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On Dieng, the NCAA and the state of Cardinal basketball

The Gorgui Dieng ruling is an awful break for the young man and perhaps for the future of the U of L program, but I don't understand the people who are acting like we just went from national contender to Depaul (CJW!). Louisville is not going to be very good this season, but they aren't any worse than they were four weeks ago.

Dieng would have added some much-needed depth in the front court and he would have gained experience valuable for the next three seasons, but he wasn't the difference between 15 and 25 wins. I thought the ceiling last season was the Sweet 16, and I still think the ceiling for 2010-2011 is simply making the tournament.

That being said, the next eight months still represent one of the most crucial stretches in the history of the Louisville basketball program. No hyperbole. I mean every word of that.

Next season is going to be ugly on the court. That's not where the significance is going to lie.

If the losing is worse than expected, then all of the negative off-the-court issues that have transpired since the Michigan State Regional Final are going to be rehashed ad nauseum. A healthy contingent of Cardinal fans will turn up the heat on Rick Pitino (check the message boards right now). Scathing national columns will be written. Dick Vitale's unwavering support will comfort no one.

All of this is inconsequential if Pitino can convince Wayne Blackshear, Chane Behanan, the rest of his commits and a couple more highly-touted, currently undecided prep stars that this is still a program that can win a national title and still the program where they ought to spend the final years of their amateur careers. If this happens, Louisville is a national player from 2011-2013, and is in position to maintain that success in the foreseeable future.

If, however, Blackshear or Behanan waver and aren't supplanted by suitable replacements, then the Pitino era at Louisville will be on the brink of ending with a thud. In light of recent events, you get the feeling that The Don is just a few bits of disappointing news away from simply being over it all. Pitino has been putting the pieces in place to make a run at the national title in the next two seasons for some time, and seeing that dream fall apart would be enough to take a giant chunk out of any man, even one who's been through as much as Pitino has.

If Pitino leaves, is forced out, or retires after an extended period of relative futility, I just can't see Jurich finding someone who can re-invigorate the program as quickly and easily as some are claiming. Pitino is one of the biggest names in this sport and that will still be the case whenever it's decided that his coaching days at U of L are over. An established head coach pursued by Tom Jurich will undoubtedly think twice about the position if they see that someone like Pitino wasn't able to maintain a consistent level of elite success. The other option is the young, energetic head coach who recently led his mid-major team into the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. That route has been and always will be extremely hit or miss.

My point is this: love or hate the present head coach, the combination of Rick Pitino, Louisville's current sophomores and juniors, and potential stellar recruiting classes in 2011 and 2012 could very well be the best shot this program has at a national title this decade.

More thoughts from the day that was:

The always solid NBE basketball blog interviewed Dieng's coach at Huntington Prep and communicates more about the situation than anything else on the Internet.

The money quotes:

"[It has to do with his] African transcript," Fulford said. "NCAA said he finished high school in Senegal, [but] he didn’t, so they then said he didn’t graduate on time [because of the] 8-semester rule. They appealed, but not sure where it is.

"[He] graduated here! They are saying he should have graduated over there. His last African transcript said 11th grade. It is obviously very confusing."

"It is sad for the kid," he said. "He turned down a pro contract in France to come here and finish high school and play college basketball.

"He scored an 810 and didn’t speak English when he arrived in the USA. [He] had a 3.3 here. My [European] kid at Iona was cleared in three days. It’s sad how selective they are."

Text from a friend this afternoon: "How bad has it gotten that I'm devastated by the Swop news?"

The NCAA doesn't deserve the extensive attention they're begging for with absurd decisions like this one. The association is an absolute joke and everyone knows it. I can bring myself to stomach (kind of) the greed-driven unfathomability (word) of something like the college football bowl system, but punishing a 19-year-old kid like Dieng who has done absolutely everything that anyone has ever asked of him is too sickening to properly address. Words of reason will do absolutely nothing in this case other than frustrate the hell out of everyone who isn't a member of the entity at the center of the issue.

Available players for the Red/White scrimmage in 19 days:

Peyton Siva
Preston Knowles
Mike Marra
Kyle Kuric
George Goode
Terrence Jennings
Stephen Van Treese
Rakeem Buckles
Chris Smith
Elisha Justice
Mark Jackson Jr.
Tim Henderson

That's two teams of five scholarship players and a pair of walk-on subs.

The arena being the star of the show could easily end up being the theme of the season.

Do we have a compliance office?

Justin Coleman and Roburt Sallie are shot down, Jordan Campbell and Demar Dorsey are ignored without explanation, and now a kid who speaks five languages and scored a fucking 31 on his ACT doesn't meet the academic requirements necessary to play Big East basketball. Meanwhile, down I-64, Sandy Bell just shot someone in Indianapolis a text and the third-grader from Billy Madison who can't read will be starting at center for the Cats inside Commonwealth on Saturday.

We already have like eight former Blue Bloods on staff, how about we throw some of that Ralph Willard money at her?

Speaking of Willard, what's the deal (with that shaving tray in the airplane bathroom?) with his move to director of basketball operations?

The Willard era at Louisville has been bizarre since day one. The only possible explanation at the time of his hiring - when he abandoned what figured to be one of his best teams at Holy Cross - was that Pitino thought the program might need an interim head coach. This new move by Willard, made so that he can "spend more time with his family," would seem to fall in line with that, since it's become apparent the head coach isn't headed anywhere else any time soon.

Pitino also seemed to hint that the swap with now-assistant Mark Lieberman might be temporary, which I think is equally odd, but whatever, I also don't get Raising Arizona.

My understanding is that Pitino really likes Dieng and has high hopes that eventually he will play basketball for Louisville. Here's hoping that hope comes to fruition. The kid deserves it.

Free Gorgui.