The Cardinals played their second marquee matchup of the season Tuesday night, the first against a ranked opponent, and the outcome was an all important victory. Louisville's identity for 2014-2015 is becoming very obvious, very quickly, and Cardinal fans everywhere need to get used to winning ugly.
Rick Pitino has had two staples throughout his HOF career, the three point shot and unrelenting defensive pressure. His current version of Louisville Basketball could become one of the best defensive units he has ever assembled, but also one of the poorest outside shooting teams. When enjoying the Cardinals this year it is fairly certain that a Taquan Dean, Kyle Kuric, Jerry Smith, or Luke Hancock are not walking through that door. Louisville will have to win with defense and continue to emphasize timely open shot attempts.
The positive news is that defense can, and will, carry this team as far as possible. Also, having a potential player of the year on your roster embrace the role as the best leader in college basketball will go a long way in guaranteeing a successful season. Blackshear, Rozier, and Harrell are good and experienced basketball players with a NBA future. These three leaders, Chris Jones with his unstoppable hustle and defense, and all the newcomers seem to understand that defense will be rewarded with playing time, and that defense is the number one key to success.
Tuesday night was not a fashion show, and if Arkansas AD Jeff Long had his way the Cardinals would probably be dropped out of the top 25. Louisville is rarely going to win pretty this season, but they will win because of coaching, attitude, hustle, and relentless ball hawking.
The Ohio State game was impressive because of the freshman that stepped up in a tournament style game and contributed major minutes as well as presence. I know a lot of you ladies out there are just now recovering from the Mahmoud wink, but the Sphinx continues to impress. He seems to understand the game of basketball, and when his body catches up to his IQ the Flying Egyptian could become a Cardinal great. Onuaku also has an impressive grasp of the game. His outlet passes would make Wes Unseld applaud, and his interior presence is astounding for a kid who just turned 18. Quentin Snider once again showed that the moment isn't too big for him, and his defense is improving. Q is still a little timid with the trigger, but hopefully Jones's attitude will rub off on him just a smidge. Louisville will continue to improve, and if the Cardinals make the Final Four, these newcomers will be a major reason why.
Before addressing my complaints I wanted to recognize Terry Rozier for his toughness and gumption. Terry did not have his best game, but his pinky appeared to be bending in three directions when crunch time arrived and he still knocked down the shots Louisville needed to secure victory. Terry is good and is only getting better.
The complaints begin with the officials and end with our point guard. Congratulations referees for taking a competitive basketball game between two powerhouse programs and turning it into the zebra show. Louisville fans do not donate major portions of their disposable income to watch the officials invent fouls, anticipate calls, and remove all joy from a fun athletic competition. I am all for starting a petition to the NCAA to begin a repercussion/punishment program for officials who consistently fail at their profession. If coaches and players can be suspended and fined, why do referees escape unscathed? Do us a favor NCAA, instead of investigating Shaqquan Aaron like he is a top level terrorist, focus on the zebras and put the lame ones out to pasture.
Chris Jones is a phenomenal defender and relentless hustler. His attitude is almost too intense, but I wouldn't alter it due to his defensive performances. With that being said, Jones needs to remember his role as point guard and focus on taking open shots and distributing the basketball. He forces the issue and forces interior shots. Chris is improved, and will continue to improve, but some of his offensive aggression needs to be transferred to Rozier in order for Louisville to reach its potential.
Louisville captured a very important win Tuesday night even though many found the game hard to watch. Some blame can be placed on the officials, but we need to get used to a season full of ugly wins because this team knows and believes in one thing, defense. The Cardinals know their identity and accept it. An old adage comes to mind, defense wins championships? The Cardinals are a championship level team and prepare for one intense season.
All Hail UofL !!
PS: Let's make some free-throws or face the consequence of an early NCAA exit.