UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- New initiatives to stop hand-check fouls and promote more offensive in freedom in college basketball were supposed to create a headache for the University of Louisville basketball team.
At least, that's what some opposing coaches thought. Colorado State's Larry Eustachy, who faced U of L in last season's NCAA Tournament, wondered aloud if the Cardinals would have any players left.
But in one of the more impressive -- and underreported -- developments of the early season, U of L has managed to turn the tables, take advantage offensively of the new rules, and to keep up their defensive pressure without major foul trouble.
It's still a bit too early, and the competition has been a bit too weak, to draw much from season stats so far. But Ken Pomeroy still ranks U of L as the No. 2 team in the nation in defensive efficiency. The Cardinals rank No. 1 in the nation in turnover percentage (turnovers divided by possessions) and they rank No. 1 in the nation in forcing turnovers -- on 35.5 percent of opponent possessions so far this season.
They'll try to continue that today against Fairfield when they meet at 2 p.m. in the Basketball Hall of Fame Tipoff Tournament at Mohegan Sun Arena.
"He was ready for the rule change and I think he got us pretty ready to go," U of L senior Luke Hancock said of Rick Pitino's practice preparation. "Still some of them, though, you haven't touched anybody and they call it."
What has Pitino done? Blown his whistle in practice. A lot.
"We just call every, little thing (in practice)," He said. "They don't like me doing it, but I do it every single day. We don't allow hands to go on the body. It is just a matter of adjusting to the rules. I have been through it at two levels and I know what is going to happen.
"We have put great emphasis . . . not fouling. When was the last time you saw us foul in the backcourt? We are a pressing team and you remember what the Colorado State coach said right? Did you see us back off the press? Does anyone remember a foul in the backcourt, because I am trying to think of one ... I think Russ (Smith) got one in the front court when he reached. I am not sure we got a foul called in the backcourt yet, and if we do, it is one. We are pressing the entire game except when we get large leads."
Freshman Terry Rozier called Pitino, "The best referee in the world."
"Anytime you touch somebody, he's going to call a foul," he said. "It gets us ready for what we're going to face."
What U of L has not faced yet is an elite team that puts great pressure on its post defense. But beyond that, the rule changes have helped the Cards, with their array of penetrating scorers, rather than hurt them.
The Cards are averaging 88 points a game and shooting 49.4 percent from the field. Pitino said he still hasn't been able to install everything he wants defensively, particularly when it comes to a match-up zone. But he likes the way his team is developing.
"We're still going for too many ball fakes and being beaten off the dribble, not challenging shots," Pitino said. "We'll get better."
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