BOZICH | Is Louisville better without its four departed pros? Wh - WDRB 41 Louisville News

BOZICH | Is Louisville better without its four departed pros? Why, yes it is

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Rick Pitino was pleased that he team did not take a single challenged jump shot against Grand Canyon. Rick Pitino was pleased that he team did not take a single challenged jump shot against Grand Canyon.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell will make more than $2.8 million playing basketball in the NBA this season. Wayne Blackshear is being paid to play in Italy while Chris Jones is working for money in Europe, too.

Those four pros scored nearly 78 percent of the University of Louisville’s points last season and grabbed nearly 58 percent of the Cardinals’ rebounds.

Saturday, after Louisville dispatched Grand Canyon, 111-63, at the KFC Yum! Center, I’m prepared to argue this point:

The Cardinals (6-1) are a better team without the $2.8 Million Men. Trust me, I starting pushing this argument before Louisville made 13 of its first 14 shots and rolled Dan Majerle’s team.

The Cards move the basketball as if the thing is on fire. They don’t have to be told to share the ball. They volunteer. There is less mindless dribbling, dribbling, dribbling on the perimeter.

Damion Lee scored 24. Trey Lewis had 16. Donovan Mitchell contributed 13. But nobody in Rick Pitino’s lineup was hunting shots. Guys hunting shots has become sooo last season.

I asked Pitino if he has seen what I have seen from this team?

“Without question,” Pitino said. “That’s been the point of emphasis from day one. We’re trying to make, before we get into anything, four passes in the span of five seconds, so we can go downhill.”

My next stop was the Louisville locker room. I looked for more affirmation from point guard Quentin Snider, a sophomore playing with growing poise. All Snider has done this season is contribute 31 assists and just seven turnovers in 199 minutes of basketball.

Bingo.

“The difference from last year’s team to this year’s team is more ball movement,” Snider said. “We have four or five passes whether we’re on the break or setting up offense.

“Last year’s team we probably had one pass and go one on one. So that was a big difference. That’s just the way we’re wired. Just a good ball movement team. That’s who we are.”

Here is another thing that has disappeared: The Hero Ball that defined the guard play Louisville endured last season.

Terry Rozier made certain that Terry Rozier got his shots. Ditto for Chris Jones.

Neither Rozier nor Jones shot 42 percent. But they kept shooting. And shooting. And shooting – too often with the hands of an opposing defender stuck in their faces.

Didn’t see any of that against Grand Canyon. According to the U of L assistant coaches, the Cards did not take a single challenged jump shot Saturday.

Not once.

That never happened last season.

Not once -- in 36 games.

The assistants confirmed that, too. The Rozier/Jones/Harrell/Blackshear team averaged close to eight challenged shots per game.

“Last year we had four veterans but all the rest were freshmen,” said Anas Mahmoud, the Cards’ sophomore center. “Probably we didn’t have that trust.

“(Coach Pitino) told us about paint touches and passes but you can take the camel to the water but he won’t drink it. We trust each other enough that we know the extra pass will be wide open all the time. I think that’s a good key.

“Last year it wasn’t really that we were a bad shooting team. It was just the quality of shots that we were taking. We took a lot of challenged shots.

“We didn’t have the passing. We didn’t have the trust in each other that the extra pass would get us a wide open shot. I think this year is built on confidence and trust in each other.”

Body language? Absolutely improved.

Talking back to the head coach? Positively on the decline.

I realize the Cards have played seven games, all but two at home against teams unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament.

The overall arc of this team won’t be known until Louisville finds itself in the middle of the Atlantic Coast Conference season, perhaps during a 15-day stretch when the Cardinals will play Virginia, North Carolina and Boston College at home before making back-to-back road trips to Duke and Notre Dame.

But after seven games, this team is doing the things that Rick Pitino has asked them to do. Last season the Cardinals played ugly offense against Cleveland State. And Clemson. And several other teams.

Are the Cardinals perfect?

Hardly. Pitino was not pleased with the way Louisville finished the game at Michigan State Wednesday night, holding the players extra time in the locker room after the game and then lecturing them again after their charter flight landed in Louisville.

But even during the loss to Michigan State, Louisville showed that it belonged in the Top 25 – and that the players understand how to play winning basketball.

“That’s why I think it’s pleasing to all of us what you’re seeing out there,” Pitino said. “Where before we dribbled, dribbled, dribbled, held.

“We had, I’m not taking away from anybody but this team is, we’ve set a pattern of the ball is going to be moved. We’re going to make the defense move so we can go downhill. That’s why we’re having so much success. And then we’re making shots.”

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