LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- University of Louisville coach Rick Pitino had little to say about the University of Kentucky basketball team after Saturday's win over Western Kentucky, but after watching the Wildcats on tape, he says they deserved to be a nationally ranked team right now, and that he believes the team has made strides in the past couple of weeks.
Speaking with Paul Rogers of WHAS on his Nelligan Sports radio show by phone Thursday night, Pitino praised the Wildcats, but saved his biggest praise for freshman Nerlens Noel. Pitino did not attend the show in order to be in Bowling Green, Ky., for his son Richard's game with Florida International against Western Kentucky
"In looking at all their film, Kentucky in the past two weeks has improved immensely," Pitino said. "They are, without question, I think a top 12 team in the country. They've got great talent. They're very well-coached fundamentally. But they've improved in the past two weeks. From the Baylor game until now they've gotten a lot better in their execution. They're shooting almost 49 percent from the field; they're a low-turnover team; they're a very good defensive team and they're very good athletically. . . . They're like one of the premier teams in the country. They have great talent. John does a great job with young players getting them ready."
Of Noel, Pitino said comparisons to last season's Wooden Award winner and No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick Anthony Davis are unfair -- but pointed out there's not a whole lot of difference between their numbers to this point.
"I recruited Nerlens Noel and he's gotten better each week," Pitino said. ". . . He's leading the team in steals. He's very quick. He's improved his low-post game. Let me say this, Anthony Davis, when we were getting ready to play them going into Rupp (last season), had been a marginal foul shooter and a marginal shooter. In our game, he became a very good free-throw shooter, and developed his game from that point on. Comparisons are very unfair to any basketball player. But put it this way, Anthony Davis was the No. 1 pick in the draft. I'm not sure if Nerlens is going to be No. 1, but he's going to be No. 1 or 2. So there's not too much difference between he two. Anthony Davis is a little further advanced on the skill level, but Nerlens since he's arrived has gotten better and better. He's very quick, blocks shots with his left hand, leads the team in steals, very explosive, has a jump hook with either hand, and here's the underrated thing about Nerlens -- he's an outstanding passer. You don't find many guys his size who can pass as well as him."
Of his own team Pitino said he's seen improvement, and that he's pleased with the way it has handled its early schedule.
"Like Kentucky, we have a lot of upside," he said. "Gorgui (Dieng) is nowhere near his potential. WB will get better. The only guy who really needs to focus in and get better is Chane Behanan. He's still not near where I had expected him to be. I'm hoping he'll really improve in the next 2-3 weeks."
Pitino downplayed the element of emotion in playing the rivalry game.
"Emotion can be a negative thing, very similar to Memphis," Pitino said. "We talked about it before that game, that Memphis would be overly emotional with Louisville coming in, and that over-emotion can sometimes make teams run out of gas. . . . We know this is a very special game for the fans, but it's not for us as a team. . . . . It's all about execution. They have been better than us the last four times we've played them in terms of execution. Forgetting about talent -- throw talent out the window -- they have executed better than us, and we hope to execute better than them in this game."