CRAWFORD | Three thoughts before Louisville's game at Pittsburgh - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Three thoughts before Louisville's game at Pittsburgh

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WDRB photo by David Schuh. WDRB photo by David Schuh.
 PITTSBURGH, Pa. (WDRB) — While Pittsburgh is getting ready for the fringe of an Alberta Clipper to pour a moderate 3-5 inches of snow on the city, the University of Louisville is hoping to keep one loss from snowballing into another in Atlantic Coast Conference play.

The Cardinals are one of the few visiting teams to have their share of success at Pittsburgh's Peterson Events Center. They're 3-1 in the building, even won here when the Panthers were keyed up to host ESPN's College GameDay.

But as Rick Pitino pointed out in a press conference Friday, that won't mean much to the Cardinals' current players, only two of whom have ever been in the arena, where the Panthers are 9-1 this season.

It's a big game for U of L, which is looking to bounce back from a double-digit loss to Duke. It's also a big game for Pitt, which is looking to bounce back from a double-digit loss to Duke.

Three thoughts as the Cards begin their biggest road stretch of the season — four out of their next five games are away from home.

1. SOMETHING FEELS STRANGE. Sorry for the rather vague heading, but something seems strange. The Montrezl Harrell captaincy thing. Rick Pitino's news conference Friday. I asked him if the program's success over the past several seasons cast a shadow a bit over this team. He acknowledged that it does.

“It's normal,” he said. “I'll bet you if you polled the fans right now, they're probably not ecstatic and they're 15-3, but that's a compliment to what has been done the past three years. I don't take that as a negative. I take that as a compliment. We've had the most wins in college basketball. So right now, they're used to two Final Fours, a Sweet 16, conference championships, and we're in seventh place (in the ACC). So it's natural because of all the success. But you do have a period where you must reload, rebuild, improve, teach new people the culture that you've built the last three years. And that's what we're going through. And nobody can stay away from that. You're always going to have that period. And we're going through that now with six new players.”

That's all well and good. Then he launched into this: “But I'm not disappointed. Fortunately I'm one of the few guys in the business who pays no attention to any of you. And I say that in a very complimentary way, because I always want to treat professionals such as yourself with great respect, and if you put yourself in that type of situation where you concern yourself with what people say, you lose your professionalism. At 15-3, I'm ecstatic.”

That's all well and good, but I can't think of anything anyone has written or even said that's been all that critical of Pitino or the Cardinals.

At another point, a reporter asked Pitino a question about shooting at home vs. shooting on the road, given that Chris Jones made a comment about it after the Duke loss.

Pitino responded: “You're questioning me like we're having a bad year.”

Like I said, strange.

My thinking on this team is that Pitino has been in worse shape — with less talent — quite a bit over the past 10 years. What this team needs to improve, its ability to sore and its contribution from the bench, isn't in any way insurmountable. Certainly, the issue of offense is one Pitino has successfully dealt with before.

2. CARDS ACTUALLY SHOOTING BETTER THE PAST TWO WEEKS. Its inability to make shots against Duke notwithstanding, U of L has shot better than 47 percent from the field four times in the past six games, and eight times this season. Pitino says his team is playing better basketball on both ends.

“We had a great win over Indiana in the Garden,” Pitino said. “A great win over Western Kentucky without Montrezl Harrell. A great win over Ohio State playing outstanding basketball. The only two really poor games we've played have been Kentucky and Duke, where we did not play good offense. But at times you have to give credit to your opponent. I think their defense had a lot to do with how we played offense. And we're going to play a lot of other good teams, like Miami and Virginia and N.C. State. It's going to be a challenging schedule. Like I said, we've got a lot of bumps that lie ahead. But this team is getting better, and that's what I look for. Improvement. They're getting better, at all phases of the game, they're getting better. It's just, they're taking baby steps.”

One area of improvement: The free-throw line. The Cards are shooting 75.9 percent from the line in their past 10 games, and they're shooting 72.7 percent (80 of 110) in the final five minutes of games this season.

As for the field-goal shooting percentage, Pitino called it a work in progress.

“We just keep working,” he said. “This team I equate three years ago. Same shooting percentage, like 42-plus, 43 percent. It wasn't a great shooting team. We don't have a guy who shoots it as well as Kyle Kuric, or Russ Smith for that matter. It's just not a great-shooting team, they're more of an athletic team. This is the fewest amount of fast breaks we've had in 10 years, so that being said, we haven't been able to press and much because we don't get the press on that much. So we're going to try and do a few different things to try and enable us to shoot a better percentage. But it's not a great shooting team, I've told you that from Day One. I told you from Day One this team wasn't as good as the last three years. I told you from Day One that we're going to have a lot of bumps in the road and right now it's been surprisingly good. They're 15-3.”

The problem of bench contribution, however, continues to be an issue. U of L has gotten no bench points twice this season. Before those performances, the last time that happened was in the 2000 season. U of L also has a turnover margin of less than one in the second halves of games this season, meaning that points off turnovers are off the table in the second half of many games.

If U of L's young players keep developing, by the end of the season, those issues should be alleviated to some degree.

3. PITINO ON PITTSBURGH. The Cardinals have won four straight over the Panthers. Pitt's sophomore forward Jamel Artis appears to be coming into his own. He had a career-high 21 points in the loss to Duke, and has scored better than 20 in two straight. 

“Pitt's had a great winning record at home,” Pitino said. “Nearly 88 percent and certainly they have a great home court with their student body. Always been a tough place to play, and we're looking forward to it. It's a nationally-televised game and I know our players are fired up about that. . . . They rebound great. They're very good defensively. They're very active with their hands. Pitt doesn't change a whole lot. They built their reputation on solid fundamentals, great defense, great rebounding, toughness, and they're doing it once again.”

QUICK HITS:

— Montrezl Harrell is two points away from becoming U of L's 66th 1,000-point scorer.

— Louisville is 46-26 in conference road games over the past nine seasons.

— Over the last 11 games, Terry Rozier has averaged 20.2 points, 5.1 rebounds and 2.2 steals a game. He leads the ACC in steals.

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