I love this time of year. The weather is cooling down. The “Oktoberfest” style beer is flowing. Football is in full swing (with an undefeated squad) and basketball is knocking at the door (with a top 3 pre-season ranking depending on the polls). I think you can now understand my excitement to sit courtside for the Red-White pointless scrimmage on Saturday for the Cardinals. The opportunity for the fans is priceless; to get a fresh look at the newcomers and see the visual progression of the returning players rather than a blog entry or out of town columnist that can be intrepreted in 100 different ways. I think we all know what we have in Siva, and what we have in Dieng. They are the leaders of this team and will be looked upon to carry the load. This team, however, is stacked. Here are a few things I took away from the game at the Yum! Center:
*Sugar Chane is a sweet* - Maybe it was because Montrezl Harrell was slated as the starter on the red squad instead of him, or maybe he wanted to begin the season with a bang, whatever the case, Chane Behanan was balling. When he dunked it, he tried to break the backboard..He was so high on his rebounds that we thought the hardwood was going to start to split when he landed. There were about four rebounds under our goal that I swear his elbow was above the rim. He dominated the offensive and defensive boards, and had a few nice one dribble drives that left defenders sprinting out of the lane to be sure to clear themselves of the poster. At one point, he split a double team from the corner, took one dribble, and elevated for a tomahawk NBA Jam style. I think it will be hard to keep him out of the starting lineup, but can you imagine a sixth man like Chane?
*Backup PG?* - One of the major things I was looking for in this scrimmage for the season was who is going to play the backup point guard spot. I still fear this will be a crucial point to the season because of Siva’s aggressive mindset. During the last seconds of the first half in this scrimmage, Siva, with two fouls, reached for a steal that probably should have been called. Two players however really surprised me with their handles and basketball IQ, and I believe Pitino has this problem solved and a variety of options.
The first option for the spot is Luke Hancock. All we heard all off-season was this kid is a more aggressive Kyle Kuric. From what I saw in the scrimmage (which is just a very slim first glance), he is a taller, more aggressive, craftier player than Kyle ever was both on and away from the ball. He did struggle with his shot, but as Pitino said in the presser after the game, I think a lot of that had to do with his shoulder bothering him. He still almost finished with a double double with seven points and eight rebounds. He had one dime from just past mid-court to Chane that resembled a Chris Paul to Blake Griffin style ally-oop. The crowd erupted after the exchange. Let me move on to the next backup PG option in my next bullet point.
*Kevin Ware is playing with confidence* - Last season, Ware didn’t arrive on campus and in practice until around December 14th. Pitino and the staff raved about how good he was and how impressed they were with his play in practice, but during the season, he never really had that game where he just blew up. When he did get in (which was rare), he seemed so timid, almost fearing the mistake factor. Pitino, with the season inching closer and closer, has again been raving about Ware and how impressed he’s been with him and his progress this off season. Finally…Finally we were able to see what Pitino has been talking about, and why he is so excited about this kid.
Ware has such a rare body type. It almost resembles that of Rajon Rondo in that he is only about 6’2″, but his wingspan is probably around seven feet. This is the perfect basketball blessing because not only can you use that length to shoot over people (which he has adjusted to be able to do), but defensively he can reach places that a lot of players his height wouldn’t have a chance doing. He and Siva or he and Russ will cause havoc for our press, creating a number of turnovers and easy points. He can handle the rock and is quick and crafty when he attacks. It seemed like every time he got to the lane, the possession ended in a thunder dunk. The part that was probably most impressive to me about his game was his movement off the ball though. He uses his change of speed so well that it is almost one of those “now you see me, now you don’t” games. One minute he was cutting back door for an easy dunk, the next he was flaring out, spotting up for wide open three’s. I said at the end of last season it will be interesting to see what happens with the starting line-up, mainly because I feel Russ is the perfect player bringing energy off the bench (since he may give us a heart attack if he starts) but I think he found his two guard in Ware.
*What about these new guys?* - There were two freshmen that really stood out to me as I watched this game progress: Montrezl Harrell (which we all expected) and Mangok Mathiang. Let me start with Harrell. I was absolutely shocked in the first half when I saw him battling against Chane. These two are only going to make each other better, pushing each other every day in practice. They are both starters, but with Gorgui obviously there, and neither being skilled enough to play the three-spot, there is only one starting spot available. This is a great problem for Pitino to have. It’s pretty rare to see a kid come out of high school with a college-ready body (similar to the way Chane came in), but Harrell is the exception. He uses his body and his pivot very well in the post, and finishes around the basket, often using the basket as a shield from blocks. Plus dude can fly. It is more complicated than people think for bigs to catch a finish an alley-oop, and he seems to do so with ease. I can’t wait to see Harrell and Chane on the floor at the same time.
Speaking of being on the floor at the same time, the rumor around the team is that Mangok Mathiang will be red-shirting this season. I was particularly impressed with his play in the scrimmage. Although, as many people have noted, he is raw, he does have skill and a large frame. He showed off his stroke by drilling one three, and finished well around the basket, including a couple rim pounding dunks. His production in limited minutes were rather outstanding, recording nine points and seven rebounds (four of which offensive) in just 12 minutes. We even saw a few minutes with he and Gorgui out there together. Can you imagine the fear in guards as they try to penatrate against that? I think Pitino is trying to save some time for Van Treese, and he is looking to get Harrell and Behanan more minutes by red-shirting Mathiang, but whenever he sees the floor, be it this season or next, he will be a factor.
My last comment…. What did you think about the socks? A bit flashy but personally…I loved them.