While at work, I am a regular listener of the Bob Valvano show on ESPN680. Bobby V. did a segment today that I found rather interesting; and, I think it's applicable to the Card Chronicle community's mind set right now. I'd like to share Bob's topic dejour with you, and I am very interested in your feedback.
Caveat: I realize that the 2011-2012 version of our Louisville Cardinals is currently ranked in the top10, and that their record sits at 13-2. However, I am also very aware that none of those 13 wins were against teams that are currently ranked, and that we struggled our way to several of them (at home), and lost the one game at home against a currently ranked opponent.
Given these facts, I feel like there is a place for constructive conversation about what we all think needs to happen for our team to get better down the stretch.
At this point in the season, I think we all realize that our defense (coupled with tremendous heart and a will to win), is the primary reason that we have a 13 in the W column. We also realize that this defense isn't as good as it could/ is going to be later in the year; and, that our anemic offense is the primary reason why we've struggled to several home wins and dropped the conference home opener to Georgetown.
To me these things are givens, and I think that any Louisville fan as passionate/ dedicated as the readers here at the Chronicle are feel the same way. Shoveling blame around between players and Coach Pitino has become a troubling trend for me to see here in the comments sections of various posts. I offer this post, as an olive branch of constructive assessment; and, I will give mine first in the form of the top three things that I believe need to change in order for this team to develop/ reach their full potential.
Caveat: I am not a future Hall of Fame coach, and neither is anyone else here. I am a loyal fan, just like all of you, with strong opinions. I am of the opinion that the roster we have is the roster we have. I do not think that Wayne Blackshear, given the length of time that he has spent away from any form of organized basketball, is going to be the savior that suddenly makes our offensive woes disappear. I think that the players we have are going to have to get better/ healthier in order for us to become the force that we all hope they will. Also, my list is not anything hateful, nor am I being a "hater" of Coach Rick Pitino. It is a list of things that (in my humble opinion) need to happen for this team to get better. I am not blaming Coach Pitnio, or the players, for anything. I am simply listing three things that I think would make us a better team, and I encourage you all to do the same in the comments section.
#1. Something's gotta give: In my opinion the book is out on how to defend us. Go under the screen, stay at home on the shooters, and make Peyton Siva finish at the rim. Don't press, stop us in transition, and you can pretty much hold our point total down. If you have a good big man who can guard the rim, and enough athleticism on the perimeter to guard players who obviously can't get their own shots, you can pretty much get it done on the defensive end of the floor against this team.
Solution? I don't know what the answer is because I'm not Rick Pitnio. That said, what I'd like to see is one of two things. (a) Start telling Peyton to pull the trigger every time a defender goes under that high ball screen, don't even think about whether or not to do it, just do it. He's got to get some confidence in his shot, and the only way that's going to happen is if he's taking shots with confidence. Shots with Rick's blessing, which could also come from plays designed to get him cathc and shoot opportunities. (b) Come up with something different to involve the offensive weapons that we have. That something different could be a better shooter running the pick and roll, having our shooters run off of screens along the baseline (which unless my eyes deceived me, Kuric was doing against St. Johns), or simply throw it into the post to establish a scoring threat down there.
#2. Stop Fouling: I understand that pressure is part of what makes us so good defensively; but, fouling guys 80 feet from the basket is not a good thing, and it's going to cost us some games if it continues (possibly even in the tournament). I understand that the philosophy is to bring the shot clock down 7-8 seconds before the other team gets into their offensive set; but, in our last three games we've sent Georgetown to the line 24 times, Kentucky to the line 43 times, and the Johnnies went to the stripe 25 times. This is not a new trend against athletic teams, if you'll remember, Memphis also went to the line 43 times against us. I've felt for a long time now, like that particular kind of "right up in your face, baseline-baseline ball pressure" is a disadvantage to us come tournament time. Why? Because when we get an officiating crew that's not from the Big East, where they allow that sort of physical play to go on, we get whistled and it takes out of our game. We need to learn how to play defense when the whistle is tight, without fouling.
Solution? I don't think we have the athletes to bring that kind of "on the ball heat" without fouling, and I would like to see Coach Pitino call it off a little. Russ is Russ, Russ gets steals and I wouldn't want to see him back off one bit. Peyton has that ability, but he is fouling far too much right now. Either do it in spots, or just have everyone except Russ stay with their man to make things difficult for him, but do not reach. We have far too many injuries to overcome foul trouble against a really good team like G-Town, UK, Syracuse, or Marquette. I shudder to think about what the game in Milwaukee is going to look like in a few weeks. If I was setting the line in Vegas, I'd put the over/under at 45 for the number of free throws Marquette will shoot in that game.
#3. Get something out of the 4 spot: one of my biggest criticisms of the Pitnio system, for years, is seeing a power forward like Palacios, Earl Clark, or Chane Behanan catch the ball waaaaay out at the three point line more than they catch it on the block. Chane may indeed develop into a reliable three point shooter, Rak/ Swop may get healthy and shock the Cardinal loving world from out there down the stretch. But seeing them out there with the ball in their hands right now(?) well,...... it just makes me want to throw something at my television.
Solution? I'd like to see a big guy like Chane posting up. Even if he doesn't finish the shot there's a better chance of him drawing another defender, and moving the ball around to a shooter, than there is of anything good happening when he tries to shoot or go at his man from the wings. Rak, if healthy, is going to be good at taking another 4 off the dribble out there, and Swop needs to be shooting mid range jumpers (if he's even taking shots in the flow of the offense).
So, there it is. My late Christmas wish list of things I'd like to see change with this team between now and March, from a "system/ philosophy" stand point. I'd obviously like nothing more than for Peyton to start hitting jump shots, which would open up the lane for the roller, and the perimeter for the shooters. I would also like nothing more than for defenders to stop fouling on every other possession; but, I'm just not sure I believe those things are going to change if we keep doing the same things we've been doing from game 1 until now.
Caveat: I still think this team can be great, I still think this team can make a serious run in March, I still think Coach Pitino is the guy I want on the bench in crunch time. However, I don't think those things can happen if we continue doing the things we've been doing; we're not healthy enough, we don't have the personnel, and something's gotta give.