It was the first regular season game the Cards had ever played when ranked as the top team in the nation, and they did not disappoint. They looked every bit worthy of the top ranking (sorry, Goodman, it’s the truth) as they manhandled Connecticut in the second half, following a slow start along with Connecticut being white hot. The Cards struggled in the first half a bit as point guard Peyton Siva sat the majority of the half due to foul trouble, and UCONN’s crowd was loud and the team was hot. After a first half score of 34-28, some may have begun to think that #1 ranking may be short-lived. Then the second half happened, Peyton Siva returned, and Louisville completely dominated the rest of the game. Record as #1: 1-0.
Peyton Siva. Pitino said earlier in the season that while Dieng and Siva may be the most valuable players, the player the team cannot win without is Russ Smith. After last night, that is highly debatable. The first half, Siva sat for about 16 minutes with 2 fouls. The team finished the half down 34-28 to the Huskies. The second half was a different story. Siva played the majority of minutes and Louisville outscored UCONN by 21 (45-24). Maybe a little verbal lashing from Rick Pitino at halftime lit a fire into the Cards as well, but the turnaround led by Siva is no coincidence. His on-court leadership and composure is something that his teammates feed off of, and he is very clearly the leader of this team. They just look more comfortable when he is handling the rock than they do with Russ. With his vastly improved outside shot and Steve Nash-like style of playing the point, he is doing wonders for his draft stock as well, even if mock draft sites do not acknowledge it yet. If he keeps playing like this through March and especially April, you better believe they will acknowledge him then.
Chane Behanan. Peyton proved to be the most valuable player last night, and he helped show that by doing what Russ was not doing: getting the ball to Chane Behanan. The big man finished with an impressive 16 points, 9 rebounds and 5 assists (led the team in the final category). The word “stud” gets overused when it comes to college and professional athletes (I certainly am guilty of it), but I cannot think of a word that could better describe Chane recently. He has turned it into beast mode and just gets better. And as for the fans booing at the dunk at the end of the game? Cry me a river. Tell your team not to press. They don’t press, that doesn’t happen. You play, we play. It’s as simple as that, and Chane will throw it down in your face every time. Now, will he make it every time is another question.
Russ Smith. Yes, he put up 23 points, but I actually really struggled whether I wanted to put Russ in the good or bad category, and I ended up putting him here for a couple of reasons. (a) I love the guy and when I put him in the bad section, I feel like I am scolding my dog. Yes, he frustrates you, but then you just feel so bad about it afterwords. (b) he was THE offense in the first half. Yes, he was taking the majority of the shots, but no one else could make anything happen. He was also his usual aggressive self on D. I will stop short of calling it a great performance, however, because over the last couple of games, his shot selection has clearly become more…let’s say “liberal.” He is starting to revert back a little bit to his old Russdiculous self from last season, and when it does not go right, it hurts the rest of the team. That is why Siva is more valuable at this point. He can almost always be trusted to make the right decision on offense. I do not think this is a big deal, and honestly, it is really just grasping at straws, but I am not a fan of him taking 20+ shots per game, and would much rather see the Russ we saw against teams like Providence. Whatever, though, I still love ya, Russ, and the man is every bit worthy of the POY talk. Jay Williams will back me up on that.
Gorgui Dieng. Yes, his offense was off a bit as he only went 2 of 8, but 16 freaking rebounds? I will certainly take it. With he and Chane rebounding the way they are, this frontcourt combo may not be as dangerous as the backcourt combo, but come March and April, it will be damn close. Did I mention that I am glad Gorgui is back?
Peyton Siva. As great and valuable as he was when he was IN the game, he unfortunately was NOT IN the game most of the first half against UCONN. Fans will say that this is not a big deal and he will be under more control on defense come March and April, and they could and should be right. However, it is still alarming that this is happening so often with him. In the last six games, he has fouled out twice, and has been in trouble with 3 and 4 fouls twice. That cannot continue. We are a deep team and are very fortunate to have guys like Russ and Ware capable of stepping in and playing big minutes, but neither of them has the same value to the team that Siva has. I would be lying if I said his foul troubles did not concern me right now. Sure, it is no big deal now, especially since he came back in and led the team to comeback, but this cannot continue to be a trend. The first two fouls were completely unnecessary and happened in the first 4 or so minutes of the game. As the senior leader and team captain, it hurts the team when he is not on the floor. It may not matter now, but it very much could in March and April.
The flu. First Chane, and now Montrezl. Leave. The frontcourt. Alone. If Gorgui even sneezes, the team needs to be quarantined immediately.
Elosch Wolf. There are very few people on this earth that can pull off both a hair style and facial hair like that. You, sir, are not one of them. Quite disturbing.
Kevin Ware. I want so badly for this young man to have a breakout game. I thought this may have been it. However, in 20 minutes of playing time, he pretty much put up zeroes across the board on the stat sheet. His talent and potential is so obvious and just seems begging to come out in full. Now, some of you may think I am nitpicking. Maybe I am. Some of you may also think that he is only on here because I made the bold prediction he would score double digit points for the first time since Manhattan (and he rewarded my faith with a goose egg) and I am just being bitter. I refuse to answer that.
#1 Tee shirt. Although I have not seen any evidence with my own 2 eyes, there have been reports of a UofL tee being made to commemorate the Cards’ #1 ranking. I am sure, if true, the designer’s heart was in the right place, but I mean really?! Does anyone really want Louisville to become THAT fan base?! Please…let’s not. Let’s absolutely not. I am not sure if I will be able to stomach any Cards fan wearing that shirt. It is freaking JANUARY. These rankings do not mean squat. Is it cool? Sure. Is it something to celebrate? No. Rankings are meaningless unless they are assigned to a team after a certain week in April. That is it. Tee shirts for literally anything is a UK thing. They would make a tee shirt every time Nerlens Noel successfully yielded to a pedestrian at a crosswalk if they had the funding. Please…let’s not be that fan base.
This was an extremely tough environment to head into. The Cards only arrived in Connecticut that day due to flight delays. UCONN was more than up for the task and came out as pumped up as I have seen a team against Louisville this season. The crowd was electric, and a couple of highlight reel moments like DeAndre Daniels dunking in the face of both Gorgui Dieng and Wayne Blackshear, nearly blew the roof off of the place. There are many teams that would cave under that atmosphere. Louisville is not one of those teams. Instead, they kept a cool head, regrouped after halftime, and proceeded to beat the snot out of the Huskies on their home court. I am sure that there are those out there who would say not many teams would have finished that game better than Louisville. I say not one would. This is the best team in the nation, and the only group of people that can possibly stop them is themselves. The backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright should have proven to be a fantastic warm up for the Syracuse duo of Michael Carter-Williams and Brandon Triche the Cards will face Saturday as the team goes for 2-0 as the #1 ranked team. It will be a marquee matchup and the Cards proved Monday they are more than ready to step up to the challenge.