Throughout Rick Pitino's tenure, early season showcase games have never been the forte and strong suit of his Louisville teams. There have been multiple losses to mid-tier Big 10 schools leaving fans confused, but filling Pitino's film room with teachable moments. My confidence level wasn't soaring entering the Pitino v. Pitino showdown, but 96 wins in the past three seasons should have let me in on Louisville's secret. This era of Cardinals expect to win and know how to get the job done.
Impressive is the only word that floated to mind when asked to describe Louisville's victory over Minnesota. The Cardinals controlled the game from start to finish battling foul trouble, inconsistent shooting, and excessive humidity. My only gripe about the game were the officials. Beginning of the season, middle of the season, tournament time, it shouldn't matter. Officials should always call a consistent game and not have an agenda to enforce certain rules. I would be willing to wager that there were 10 or more anticipated whistles Friday night. This type of game control is frustrating to watch, and even harder to play in because the athletes have no chance of settling into a rhythm. Also, blowing the whistle every trip down the floor is a major advantage for the underdog.
In conjunction with the previous rant, Wayne Blackshear continues to be the unluckiest player I have ever had the pleasure of cheering for. If I remember correctly, New Wayne was victimized by one anticipated whistle, and two egregious fouls that quickly sent our senior to the bench. When Blackshear was on the floor, his play was solid and aggressive and I still believe his senior year will be his best.
The stars of the evening were not a surprise, but Harrell and Rozier certainly exceeded expectations. Montrezl, his new hairdo deserves some credit, is the first Cardinal to be a legitimate player of the year candidate since...? If a better and more dominant player in the NCAA exists, please show him to me. His mid-range game was exceptional, ball handling was very solid, and would you believe it, Harrell shot 90% from the free throw line. We knew he was a star and the best player on our roster, I didn't know he was going to be that much better than every other player on the floor. Harrell is the DeVante Parker of the basketball team. Montrezl is just that much better than everyone, and no team will be able to contain him this season.
Terry Rozier continues to improve and exude coolness. Rozier is in complete control of his game and his zero turnover performance was awesome. Terry has the ability to seize the game at any moment, and at times he is almost too patient in letting the game come to him. There was a stretch in the second half where he simply decided to take over the contest, and his body language and playmaking proclaimed loudly that he knew no one could do anything to stop him. Rozier's confidence and leadership should allow Wayne and Jones to relax and execute when their numbers are called.
I firmly believe that Harrell and Rozier would start for any team in the country, and those two will carry the Cardinals through their toughest schedule yet. As for the remaining members of the Cardinal roster, I was impressed with the play of Snider and Onuaku. Neither of their stat lines scream standout, but both filled their roles successfully and showed an understanding of how to play the game. Snider also stepped up and made a huge basket in the second half when Minnesota was threatening to make a game of it. Both of them will be needed as the season moves along, and their rapidly increasing basketball IQ is encouraging to this passionate observer. Jones is a defensive monster, period.
As for Gill, he appeared to be pressing Friday night, but his confidence will be needed and I am not ready to throw him to the wolves after one game. Anton needs to learn from Terry's patience and refrain from forcing plays. Mangok is certainly playing stronger and more aggressive, but he needs to continue to work on his strength around the rim and finishing easy baskets. I have high hopes for Mathiang and believe he will be key as the season moves along.
The Cardinals got off to a successful start Friday night by easily defeating a tournament caliber team. These Cardinals are still a somewhat unknown commodity, but their impressive defeat of the Gophers showcased three cemented facts. Louisville will once again be among the nation's elite in team defense, Montrezl Harrell may be/is the best player in the country, and Terry Rozier is certainly cooler than the other side of the pillow. The 2014-2015 season is underway Cardinal fans, welcome back to the dynasty.
All Hail UofL !!