Pitino has had high praise for soph Kevin Ware
ESPN’s college basketball team (I know, I know) is in the middle of a countdown of all the top 20 teams leading up to the start of the 2012-2013 season. The series is called Three Big Things and today they published their Louisville feature. It’s actually pretty well done, considering the source and this time they left out any Preston Knowles references (thankfully). Gotta say, it’s pretty damn exciting to see the amount of love that this team is getting from all the national rags. There is no doubt about this team’s talent and potential and everyone is taking notice. Here’s a long excerpt and you can read the entire thing right here.
2. Here’s another 2012–13 Louisville Cardinals certainty: This team is going to defend like crazy. Per Ken Pomeroy’s efficiency metrics, the 2011–12 Cardinals’ 84.0 defensive efficiency rating was the lowest in the country (coincidentally, the first time in three years Florida State didn’t own that distinction), and the Cards only got more difficult to break down as the season entered its most crucial stage. Here’s a fun stat: From Feb. 23 to March 23, Louisville didn’t allow a single opponent to score more than a point per possession. That includes the tail end of the Big East season, the entire Big East tournament, and the first three rounds of the NCAA tournament. Not until Florida (when Bradley Beal went nuts) and Kentucky (and, well, it was Kentucky) did Louisville yield more than a point per trip to an opposing team. That’s … kind of insane.
Louisville’s defense could be complicated at times. Pitino switched his defensive schemes throughout the tournament, which particularly befuddled Draymond Green’s No. 1-seeded Michigan State Spartans. But for the most part, the blueprint was simple: Siva and Smith would relentlessly pressure the ball, everyone would pressure shooters, and Dieng and Behanan would protect the rim at all costs. It worked. And it will work again in 2012–13.
3. Louisville’s offense was, and is, a different story. More stats: The Cardinals finished ranked No. 103 in the country in efficiency last season, No. 243 in effective field goal percentage, No. 211 in turnover rate and No. 177 in free throw rate. You get the idea. With the exception of the offensive glass where they ranked No. 51, this was a mediocre offensive team at best.
Smith, bless his wacky soul, had a lot to do with that. Despite that 91.5 offensive rating and a 30.6 3-point field goal percentage, Smith led the Cardinals by a wide margin — and finished in the top 10 nationally — in both usage rate and his percentage of Louisville’s available shots. Smith made the shots when it counts, and Pitino has long since embraced the one he calls Russdiculous, but there’s no question Smith will have to become more efficient if he plans on hoisting so frequently in 2012–13. Siva, Louisville’s second-most-used player, will have to do the same. (The Cardinals run a ton of high pick-and-rolls for Siva, but there’s little reason for defenders to fight through the screen, rather than playing under; Siva is not a frequent or accurate 3-point shooter.)
But again, there is reason to expect improvement. Behanan will take on a larger role in the offense. If Dieng’s low-post game becomes merely passable, he’s a weapon unto himself. And Blackshear, a top recruit who rarely got to show his ability thanks to injury as a freshman, has a chance to emerge as one of the best sophomores in the country.