I spent the greater part of my Sunday Night reading. Reading comments from Fans, my Twitter mentions and blanket statements across the internet. A November tradition like no other, folks seem to think Louisville has suddenly became one of the most overrated teams in the Country based upon one loss that they shouldn’t have had. I get that people are frustrated with the loss. They should be. Louisville was the better team going into the game against North Carolina and delivered a terribly underwhelming performance. While there are legitimate concerns that come from the loss, I feel that some need some things need to be separated from ‘facts’ and ‘myths’.
Louisville is Overrated
Folks, this is November basketball. The great thing about College Basketball is that your season is not based upon one loss, but the entire season. It’s quite hard for me to say that Louisville is not a Top 5 team based solely upon a loss against North Carolina. Why? I believe North Carolina is a Top 25 basketball team. I believe if they – at some point – get to full strength they are Top 10 team based upon their talent. Louisville got their first test of the season on Sunday and they failed. But so much of College Basketball is filled with parity. Ask Duke who stumbled their way to a one point win over Vermont. Ask Michigan State who barely escaped Columbia a few weeks ago.
Any team can beat any team on any given night. It shouldn’t be breaking news.
Sunday afternoon was a prototypical November Pitino loss. Louisville lost to Duke in the Bahamas last year. They later blew that team out of the water in the Elite Eight. They got lucky against Northern Iowa in that very same tournament. People forget these things. But it happens every year. Louisville should coast their way through the upcoming weeks before the match-up against Kentucky. That game serves as the barometer. How much has Louisville grown from this loss? We’ll find out December 28th. But has this loss changed any of my expectations for the Louisville Basketball in 2013? Absolutely not. That’s why it’s extremely hard for me to call them ‘overrated’. I believed they were a Top 5 team before today and I believe they are a Top 5 team after today.
Louisville Has To Get Production From The Three Spot
Unless suddenly Montrezl Harrell or Chane Behanan learn how to attack the middle of the zone – which may happen over time – Louisville will have to rely on production from their wing players.
Namely this production has to come from Wayne Blackshear. He is the wing option that can constantly get to the basket. Luke Hancock can get to the rim, but his role will be – like it was last season – spotting up and knocking down the open look from three. Sure, at times Hancock can get to the basket but primarily that will have to come from Blackshear.
Louisville got absolutely nothing from Wayne Blackshear. I mean literally, they got nothing. No points. No rebounds. No steals. No assists. No turnovers. But, hey four fouls. That can’t happen. If Blackshear is not scoring in the half court set, he must clean up on the glass and allow the Cardinals to grab a few second-chance points. Louisville is certainly not asking much from the Former McDonalds All-American. In fact, something along the lines of 6 points and a couple of rebounds from him today could mean that Louisville was still undefeated.
They have to get something.
This was undoubtedly the greatest concern that I could draw from this game due to Louisville’s lost look against the North Carolina zone defense. When North Carolina switched to zone in the second half Louisville looked lost. It was eerily similar to the first half against Syracuse in the Big East Tournament. Now that they lack Gorgui Dieng to attack the zone in the center, I’m not so sure that they have another big man with the ability to attack the zone. Therefore they must attack from the obvious other weak spots: The wings.
Chris Jones Play Should Be Concerning
Today may have been the first time in his career that Chris Jones faced a guard that was athletic and perhaps even as fast as him. It was a dose of reality for him. At times he looked flustered. At teams he looked frustrated. But rest assured, games like these will only make him better and he will adjust.
Despite going up against his first true test, the JUCO Freshman only had two turnovers. You’ll live with that every day. What you can’t live with is 8-18 from the field. Sure 20 points is nice, but in reality there is only one player on this team that can shot that many shots and have Louisville be fine with it – if you’re reading this article then you know who that it is. That guy has proven it and is relied upon to be the scorer. Louisville doesn’t have to rely upon Chris Jones to be a scorer. Louisville needs Chris Jones to become more of a facilitator. He had 1 assist today. That should never happen to a Point Guard with as many weapons on the floor as Chris Jones has.
With all that being said, I have little doubts that he will grasp that concept after this game – and quickly. Based upon his post-game attitude, he quickly realized some of his mistakes.
“I think they made a good change in the second half,” Jones said. “They clogged the lane and played that high zone so me and Russ couldn’t penetrate. That’s something we have to learn. I don’t think we passed the ball as well was we have all year.”
He will adjust. He will improve. Once he does it’s time to watch out.
Louisville Defense Has Some Work To Do
“Tonight was totally the defense. I don’t think it had anything to do with the offense,” Rick Pitino said following the loss.
He’s right. In fact, he couldn’t be more right.
Louisville turned in one of the worst defensive performances I’ve seen in several years from them. The rotation was invisble. The Cards allowed constant run-outs to the basket. The pressure defense – which it seemed like Louisville played the entire second half – even lacked it’s typical intensity and effectiveness. How bad was the defense precisely on Saturday Evening? I’ll let Louisville Head Coach Rick Pitino tell you.
“This type of defense, it was a lack of humility,” Pitino noted. “This is not the same team defensively at the 3, 4 and the 5 spot.”
It’s quite odd that Pitino would say that considering two of those three are actually the same from last year. That’s one of the precise reasons why a poor defensive effort like the one we saw yesterday leaves so many questions marks. Yes, Louisville is young and young teams traditionally struggle with defense (you can ask John Calipari about that). But, this team is experienced enough to know the defense that this system requires, and you would hope that these lapses wouldn’t happen. Maybe it goes to show just how important a rim protector like Gorgui Dieng was to last year’s team.
Louisville played match-up zone for the first time all season against North Carolina. I’m not sure why that was the case but that is rather unimportant to my point. Louisville’s match up zone – more specifically Rick Pitino’s zone- is quite complex. Particularly from players like JUCO Chris Jones and Freshman Mangok Mathiang. But even Sophomore Montrezl Harrell looked quite confused with it. That’s not particularly surprising considering that even with his fantastic play late in the season last year, he didn’t play much zone defense. All Cards had a trouble grasping it today. Louisville was slow in their rotations, they missed their assignments often and we’re constantly beaten to the basket. These are issues. But more importantly, these are correctable issues. They only can be fixed with time. I would suspect the Louisville team as a whole will surpass the learning curve of the zone defense, just in time for the match-up against Kentucky.
Louisville did many things wrong Saturday but it needed it to happen. They learned a lot. For the most part they discovered many issues that can be fixed rather quickly with repetition and experience. I’ll leave Rick Pitino with the final thoughts.
“I think we have the potential to be a good team,” Pitino explained. “We will get better from this. We won last year because we were a humble team.”
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