Another game, another over-matched opponent, another chance to learn more about our team. The Samford Bulldogs bring a 1-1 record into the Yum! Center in what is technically the opening game of the Battle for Atlantis. Samford is led by Freshman Tim Williams, a 6-8 Forward from Chicago, who scored 23 points and grabbed 10 boards in an opening game heartbreaking loss to Austin Peay and followed it up with 13 and 10 in a win against Martin Methodist, which I guess what Johnny Football would have been named if he had gone to SMU?
Anyway, in the Austin Peay game, Sanford was down as much as 16 in the first half before cutting things to 5 points with 11 minutes to go in the game. Austin Peay eventually pulled away for a 75-64 win. Williams played 39 minutes and scored his points on a pretty efficient 10-18 from the floor, less efficient 3-6 from the line. He also managed to go the whole game with only 2 fouls, but had no blocks and no assists, so it sounds like he is talented and will present a good test for our front line. Samford only went 7 deep against Austin Peay and only 8 in their win against Martin Methodist, so assuming we press from the getgo, I assume they will wear down like Manhattan did the other night.
But you aren't at this game to see Samford's sophomore guard Raijon Kelly or first year head coach Bennie Seltzer. You are here to see your beloved Louisville Cardinals. Pitino apparently wants to get a good look too, and will be experimenting with different things tonight. First of all, a "zone" defense. Right now Pitino is saying the "zone" defense will be as a change of pace for this team. I guess he thinks with the depth and athleticism we didn't have last year, this year's team can handle man-to-man the full game and still keep opponents to the same scoring efficiency as we did last year. I'm anxious to see. Feels like with our athletes and length, and Gorgui in the middle, an effective zone from this group would be tough to beat but what do I know.
Also, in general with so many guys (Ware, Hancock, Wayne, Trez, SVT) playing way more minutes than they played last year, and so many different potential offensive styles and ways to create shots, a lot of this game will just be Pitino seeing what line-ups work well together. By February, rotations are set almost down to the minute/situation. Tonight there will probably be 5 guys playing together that you won't see together again the rest of the season. So I'm excited about seeing who plays well together and who doesn't.
I'm also anxious to see how our offense looks tonight in 3 phases:
1) Against man-to-man defense. Manhattan made our offense look a lot like last year in the first half by eliminating penetration, making interior passes tough and basically giving us open 3s, which we clanked. Gorgui's presence in the middle of the zone offense is a huge deal and I can't imagine it will work that well as the season moves forward because now teams will have seen it, but him hitting that mid-range jumper or finding open guys is about as perfect as our offense can get.
2) Wide open 3s. Our biggest weakness.
3) Without Gorgui, especially against a zone. That's sorta like 1(b) but 1(a) and 1(b) and 2) are still three things so just get off my back. Anyway, we need to be able to score without him because he will get in foul trouble this year.
Finally, rebounding. Our guys want to get out and run, which is awesome, but someone has to collect the ball so that we have something with which to run. Rebounding has been a problem in both games so far against inferior competition, so regardless of final score, I would love to see successful rebounding w/o reducing our fast breaks.
Okay, Prediction Time
First Basket: Siva . They come out in man-to-man, we run a high pick and roll and Siva gets to the basket.
First Cardinals Basket: Siva.
Biggest Opponent Lead: 10-4. A couple 3s by Raijon Kelly force a Pitino timeout and Wayne/Chane off the bench (or Luke/Trez depending on who actually starts)
Cardinal MVP: Team effort. There's no "MVP" in "team effort".
Hyper-Specific, Random Prediction: Someone will throw Montrezl an alley oop and it will sail out of bounds. Going with it until it happens. A couple of unsuccessful alley-oops last game, so this is definitely in the mix.
Ultimate Outcome: Louisville wins going away.