In his 11th year at the helm, the Louisville program is simply not where it should be
As Louisville limps into the post-season, Cardinal fans are finding little to no evidence that it will get any better anytime soon. Last season’s so-called “bridge year” is quickly looking like a bridge to nowhere as UofL’s offense has gone in the tank. Players at times are looking disinterested as the half-court offense is non-existent. Perimeter scoring has been tough to come by as the team’s best 3-point shooting threats Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith haven’t been able to hit consistently during the last 5 games; Chris is 6-21/29% and Kyle even worse, is 8-35/23%. There’s more to that as the major problem with this team and program is the fact that there is a lack of elite talent. Outside of Behanan, who has the makings of an elite player and perhaps a healthy Wayne Blackshear, the roster is filled with role players. Guys who are solid, but simply cannot compete and win consistently at a high level with the other elite programs. Would Peyton Siva start on a team in the Top 10? Would Chris Smith? You get the point. What can be done about it? The easy answer is better recruiting, but that’s something Pitino and his revolving door of assistants have trouble doing consistently. Even if the Cards fail to win a NCAA Tournament game for the third straight year, Pitino will be back, although rightfully facing some real heat for the first time. Here’s what can be done in the present to freshen up our beloved program from the depths of mediocrity:
1. Make the switch to Nike. Like it or not, Nike runs things in hoops, often being the outfitter to the powerful AAU programs where the top-notch recruits play. This organization “pushes” the elite kids to Nike programs and does their best to one-up the other shoes companies, namely adidas and Under Armour. Case in point, Nuke unveiled their “platinum” uniforms and instructed their schools to wear them when they played adidas or Under Armour schools. A couple of examples: Syracuse wore them against USF(UA) and UK wore them against Tennesse(adidas). Take a look at the most recent Scout.com Top 100 rankings. Of the 89 commitments, 63 (or 71%) of them are going to Nike schools. I don’t proclaim to know everything about the inner-workings of the shoe companies, but they help direct the vast majority of talent to Nike schools. Tom Jurich has expressed his happiness about the relationship with adidas several times, and it’s due in part to them agreeing to outfit all teams as well as the financial incentives involved. One thing is obvious though, and that is the company with three stripes isn’t doing us any favors when it comes to recruiting, and that’s the most important factor. There is only one adidas school that has been able to pull in elite talent on an annual basis – Kansas. Two others are having great recruiting years currently; Baylor and NC State. Presently, UofL is in year two of the 5-year agreement with adidas.
2. (Since any Nike move would be years away) Make adidas work better for Louisville. How could this work? Get the major adidas basketball athletes to come around the program. These are guys like Dwight Howard and Derrick Rose. While Rose has ties to Pay Pal Cal and Memphis, Howard has no ties to colleges. Having high-profile professional athletes involved with your program would increase the “cool” factor, something Louisville desperately needs. Having potential recruits seeing current Cards interacting with NBA superstars on twitter talking about UofL and/or their visit to campus would go a long way. UofL needs another avenue in which to reach recruits. This is one way.
3. Pitino being willing to change….a little. This is a must and something he needs to be willing to do to get us out of the average rut this program is stuck in. Gorgui Dieng admitted that he was worn down a couple of weeks ago and Pitino gave him a couple of practices off. How about making a more concerted effort to rest players’ legs during the grueling stretch run of the Big East? It could do wonders for the team mentally and physically. Coach P needs to embrace social media yesterday. Again, with all of his contacts from the NBA and college, it would be nice if the world could see what kind of influence he still has and the professionals he keeps in contact with. The fact he doesn’t have a twitter account just shows how behind the times he is. Something else he needs to change is bad-mouthing the players publicly. He has seemed to tone this down some, but he still engages in it too much. He continues to be a step slow in correcting problems. The half-court offense should flow much better in March than it did in December. It doesn’t and that is a huge problem. Finally, cease with the erratic substitution patterns that kill momentum and leave both the players and fans shaking their heads in disbelief. How is Jared Swopshire good enough to start against Syracuse, yet not good enough to be a reserve next year? Why play Blackshear for 20 minutes against WVU, but just one minute against USF?
4. Start making cuts/walk-on moves. It sucks to say this for the some of the guys on the team, but it’s the hard truth. Does it seem cutthroat? Yes, but this roster needs a major talent upgrade and fast. College basketball is a business and UofL treats it as such so this should be looked at like a business move. Players like Elisha Justice and Zach Price should look to find other opportunities. Whether it be kindly suggesting them to transfer or ask them to become a walk-on, it needs to be done. Justice won’t ever play meaningful minutes behind Siva, Ware, and Rozier, so his scholarship needs to be freed up. Van Treese should be back , so the program would be better suited to recruit a big-man who isn’t a project like Price. This is where Louisville lags behind in being elite. There are players on the roster that have no business being on it. It’s not the players’ fault, it’s Pitino’s for bringing them in. There are some talented guys out there for the 2012 class, and it’s the staff’s responsibility to bring them in. The kids deserve the proper guidance in finding them other places to play. You can’t have guys who don’t play taking up scholarships and keeping the staff from getting better players. The bottom line currently with this program is that there isn’t enough high-impact talent on it. There has to be a new influx of it every year if UofL wants to be elite.