This summer most of the people around the University of Louisville men’s basketball program were telling anybody that would listen that sophomore combo guard Terry Rozier was poised for a breakout season. He generated a buzz all summer and rumors began to fly – warranted or otherwise – that the 6’2 Youngstown native was an NBA lottery pick in the making and was destined to become the next great guard under head coach Rick Pitino. And the NBA personnel heard and saw the same things, as ESPN had him listed as the 2oth best pro prospect, NBAdraft.net has him listed 17th (though just two weeks ago he was as high as #10) and NBA Draft Room has him pegged 23rd overall. But one of the most revered and accurate pro talent evaluation websites, Draft Express, released their updated rankings yesterday and Rozier was nowhere to be found – and that goes for the first and second round.
Could it be that Louisville’s next golden child was subject to a bit of over-hype and perhaps wasn’t quite as NBA-ready as we all thought? After all, Rozier has had a bit of an up-and-down start to his season. While last year as a true freshman, he was outstanding with the rock in his hands and rarely ever turned the ball over (through his first 8 games a year ago, he had 14 assists and just 2 turnovers). Through 8 games this year, he’s been a bit more sloppy, uncharacteristically turning the ball over 17 times to just 21 assists. In three separate games he’s posted just a single assist or less. Now, granted, we’re not comparing apples to apples since Rozier had to defer to Russ Smith and Chris Jones last year and played limited minutes as a reserve. Currently he’s playing a much bigger role in 2014-2015 and is one of the focal points of what has been, at least up until last night, a struggling offense. So far, Rozier is shooting 45% from the field and just 64% from the free-throw line. Again, It’s been an inconsistent start to the season to say the least.
However, putting all that aside, I personally think these premature whispers of Rozier being overrated are simply not accurate. There are few things to look at when you dive deeper into what’s going on with not only him but also this UofL team as a whole. First thing’s first: Rozier is surrounded by veteran guys who are capable of scoring points. He’s only going to get so many looks functioning in a limited offense with the likes of Wayne Balckshear (who’s looked solid so far, averaging a career high 13.0 ppg), Montrezl Harrell (a surefire lottery pick and 1st Team All-American who averages 16.8 ppg) and Chris Jones (13.3 ppg). This is a committee approach by Pitino and no single player is going to get the amount of shots, say, Smith did a year ago. Second, what I’ve seen from Rozier, especially after last night, is that he tends to step up in bigger games (like a big time player is supposed to). For the season he’s averaging 14.6 ppg, but against Louisville’s three best opponents (Indiana, Ohio St and Minnesota) he’s averaging 18.3 ppg. In those games he also holds a 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (12:6, with 5 coming in that single game against Ohio St). Basically, when the bright lights come on, Rozier’s diamond tends to shine a little bit brighter.
Last night, in a game that featured an extremely frenetic pace, the Cards found themselves down to Indiana on more than one occasion and had to find offense from somebody. Enter Terry Rozier. In those other games earlier this season, Rozier appeared to defer quite a bit on offense and didn’t seem nearly as aggressive as he should be. Sometimes he even looked lost in the offense and forced shots at least a few times in each contest. But against the Hooisers, when the team needed offense, Rozier stepped up and seized the moment. He was hitting threes (5-8 from downtown, to be exact), driving the lane and either scoring at the rim or getting to the foul line (he was 5-8 from the charity stripe) and, to top things off, he played tremendous defense alongside Jones causing the Indiana guards to turn the ball over 13 times (as a team, Indiana turned the ball over 19 times total). Basically, he was a force to be reckoned with.
When you look at the remainder of Louisville’s schedule, its chalked full of heavy hitters like Kentucky, Duke, North Carolina, Virginia and the rest of the solid ACC. Which means that Rozier will have plenty more opportunities to build upon this trend of playing better against bigger competition and, in turn, increase his overall national stock. UofL still has some easy wins left in this preseason of sorts (hello, Cal State Northridge and UNC Wilmington) but for the most part, things are about to get very interesting for the #4 team in the country. Which means that things are also going to get interesting for Terry Rozier, a player that no one should be sleeping on.