If this is were a horse race (or a Bobby Knight practice) it would be time to bust out the whip.
Today's game against Providence marks the first of a five game gauntlet featuring the Friars, Marquette, Depaul, Syracuse and Connecticut that will likely make or break Louisville's 2006-2007 season. The good news for the Cardinals is that four of the five games are at home, the bad news is that four of the five teams are ranked in the top 55 in Ken Pomeroy's rankings and U of L hasn't beaten a team with a Pomeroy ranking under 75.
"In order to try and win the Big East we need to try and get as many road wins as we can, but obviously we have to try and take care of every game at home," UofL center David Padgett said. "So I think if we can win three of these next four at home, or all four, that would be huge for us. We've got to hold our own at home and try and sneak out as many wins on the road as we can."
Game one is going to be a douzy.
Providence, 12-3 overall, is one of only two undefeated teams left in the Big East at 2-0, and owns victories over Marquette and Boston College. But the Friars haven't won a game away from home, falling to Florida (85-67) and Florida State (92-62) on the road. Their other loss was a 10-point shocker to Brown at home.
The Friars are big and play with power, but still maintain one of the fastest tempos in the league. Louisville has struggled with transition defense at times this season, and if they do this afternoon then it could be an extremely long day. PC looks to outlet quickly after defensive rebounds, a strategy that is greatly aided by the fact that 6-7 swingman Geoff McDermott was a highly recruited quarterback coming out of high school. 6-5 sophomore guard Weyinmi Efejuku is a tremendous athlete who is much faster than you'd think a player of his size could be, and a player who scores the bulk of his points off the break.
6-10 senior center Herbert Hill has improved steadily for four years and has suddenly become a star. The big man is averaging just under 17 points a contest, is leading the nation in shooting percentage, and is just behind McDermott for the conference lead in rebounding. Hill led Providence for the second straight game with 25 points and nine rebounds in its last outing, a 91-69 win over Seton Hall, and is the most recent recipient of the Big East Player of the Week award.
Herbert Hill may sound like a dork
but he will f--- your s--- up
"Providence is a great team," Pitino said. "McDermott is a killer on the glass and Hill is terrific. They have guys who can shoot. They're a big-time team that is only going to get better. So we're going to see one of the better teams in the country."
Hill and McDermott have been great, but the star of stars for PC is sophomore guard Sharaud Curry who will be playing Saturday for the first time since he was suspended for four games for an unspecified violation of team rules. Curry is averaging 17.3 points, 5.6 assists and led the team with 21 three-pointers at the time of his suspension. He is regarded as one of the best pure scoring point guards in the conference.
Louisville is looking to win back-to-back conference games for the first time since joining the Big East last year, but will have to do so without the services of Juan Palacios who is still nursing both back and neck injuries.
"We were on the plane and I was having a debate with our trainer and I just said, 'Look, I'm not playing him. The kid can't shoot," Pitino said. "Yes, he's a good defensive player in the post, but at Notre Dame he wouldn't shoot open layups. I had no option but to say, 'How can we hurt the other team with a strength?'"
Of course this means he'll probably play.
Pitino also said that freshman Derrick Caracter, who didn't make the trip to Tampa for Wednesday's game against South Florida, will dress but may or may not play.
The Cardinals are coming off arguably their best performance of the season, a game in which they hit 13-of-30 shots from beyond the arc, and picked up their first road win in over a year. Perhaps the most encouraging thing to come out of the win was the play of Brandon Jenkins, who broke out of a shooting slump by hitting 5 of 6 shots, including all four of his threes. In his previous seven games he had missed 31 of 35 field goal attempts and had made just 2 off 22 treys.
In a league rich with parity that was noticably absent last season, each game against fellow squads appearing destined to fill out the conference's 3-12 spots is crucial.
"When you look at the league after just one week, it's vastly different than the one that had all the top-25 teams in the preseason," said PC coach Tim Welsh. "Usually you see the top teams jump out to 4-0, 5-0 starts, but you haven't seen that yet. It seems the bottom teams have moved up more towards the middle, so that creates excellent balance."
Did the Cards turn a corner Wednesday night, or was it just a fluke case of a bad shooting team hitting some shots? Saturday's game will go a long way towards finding out.
This one is enormous folks.