Well over a decade ago now, during the uneasy transition period of the first few seasons after Rick Pitino replaced Denny Crum, there was considerable trepidation among Cardinal fans. The consensus was the new guy, as sterling a reputation as he had, wasn’t nearly as good a bench coach as Cool Hand Luke.
Yes, it was understood, Pitino was marvelous when it came to preparation, but what happens when adjustments need to be made during the heat of a hotly contested tournament battle?
Of course, most of those fears have dissipated, given the successes of the last few seasons.
Yet that arguable flaw in The Rick’s resume still nags for those whose memory of Cardinal hoops predates the Francisco Garcia/ Taquan Dean Era. I thought of it last night, during the Cards’ victory over UNCW, which was far more difficult than one would have expected.
It appeared to me that Pitino had three things he was focused upon for the game: 1) Running a high/ low post offense, where the big at the top of the key would take a pass, turn and feed his counterpart low or get it to the open wing, 2) Playing pressing full court man to man defense, then switching all screens in the half court, and 3) Starting to shorten his rotation for conference play.
(Okay, it was also obvious, he’s also introduced a motion offense of sorts, after several seasons of living and dying with the pick and roll.)
He certainly succeeded with the rotation thing, choosing to use subs for only 35 of the game’s 200 player/ minutes. A steady 18:00 of those came from calm Quentin Snider, 12:00 from a flagging frosh Chinanu Onuaku, who, remember, has started a majority of the games, but not last night’s. Anas Mahmoud didn’t take off his warmups; Gill and Johnson totaled five minutes between them.
As for #1 and #2 above, I wonder if Pitino just decided he was going to stay the course with his game plan, regardless of the consequences. Or if, as was once feared by some Cardinal fans, he’s still not an easy adapter and had trouble counterpunching the well-prepared visitors, coached by recent Pitino disciple Kevin Keatts?
Whatever the reasons, the defense didn’t work all that well. Especially during that 15 zed Seahawk run that cut the Cards’ once 18 point advantage to 52-50 with 6:47 still to play.
As for that high/ low set, Trez was up top way more than he should ever have been.
But more about that in the next section, which is just on the other side of the stars.
* * * * *
It seems like there’s always some loud guy or another, bellowing from a few rows behind me.
Most of the time, he’s either yelling nonsense, or berating the refs.
At this game, there was a guy with the foghorn voice who knew of what he howled.
At one point, after Harrell had taken one of his not very accurate jumpers, the guy screamed in basso profundo, “You Go Down Low!”
Trez finished with 19 points and 17 boards, five of the latter of which came off the offensive glass. He was 9/17 from the field.
Of those 8 misses, six were jump shots.
Silent L, listen to my man Big Voice, “You Go Down Low!”
At some point after about 3/4s of the second half had been contested, my guy asked with fervor loudly enough for fans in two sections either way to hear, “Can Blackshear Get A Shot?”
Wayne Blackshear tallied 9 of U of L’s first 11 points, 11 of the first 16.
He finished his feisty first half with 11 points on 4 of 9 shooting.
In the second half, he got off one (1) shot. One. He rarely touched the ball in the offense Louisville was running.
Now, I’ve never coached a national champ. Nor, frankly, any team at any level, other than a twentysomething softball team one summer.
Yet, like Big Voice, I gotta ask, “Can Blackshear Get A Shot?”
* * * * *
Pitino spared no brickbats after the game, throwing the entire team under the bus.
He specifically dismissed Terry Rozier’s play during his very short post game press conference.1
Then, during his post-game radio obligation, he added Chris Jones, with whom The Rick was so unhappy, he sat for a long spell, including the beginning of the second half. Quentin Snider was in the lineup after intermission. Jones, to be fair to his coach, did not play well at all, forcing shots and not seeing, or even looking for, open teammates.
Montrezl Harrell, despite his stats, was also dissed by name during his radio show.
It is true that the Cards garnered but 7 assists on 27 made baskets, committed 16 turnovers and only hit 1/13 beyond the arc.
Then again, if the offense the team is running isn’t working, why not try some different sets?
If, especially during that 15-0 run in the second half, Kevin Keatts has figured out that a high ball screen at the top of the key allowed his dribblers to get the ball to the hoop against Louisville’s bigs, time after time after time, why not try a different defense?
* * * * *
All of which braying is to acknowledge that U of L didn’t play a very good game, and is lucky that superior talent prevailed for a tough 11 point W.
But to also point out that Rick Pitino didn’t have a stellar evening himself, not coaching a very good game. So, one guy talkin’, he needs to share the blame equally for the sub-par performance.
* * * * *
There are some positives.
U of L won.
Quentin Snider was steady in his extended stint on the court.
When the Seahawks cut the lead to a deuce at 52-50, it took but three minutes of action, for U of L to man up and outscore the visitors 10-2 to escape harm’s way.
Louisville hit 81% from the line (13/16).
— Seedy K