It has become very evident to me that the 2011 version of this Louisville basketball team is capable of playing great defense, for 45 minutes if needed. This team has demonstrated that they can win ugly; that they can grind it out and make big plays in "winning time." These are all things I find to be very encouraging; because, I know this group will only get better in these areas as the season evolves. It has, however, become very evident that there is no Preston Knowles(!) on this team, for now. By that I mean that there is no one on this team who is as willing, and as capable as Preston was, of making it his business to score points when the team needs them to.
Just like last year, there are 4-5 guys on this team who can score in double digits on any given night. What this team doesn't have, is a player with the ability to get buckets when no one else is hitting shots. What this team doesn't have, is a guy with that Preston Knowles-like killer instinct. My hope is that Kuric will evolve into that guy; but, my biggest fear is that if he hasn't done it by now he might not ever evolve into that guy. The long scoring droughts we've seen over the first quarter of this season have been concerning; but, the goose-egg in the loss column is a true testament to how good the defense has been.
Against Vanderbilt, in the first half, the Cards failed to score from the 16:27 mark until 10:23 remaining (a 6 min& 4sec drought). This particular drought didn't hurt a lot; because, during that time frame Vandy was only able to build a four point lead. In the second half the Cardinals failed to score a point from 13:15 until 7:42 remained in the game (5mins& 32sec). During that stretch the Dores were able to build a nine point lead before the drought finally ended on a Behanan put back. You know the rest.
Looking back at the other 6 games this year, the story is the same for most of them except UT-Martin and Butler.
- Lamar: The good guys built a 17 point lead, then managed only 6 points over a 6min& 24sec stretch. Lamar cut the lead to six before the Cards finally pulled away.
- Arkansas State: Louisville scored just 4 points in the last 7:55 of the first half. They went into the break with just 22 on the scoreboard before putting up a more respectable 32 in the second period.
- Ohio U: The Cardinals go an amazing 8 minutes& 42 seconds, from 3:13 remaining in the first period until the 14:31 mark of the second, without a single point. Credit the defense here as the Bobcats were only able to knot the score at 28 during that time. However, later in the second half Ohio was able to build a six point advantage when the Cards managed just 2 points from the 9:24 mark until a Kuric three pointer with 3:30 remaining in the game (5mins& 24 sec).
- Long Beach State: Against LBSU, from the 7:18 point in the first half, until a Kuric jumper with 2:11 on the clock, Louisville manages just three points (a 5mins& 7sec drought). Later on in the second half the guys in the home whites recorded just one field goal, and two free throws, from 13:57 until 8:47 remained in the game (5mins& 10sec). During that particular stretch the LBC was able to cut the lead from eleven to six, and eventually five before the Cardinals pulled away.
This team seems to be desperately searching for their offensive identity, at times; it just feels like it needs someone to step up and make shots, or get to the free throw line, when the offense goes stale. It has almost become a given that they will go anywhere from 5-8 minutes scoring very few points, if any at all. This is something that absolutely cannot happen against elite teams. Coming away with a victory against Vanderbilt was another sign of just how tough this team is, and how hard they compete. Unfortunately, being tough and competing hard doesn't do you much good if you can't score more points than the other guys.
I don't know if Wayne Blackshear will see the floor this season; and, even if he does I question how effective he can be after not playing organized ball for so long. I definitely question whether or not he can become "that guy" in time to make a huge difference heading into the Tournament. The bottom line is this, by the time Blackshear is able to start playing and working his way into the lineup, someone in this group (plus Buckles&Ware) needs to take up that mantle. This team needs someone to be "that guy" and, if it hasn't happened by the time Blackshear is able to contribute.... well, that will not be a good thing.
It's become pretty clear to me that someone evolving into "that guy" is going to be the difference between another good year, and a truly great year. This team has all the intangibles needed to win a bunch of games and make a deep tournament run, but they need something else. Injuries happen and they suck, but it is what it is. Someone needs to step up and write their own chapter in Louisville lore for this team to have the kind of success we all desperately want them to find.