In Seattle, Wayne Blackshear dove into the corner of the floor while chasing down a loose ball vs. Northern Iowa in the NCAAs Round of 32. Blackshear’s teammates followed him over and helped him up. A simple gesture…….and an important one. A day earlier Minnesota Head Basketball Coach, former UofL assistant, and Rick Pitino’s son, Richard spoke to the Louisville Basketball team about team chemistry and said, “That’s not going to make the difference between winning and losing, but it is going to bring you closer together.”
Despite callers into radio shows, one thing is for certain…..Louisville Basketball “LOOKS” like a more cohesive unit. More than likely it has more to do with Pitino’s formula of building teams towards March, than it does the dismissal of Chris Jones. But whatever it is, the frustration is gone. The Louisville Basketball team “APPEARS” to actually enjoy being around each other now.
Earlier in the season there were two very divisive groups: The Veterans & the New Kids. In February there was even a term for the team known as the “Core 4”. That frustration between the two segments was on full display when Montrezl Harrell had a very loud and emotional Post-Game talk in December after a win over UNC-Wilmington. There were even entire scrimmages, with box scores released to the media where Wayne Blackshear, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, and Montrezl Harrell actually coached the rest of the roster, resting the “Core 4″…..in the middle of the season.
“The Freshman have a right to develop,” Rick Pitino said on Tuesday. Louisville is two seasons away from a National Championship, currently in its 4th consecutive Sweet 16, and seeking its 3rd Final Four in 4 seasons…….that’s a tough sell to the fans. But as Coach Pitino has said repeatedly, “We’ve raised the standard of excellence here at Louisville.”
That’s true. But so is the point that the freshman have the right to develop. In the case of 2014-15, Louisville’s dichotomy between the veterans and the freshman the urgency from the veterans who wanted to leave their mark on the program in their final opportunity and the inexperience and learning gap from the Freshman was palpable. But Rick Pitino had his team ready in March, like most Rick Pitino teams.
The standard of Louisville Basketball is now the Sweet 16. Coach Pitino has mentioned several times that he “Hates the 1st game.” The difference between the UC Irvine game and the Northern Iowa game for this Cardinal team was obvious. The Cards played with great energy, they played together, and perhaps most importantly they didn’t play tight.
Louisville now in the Regional Semifinal is playing with “House Money”. The season is a success no matter what happens in Syracuse Friday night. The goal is of course to win a national championship by way of a Final Four, but in a single elimination tournament that can not be the expectation. Instead, Louisville achieved the program standard last weekend, solidified the legacy of Wayne Blackshear & Montrezl Harrell, and somewhere along the way started to like one another. By extension, the Louisville fans began to connect with the younger players.
Whatever happens in Syracuse tonight, we can feel good about 2014-15….and the future. But it doesn’t have to end here. This team can go from program standard to program STAND OUT. Survive and advance. Louisville is just two steps from Indy and must exercise some Carrier Dome demons against an opponent who beat the Cards on its home floor. Get it done Cards.
TheCrunchZone.com is in attendance in Syracuse and will be bringing extensive coverage of the Sweet 16 and hopefully Elite 8. Go Cards, Go Krogering, Beat the Wolfpack.