With Chris Jones injured, freshman Terry Rozier will moved into Louisville starting lineup against Houston Thursday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – This is when Rick Pitino does his best work, mixing and matching, adding and subtracting, trying to find the lineup that gives this University of Louisville basketball team its best opportunity to advance – Thursday night against Houston as well as in March.
Chris Jones, a guard, will sit the entire game with an oblique injury. Terry Rozier will replace him.
Wayne Blackshear will sit at the start of the game. The idea is to minimize the issues (mostly foul trouble) that have limited him to less than 20 minutes in six of Louisville's last seven games. Either Stephan Van Treese or Mangok Mathiang will slide into the middle while Montrezl Harrell returns to forward.
Either way, it will be the first game Blackshear has not started this season – and the Cardinals' sixth different starting lineup.
A crazy number? Not really. Pitino used eight different lineups last season when Louisville won a national championship. There were seven in 2012, another Final Four season.
That is the Pitino way. The lineup tinkering was the U of L story of the day, even with the announcement that Kevin Keatts has been promoted to associate head coach.
"I think this team is not last year's, what they accomplish," Pitino said. "So if they fail like the Memphis game, they start to doubt themselves a little bit. So it's not a very mature team. We're just trying not to dwell on failure and try to get on to the next game."
If any player on the Louisville roster appears primed for more playing time, it is Rozier. He does not force shots. Better not leave him at the three-point line. Rozier has made at least half of his three-point attempts in six consecutive games, a stretch where he has made 9 of 15 (60 percent).
Being careless with the ball is usually an issue with freshmen. Ask any coach. Guys that dominate in high school don't accept the concept of valuing every possession.
That's not a problem for Rozier. His assist-to-turnover ratio (3.6-to-1) is considerably better than Jones, Blackshear, Russ Smith or Luke Hancock. Rozier has earned a longer look because of his performance as well as his potential.
Houston at home is a good place to start. Houston beat Connecticut while winning two of its first three games in the American Athletic Conference. But when you check the details on the Cougars you'll understand why Jeff Sagarin's predictor computer rankings say the Cardinals are about 20 points better than the visitors and the line in Las Vegas tilts toward U of L by 19.
They are coached by James Dickey, Eddie Sutton's former assistant at Kentucky. The Cougars lost to Tubby Smith and Texas Tech as well as against 6-10 San Jose State. Clyde Drexler's not walking through that door, although his son might be. Adam Drexler is sitting out this season after transferring from Loyola Marymount.
That's all you need to know about Houston because this game is about Louisville – what Rozier can do with more minutes; what Van Treese and Mathiang can do to give the Cards rebounding and a reasonable defensive presence; and what Blackshear can do to maintain his aggressiveness but avoid foul trouble while playing off the bench.
Blackshear has fouled out of three games – more than any Cardinal. Although he's making better than 41 percent of his three-point shots and 86 percent of his free throws, Blackshear has two other areas that are puzzling:
He's making only 34 percent of his two-point field goal attempts. Blackshear is also averaging 3.1 rebounds. That's less than Russ Smith or Rozier. Louisville needs more.
"I think (Wayne) has averaged about 13 minutes over the last three games and we looked at every foul," Pitino said. "And 70 percent of his fouls are legit. The other 30 percent are totally bogus …
"So I think Wayne is being taken out of the game quickly and we want to get 20-to-25 minutes out of him. I think coming off the bench will help him immensely."
It's all part of the lineup puzzle that Rick Pitino is trying to solve.