these opponents by an average of more than 25 points. Tonight was no exception when Louisville met it’s fellow ‘conference outcast’ in Rutgers, the newly bearded Cardinals defeated the Scarlet Knights 102-54. Another bad team, according to the RPI the 198th best team in the Country type of ‘bad’, another resounding victory.

It’s fun to watch David Levitch drop f0ur points + a spectacular pass in garbage time, I thoroughly enjoy watching Akoy Agau hit 13-foot rainbows in the waning moments – but is anything actually occurring? I mean is the Louisville team finally growing into the Title Contender that so many thought they would be prior to the 2013 Season? Maybe.

“I think we’re in the mix [of the Top Teams],” Pitino noted post-game. “We’re getting better. Three weeks ago I was a really worried with the type of defense we we’re playing. Our defense has improved dramatically. That’s a good thing.”

It’s hard to judge Louisville’s improvements against the type of competition. One could even say that Louisville’s season won’t really start until Saturday – when they travel to Cincinnati. Which begins a stretch of Louisville’s final five games with three teams being ranked in the Top 25. With that being said, we can do things that all media members do: Talk about things we ‘think’ we know. Let’s run through them.

 

No Paint’ Rule:

I think Louisville has improved defensively. It’s actually hard to think otherwise. Louisville has batten down the hatches within the painted wooden areas of the floor and may be able to thank Wichita State for that.

“The paint touch rule. Coach kind of got it from Wichita State. Just seeing how they defend the paint and whatnot. We kind of bought in to it,” Stephen Van Treese explained. “It’s kinda been what we think when we’re on the court. We block the paint and we get a lot of deflections. We started tracking them and we’re trying to get a number each game.”

“It’s about having everyone’s backs,” Freshman Guard Terry Rozier noted. “One guy gets beat, the other guy gotta step up and the person that got beat, he’s gotta get back. We take pride just like Wichita State. They are a great team that we see play great defense and that’s what’s made them go far. They didn’t have NBA prospects, they had guys that were committed to great defense and that’s what we want to take pride in.”

Although the players have different variations of the rule, it’s simple. The Cardinals are given a goal of paint touches to give up the opposing team per game. The standard goal according to PG Chris Jones has been 16 or less. Their first opponent to try the exercise on? Temple. Mission Accomplished. Against the Owls, Louisville gave up a total of 12 paint touches. A stat that Head Coach Rick Pitino called ‘remarkable’. Tonight against Rutgers, Louisville head the Knights to a total of 14 paint touches.

“I take a lot of pride in it, because I’m one of those guys that’s gonna protect the rim,” Montrezl Harrell stated following the victory. “If we keep the ball out of the paint, there’s no question that we’re gonna win the game and that’s the goal.”

Sure, there’s something is to be said for the talent of the two opponents but those are certainly two impressive numbers in the course of 40 minutes.

Chris Jones and Russ Smith, A budding chemistry?:

I think Chris Jones has figured out how to play with Russ Smith. I think it’s also safe to say that wasn’t the case a month ago. Maybe it was the few games out, maybe it was just seeing the game from a different perspective. Whatever it may be, Chris Jones is surely learning how to become a better Point Guard. A real Point Guard. One who approaches the game with a cool, collected attitude rather than reckless abandon

“It help me out a lot. I sat out five games this year,” Jones said. “Out of all those games, I found out something different. I watched how Russ [Smith] played or how Terry [Rozier] played. I helped things flow more easy.”

According to the numbers, it appears things are indeed ‘flowing more easy’. In his last three games, Jones has posted an offensive rating above 120. His three games before sitting out with an injury? He posted offensive ratings of 78, 38, 81. The 78 came against Rutgers on January 7th. Same team, same situation tonight? He posted an offensive rating of 168.

That’s not all.

He’s looked for his teammates more. For the first time this season, Jones has put together three consecutive games together with three or more assists. It’s okay to have one Russ Smith. It’s not okay to have two Russ Smith’s, particularly when that Russ Smith is more ridiculous than Russdiculous. To be an Elite contender, Louisville needs Chris Jones to be Chris Jones: The Point Guard. Nothing else.

 

I can hardly say that these two items are facts, at this point I can only tell you what I think, like anyone else. For these things to become facts they must be proven on the biggest stage. After one final reprieve against South Florida, Louisville will travel to Cincinnati on Saturday. There, a lot of fun will occur. It will serve as the proverbial regular season championship for the American Athletic Conference. It will begin Louisville’s three final opportunities to remove the thorn in their side: No wins over ranked opponents. It will either make me look foolish or smart. Stay tuned.

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Chris Hatfield

Residing in Louisville, KY (via Bardstown, KY). I write things about Louisville Sports. Sometimes you'll like them. Follow me @_ChrisHatfield Email me at chatfield60@gmail.com

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