It's been a little over 24 hours since Louisville christened the KFC Yum Center with a 15-point victory over the 16th-ranked team in the country, and the bulk of conversation in between then and now has centered around exactly how impressive the victory was. The truth almost certainly lies somewhere between "this can be a Final Four team" and "OMG Butler sucks."
The Bulldogs aren't one of the 25 best teams in the country at the moment, a fact which could easily be false three months from now. Remember that BU started last season 8-4 before ripping off 25 straight wins on their way to the national title game. While there's no certainty of anything similar happening in 2010-2011, it's still more likely than not that handing the program its worst loss since 2006 is going to look pretty good come early March.
Of course if you're too impatient to wait and see how the next few months play out then you can always just ask the first Kentucky fan you see, as, in the past day, Big Blue Nation has established itself as the sole authority in regards to the issue of the strength of the 2010-2011 Butler Bulldogs basketball team. Conversation spoiler: "overrated" "garbage" "fluke" "Loserville" "Ricky 3 Stacks" "Free Enes."
While there are almost certainly some frustrating moments lying in the months ahead, this team is light years ahead of where I thought they would be right now, and has the potential to be much better than I thought they could be at any point in the offseason. The players who needed to improve over the summer have done so, the team is playing the style of play that is most conducive to their collective talents, and the group seems to have tremendous chemistry.
I was quick to chalk Pitino's "best chemistry of any team I've ever coached" comment last month up to hyperbole (he has used the rhetorical device at times in the past), but I'm starting to think he - inadvertently or not - may have been stating a fact.
Check out these postgame quotes from the team's two most experienced players:
"The group that was out there didn’t necessarily play together that much," said senior captain Preston Knowles, who didn’t start but had 12 points and three steals. "But just for them to come in, it just goes back to chemistry. You can throw any five out there and we’re going to play."
"I definitely think there is less ego," said center Terrence Jennings, who contributed 13 points, eight rebounds and four blocked shots. "We're more of a family. We believe in each other."
The issue of a player being out there for himself is one unlikely to be raised with this group, something which hasn't been true in years past. There also isn't one guy on this roster who's going to back down to any challenge. These kids are tough, they like one another, and they trust one another.
I really think this is going to be a fun group to follow, and I know it's going to be an easy one to get behind.
This is my new victory song. Learn it, love it, hate me for having it in your head for the next seven days.
Peyton Siva and Terrence Jennings are the two most important players on the team. They have more natural talent than their teammates, and they play positions where their backups are highly inexperienced.
The third most important player, and I really and truly believe this, is Mike Marra.
Rakeem Buckles might very well lead this team in both scoring and rebounding, Preston Knowles and Kyle Kuric are going to get a lot of attention because they're viewed as leaders, but Marra is that overlooked wild card (bitches) whose play can be the difference between a win and a loss on any given night.
Despite his struggles as a freshman, Marra's going to be relied on as this team's top outside threat, he's tall enough to shoot with accuracy when adequately defended, he's athletic enough to create his own shot, and - I said this all last season despite being consistently ignored - he's a really, really good defender. His combination of length and athleticism (Bilas is ghostwriting) single-handedly led to Butler not even being able to get a shot off on a 2-on-1 break, and forced them to pull the ball out and get into their halfcourt set.
He already looks like a completely different person from a confidence standpoint, and if that confidence translates into on-court performances like it did on Tuesday, then Marra can be the difference-maker this team sorely needs.
It appears that our preseason fears (rhyme) concerning a certain exclamation point-laden senior captain are being - at least momentarily - realized.
The status of being the lone senior and team captain seems to have made Preston Knowles think that he needs to be this team's offensive superstar. Someone needs to get it into his head that this isn't the case. PK is capable of big offensive games and should absolutely take shots when he's open, but if he's Louisville's leading scorer come late February, then chances are the season will have been a disappointment.
In three years, Preston has played a key role in a Big East regular season title, a Big East tournament title, and six NCAA Tournament wins. It was his effort, his defense and his ability to knock down open shots that contributed to those achievements, not sensational ball-handling or the ability to drill the heavily-guarded fall-away jumper.
I don't mean to say that Preston didn't bring the ! intensity last night, because he did (three steals), I just think he needs to realize that he doesn't need to make the "wow" offensive play for this team to be successful. Being a senior or being a captain doesn't expand your limitations. The team looks up to Preston, but it's not because he's a future NBA All-Star.
He also removed his undershirt during halftime. I'd call it a rash move, but you're looking at (read: reading the words of) a man who wouldn't wear a particular shirt during tailgating last weekend because he didn't want to "wear it out."
OK, Elisha Justice rules.
He's a lot better than any of us (or at least myself) expected, he wanted the ball in his hands with the game on the line, and Rick Pitino casually refers to him as "Bullet."
I couldn't be happier that he's chosen to wear red for four years.
If you don't want to read or think about a topic that isn't of any real concern at the moment, skip down to the next mini-Cardinal head...
I'm concerned with how well Jared Swopshire's going to fit into this style of play when he comes back. He's the least athletic of our forwards, he's, at best, a streaky shooter, and his best games last season (Rutgers, Syracuse, Notre Dame) came when the amount of up-and-down play was limited.
Pitino has already said that, because of future scholarship availability, Swop won't redshirt this season regardless of how much time he misses. The issue of whether or not that's kind of shitty aside, what this means is that Swop will almost certainly be joining this team at some point in the dead of winter.
Like I said, this isn't of any concern to us right now, but I can't help but be worried about the prospect of Swop being thrown into the mix from out-of-nowhere some time in January, especially if this team is relatively successful before that point.
Most pleasant surprise of Tuesday night? Russ Smith in a suit. Never saw it coming.
I love Brad Stevens, but the ridiculous fouling when the outcome of the game was no longer in jeopardy was...well, ridiculous.
The whole thing reminded me of a game against Marquette during one of Denny Crum's last seasons. Mike Deane, as might be expected, was being a tool and refusing to let the clock run out. While someone for Louisville was shooting free-throws, Nate Johnson walked over to the Golden Eagle bench and started pleading with Deane to let the game end. Deane signaled to a referee and very clearly said, "get him away from me."
It was funny. Kind of funny. Ok, not that funny, but a memory which nonetheless was evoked by last night's happenings and therefore forcefully thrust upon you against your will.
I wasn't able to attend the game (thanks, everyone), but am told that the intro video was the same as it was during the exhibitions, which is disappointing. For the last few years, the place has gone crazy when the lights are dimmed. Fans start clapping, the players start jumping; it's an enjoyable experience for all involved. With this video/song, however, everyone gets excited when the lights dim, and then we all just kind of stand around awkwardly until the whole thing is over. Same deal with football.
Here's hoping a change is made.
I'm also told that the man they call "J-Bone" was "gettin' jiggy with it" and being "da bomb" all night long. Seriously, I played baseball with a kid who was called "J-Bone" until age 13, when everyone (parents included) decided that such a nickname was no longer age-appropriate.
At this point, J-Bone wouldn't be guaranteed a mayoral race victory over Kragthorpe.
Shelvin Mack's good. I wish he played for our team.
Definitely got nervous when Peyton hit his adorable head on the floor. It looked and sounded pretty bad. If I were a third-grade teacher I'd totally make a bad joke about the fact that he was OK after hitting his head hard. I'd also be hammered.
Sans the pair of 15-foot bricks, this is exactly the type of game we need from Terrence Jennings. Finish around the rim, be a monster on the glass, and continue to be the defensive force you've been since arriving on campus.
Gorgui Dieng was really impressive in the first half, but didn't see the court much during the second 20 minutes. Not sure what the deal was, but still a solid debut for the bilingual big man...also, bilingual refers to anyone who speaks more than one language and not someone who speaks two languages, so nobody (rickmbari) try to call me out on that one.
This is where the celebrity feud gets prolonged. Get ready to see the following quoted by Perez Hilton in a few hours.
Dick Vitale's been done for a while now, but it's almost too painful to take at this point. I'm trying to watch my favorite basketball team knock off the reigning national runner-up in the debut of our new arena, I don't give a shit who your grandson thinks should win the Cy Young.
At this point, Vitale's the way-too-drunk 65-year-old creepily dancing with the 20-something girls at a wedding and thinking he's the life of the party. The memories of you being the "cool uncle" 20-25 years ago are still carrying you, and because of that most of the people hanging around the dance floor are willing to humor you, but deep down you're pissing all of us off and we'd be much happier if you'd go away.
Shirt change proof:
Stephen Van Treese looks to be in much better shape and, like Marra, appears far more confident than he was at any point during his freshman year. It'll be interesting to see if he emerges as a solid contributor for the duration of the season, or ends up being a Gianiny-esque holiday-season sensation.
Rakeem Buckles' newfound ability to knock down the outside shot with some consistency makes him about ten times more dangerous on the offensive end. He's not a great ball-handler and he isn't particularly quick, but a defender having to come out and respect his ability from beyond the arc will give him that full step he needs to make a move to the bucket.
I will be (slightly) surprised if he doesn't end up leading this team in scoring.
NBC's Beyond the Arc says Louisville's win was the most important of the tip-off marathon. Hard to argue.
Kyle Kuric did not attempt a shot, prompting this quote from Pitino: "I think since he won homecoming king, that's gotten to his head"
Your question of the day: Including Tuesday night, how many times is "Kuric won homecoming king" going to be referenced on telecasts throughout the season? Over/Under is eight.
Basketball season is here. VillenHD highlights are below. Don't try to hide your erection. If they're judging you they don't understand, and if they don't understand then they don't matter.