Have to say I'm a bit surprised at the largely negative response to last night's game. Beating the best team in Division-II by eight without four players, including your best and most important, is nothing to fret over.
I'm consistently amazed at how little respect major college basketball fans pay to non-major D-1 programs. Go to any major college basketball program in the country and you'll be able to hear a fan say, "he'd absolutely dominate if he went to a mid-major or D-II school" in regards to bench-warmer X (i.e., Richie Phares). Then bench-warmer X does transfer to one of those schools, and he goes on to average 3.2 points per game for the rest of his career.
The fact of the matter is that there are players everywhere. If you watched last night's game and don't think Jeremy Kendle would be a serviceable backup point guard for a top 25 team or a solid starter for a mid-major squad, then I don't know what to tell you. I'd agree with you, but then we'd both be wrong.
At one point last night, Louisville had a lineup of Elisha Justice, Tim Henderson, Russ Smith, Kyle Kuric and Jared Swopshire. Raise your hand if you think that's going to happen again this season. Despite this, and making just one three-pointer on the evening, the Cards beat a good team by eight. Positive vibes should abound.
Mentioned that Louisville was an unheard of 1-for-13 from beyond the arc. This comes just five days after Bellarmine held Duke to 2-of-14 shooting from three. Kids can defend the perimeter.
Bullet certainly was not spectacular, but he was solid. I'd really like to see him hit a handful of jump shots in a row to get his offensive confidence up. Obviously he can't play the way he did when he was averaging 30 a night for Shelby Valley, but I'd like to see him get at least a little bit of that mindset back. He doesn't look like he knows the shot is going to go in when he takes it, which is something all great shooters say they think when they let it fly. He also needs to become more of a threat to score or get fouled in the lane. When he gets a step on his man now, it's almost like the entire defense knows he's looking to pass, so no one comes over to help.
On the other end of the floor, he gave a surprisingly good defensive performance. It wasn't the overall stellar game I was hoping for, but I still thought he showed that he can give the necessary 8-10 minutes a night that Peyton Siva's going to need on the bench.
Louisville's lack of playmakers without Siva was painfully apparent on Thursday. Justice, Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are all fine players, but all three are rarely willing to push the issue offensively. The result was a lot of perimeter passing and then someone throwing the ball into the post.
Smith and Kuric have got to get more aggressive offensively. Kyle especially needs to embrace his new role as a primary scorer if he wants to have an All-Big East type season, and if he wants his team to compete for a national championship. We saw a little bit of that against Pikeville and in the first Red/White scrimmage, but it was nowhere to be seen last night against a team he should have been able to get into the lane consistently against.
Also, for those worried about a corner slump: don't be. Watch what happens in the first game of the actual season. I'm telling you.
Every time No. 2 checks into the game it's "Russ See TV." Start spreading that one around. It's gold.
Rick Pitino hasn't tried at all to mask the fact that he was disappointed in Russ' inability to play the point, but Pitino did actually say after the game that Smith will be a very good basketball player and will help this team.
U of L may not have ever had a bigger absolute feast/absolute famine player than Russ, but he is one of the few guys on the team who can consistently beat just about any defender off the dribble, and that makes him an asset. Somebody has to try and make a play, and if everyone else is content to take two dribbles and make a simple pass, then by all means take it to the hole, Russ.
Obviously his methods aren't going to be as effective against the likes of Connecticut and Syracuse, but if he can improve his jump shot and grasp at least a semi-understanding of when it's OK to go and when it's not OK to go, then he's going to demand court time. It's something I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to say about Russ this time last year.
Russ See TV.
Gorgui didn't appear particularly interested in playing last night. It's like he felt bad for being so much bigger than everyone else on the floor. I'm serious.
A lot of love for Jared Swopshire this a.m., and deservedly so. Swop looked like a completely different player than the guy who took the floor against Pikeville. He was aggressive around the rim and finished on nearly every chance he had to score.
Still, we can't totally ignore the fact that this was done against a team whose big men aren't especially athletic...or big. This was a monster step in the right direction, but Swop's still got a fairly lengthy road to walk in order to be a key contributor for this team come February/March.
Couldn't love a non-U of L coach more than Scotty D. Miss making awkward eye contact with him nearly every morning in the BU parking lot. Those were the glory days of our relationship, and the ones I cherish the most.
Former Eastern star Chris Dowe is unquestionably athletic enough to play D-1 basketball, but he spent too much time Thursday trying to prove those who say he doesn't have enough of a jump shot wrong. Kid's a hell of a player and he's only going to get better, but that's not his game.
Braydon Hobbs has a normal shooting night and we probably lose.
Pitino addressed the murmurs about injuries and his practice tactics after the game, saying that he has been easier on this team in practice than any other he can remember, and that the injuries are purely the product of bad luck and nothing else. He said Blackshear tore his labrum on an uncontested lay-up. He also noted that even with all the bad luck we've had over the past two years, we've still been winning.
If you'd shown me just U of L's postgame box score last night, I would have almost guaranteed that we lost the game. Another reason why I thought it was an encouraging evening.
It's sort of an interesting situation because while I think the game was valuable from a pure experience standpoint, I'm not sure there were that many lessons to be taken away from it. I mean when is Tim Henderson going to be playing the three again? We had to do things last night that we're never going to do again, but the fact that the opponent was a good, veteran team and that it was a tight game for most of 40 minutes is where the value lies.
Jeremy Kendle would play minutes for us. No question about it. There's a reason the kid is the reigning GLVC POY and one of the preseason front-runners in the race for D-II POY. He alone is worth the price of admission for at least one BU home game.
The new intro video debuted last night. Eminem's "'Til I Collapse" is the new background music, which I dig (rocked it on the way to every postseason baseball game in '02...see, you have to play baseball on pure adrenaline). Pitino's new speech is also solid, but maybe just a tad too long. Mike Marra gets another close up, which was a must, but he's not nodding, which is a slight disappointment.
Also loved how they kept the tradition of ending the video with a past highlight from the appropriate opponent. Last night they went with Siva's game-winner against WVU last year.
Beat West Virginia.
Much better performance from the players in street clothes this week. Peyton was predictably spiffy, but the real star was Rock and his navy cardi. An experienced street clothes vet making plays. That's what that is.
And then we look over to Luke Hancock. *Long sigh*
I don't know if you're doing this to spite me. Maybe you just don't give a f--k. But this is not a good look on you, bro. It's fall. Collars and cords. Just try it on. Just to see how it feels.
Pitino gave Scotty a nice pair of red Gucci shoes before the game because he says Davenport is too cheap to buy his own shoes. Guy sitting behind me thought it was the funniest thing he's ever seen in his life.
Chane was Chane. Has anyone called him a beast yet? Because he's a beast.
We haven't discussed this yet, but I'm not sure I could be a bigger Mark Jackson Jr. fan. I actually loved the little bit we saw of him in the Bahamas and against Pikeville. He's actually got some passing skills and his intensity and - dare I say it - swag on the court makes him hard to take your eyes off.
And now it's time for the real fun.