Monday, September 28, 2009

Preview 2009-10 -- Louisville Cardinals

Too Busy for the Details?
Steady or down? Losing both Terrence Williams and Earl Clark in one NBA draft is a blow no matter how much talent the roster boasts. Coach Pitino returns a talented (if headstrong and inconsistent) point guard and center (more consistent and amenable to coaching), along with veteran wings. The cupboard is not exactly bare, but important parts of the offense have to be replaced, and someone has to step up. Another talented class is coming in and should be able to contribute early and often. If the Cardinals will be able to concentrate on basketball this season, all should be go well. Maybe. Prognosis -- A 1st quartile finish.

3 Years At a Glance
Coach Pitino has had the Cardinals operating at a very high level over the past 3 seasons. This is the lowest starting point since 2006, their first season in the Big East, the year after their last Final Four run.


It is tempting to conclude the Cardinals will struggle next season, just as they did in 2006, but consider that 2006 squad suffered injuries to David Padgett and Juan Palacios just before the beginning of fall practice. Both were hobbled and marginally effective through much of the season (Padgett took surgery in February, virtually conceding the season was a washout).

According to Pomeroy...
Overall ORtg113.431115.232116.029
Overall DRtg84.2284.1588.416
Big East ORtg106.37105.96107.02
Big East DRtg92.4191.4194.72
Four Factors -- Overall
All Off. eFG%52.74953.14549.9176
All Off. TOv%19.713820.212619.266
All Off. OReb%34.610233.514537.153
All Off. FTA/FGA31.429436.517537.2150
All Def. eFG%44.31244.0745.523
All Def. TOv%23.04321.215522.586
All Def. OReb%31.712430.67933.8185
All Def. FTA/FGA30.24033.410545.5302
Four Factors -- Big East
BE Off. eFG%52.9352.7150.27
BE Off. TOv%19.71218.9816.42
BE Off. OReb%33.81030.21533.08
BE Off. FTA/FGA31.2938.2622.111
BE Def. eFG%44.8244.3246.34
BE Def. TOv%21.8120.5522.41
BE Def. OReb%33.7929.1234.912
BE Def. FTA/FGA31.3632.1640.713
All Gms Cons23.730018.610418.584
All Gms Luck+.06123-.065297-.054278

Valuing quick, lighter-weight but athletic, prototypic wing guard-type forwards may be a reason why the Cardinals consistently rank higher in the conference for generating defensive turnovers and shot defense. The preference has it's weaknesses -- ranking in the conference for offensive rebounding, for example, is relatively low. The key to improve an already top of the conference ranking in defense (beyond bringing back long time friend and defensive guru Ralph Willard) may be to improve (even more) an average defensive rebounding rate. And couple that with a better offensive rebounding rate. Samuels and Jennings should have the tools to do that in 2010.

For the Record...
Big East1620.8891620.8891330.813
Post Season?NCAA/Rnd 4NCAA/Rnd 4NCAA/Rnd 2

The Cardinals have, along with Pitt put together a terrific 3 year run, consistently competing for a bye seed (like Pitt, often the top seed) in the Big East Tournament. The previews are mixed, Jay Bilas sees a second quartile finish. Maybe, but how big a step back?

The Cardinal's Nucleus
Louisville may have lost nearly ½ of their minutes (and points, over ½ of their rebounds, etc.), but they bring back a point guard and their center, two places to start rebuilding.

On Offense

Given that senior Jerry Smith has not grown beyond the 3rd/4th option on offense (though flying under the radar, he has been extremely efficient when he does take that shot), it is very unlikely his role, even with the vacuum created by Clark's and William's exits, will expand much this season. Though he logged few minutes, Terrence Jennings' Poss% & Shot%, coupled with his ORtg, suggest a larger role. Even with a little degradation to his shooting/ORtg, Jennings would be on the high side for offensive efficiency (ie he would "pull the offense up"). Swopshire, like Jennings, hovers at the edge of "regular player" status in the offense, but unlike Jennings, has not been able to translate his opportunities efficiently into points.

On Defense
Samardo Samuels62.610.17.620.95.41.4
Jerry Smith52.
Edgar Sosa49.46.221.823.60.42.2
Preston Knowles41.78.210.813.80.53.3
Terrence Jennings26.511.63.816.313.72.3
Jared Swopshire13.515.
George Goode10.814.17.516.412.72.5
Reginald Delk10.37.814.910.34.01.5

Significant Additions
The scouting services really like Peyton Siva, a 5-11 pg out of Seattle, Washington & 6-9, 205 lb Rakeem Buckles, a pf from Florida. Siva is ranked in a few Top 25, while Buckles comes in somewhere between 50 and 100. Siva will be a talent upgrade over departed Andre McGee, a good (not great) pg who took direction well (better than Sosa). Siva will definitely make the practices more intense and push senior Edgar Sosa, a sometime flashy New York City point who has landed in Coach Pitino's dog house a few times in the past 3 seasons, to either get with the program or sit on the bench. Buckles has a power forward's game in a small forward's body and is especially effective in transition. With a good handle and an inclination to take defenders off the dribble, he may remind Louisville fans of Earl Clark. The Cardinals also bring in 6-3 off guard Mike Marra and a 6-9 220 lb power forward, Stephan Van Treese, will add depth.

Explode If...
Despite a "down year piece" by ESPN's Mike Hume (you need a subscription), the Cardinals have enormous depth, particularly on the wing and en the front court. You can't blame Hume, teams that lose two NBA 1st round picks always suffer a hangover season, but how many have returned with as much in the tank at the Cardinals?
1. Coach Rick Pitino identified #4/#5 Terrence Jennings as the one who had to make progress for the Cardinals to succeed. Jennings is a monster offensive rebounder and if he can duplicate the effort under the opponent's basket the Cardinals will move a long way towards replacing Williams' and Clark's defense.
2. Peyton Silva provides good support to a newly focused (and "coachable"?) Edgar Sosa. The Cardinals will not need Sosa's shot as much as his ability to distribute and involve the wings and low post playes in the offense.

Implode If...
The potential for distraction can be measured by the noise surrounding the program. Louisville players have been challenged to focus through player tantrums, injuries and player-staff feuds (all with accompanying commentary by fans...). But the noise generated by the "Karen Sypher Incident" (in addition to the usual drama) may be the loudest in the Pitino Era. With a trial still to come (best case -- have it over and done before the middle of October), the worst days may yet come. Count on the road being brutal this season.
1. The Cards have to replace the defensive rebounding that departed with Clark and Williams. Samuels and Jennings were surprisingly light (defensive) rebounders last season. They will have to improve. A lot -- but others (whoever takes the #3 and #2) should pick up some of that responsibility -- as Williams did -- if Louisville is to maintain their defense.

Crucial Run/Bellweather Games
The Cardinals typically put together a decent, though not killer OOC slate, and this season they will face traditional (but resurgent?) foe Kentucky, SEC middling power Arkansas (Basketball Hall of Fame Showcase on a neutral court in St. Louis, MO), a road trip to Las Vegas to face the Runnin Rebs and a rematch with the Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky. Rebuilding has been the off season theme, but running the table, a possibility, would suggest the Cardinals will again dominate the conference again this season.

The seven conference games that follow Louisville's annual tilt with Kentucky should be interesting. The Cards travel to Providence to take on a rebuilding Friar team, then return home to host St. John's and Villanova. A two game road trip with stops at a possibly down Pittsburgh and resurgant Seton Hall is followed by a three game home-away-home sequence with Cincinnati, West Virginia (don't the 'Eers get all the luck?) and Connecticut. Standing 6-2 or better (the Cards open the season by hosting the Bulls -- a game they will no doubt be favored to win) would be very good news for the Cardinal Nation. 4-4 on the other hand, would suggest Louisville will have a lot of work to do in the latter part of the season.

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