CRAWFORD | With the addition of Bowen, looking at Louisville's possibilities for 2017-18
With the late (and surprise) addition of 5-star recruit Brian Bowen, Eric Crawford looks at Louisville's basketball roster for the upcoming season, and how coach Rick Pitino may utilize it.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Now, it may be presumed, the University of Louisville basketball roster for next season is set. The addition of a talented – and surprising – final piece became official on Saturday, when the school announced that five-star forward Brian Bowen has signed to play for the Cardinals next season.
Bowen, a 6-7, 195-pound wing out of Lumiere School in LaPorte, Ind., was a McDonald’s All-American and the leading scorer in the Jordan Brand Classic, winning MVP honors for his East team after scoring 26 points on 10-13 shooting, including 6-7 from three-point range.
Louisville coach Rick Pitino’s good fortune with recruits who weren’t necessarily expected (think Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell) has been pretty good.
“We are extremely excited to have Brian with us," U of L coach Rick Pitino said. "He’s extremely versatile and can play almost four positions. He’s an outstanding scorer, a terrific passer and someone who just really knows how to play the game. This gives us a deep, talented team and we look forward to playing another exciting schedule."
Two keys in Pitino’s statement: 1). He can play multiple positions. 2). He adds depth.
He also added a great deal of offensive punch, which in the wake of Donovan Mitchell’s departure, isn’t a bad thing. Bowen averaged 20.4 points, seven rebounds and three assists per game for Lumiere’s 29-1 Indiana state champions last season. He shot 59 percent from the field. He’s also the No. 13-rated player in his class by ESPN and a consensus Top 20 player.
So how will the Cardinals play? This is something Pitino no doubt will give a great deal of thought to in the coming weeks, but at first glance, Pitino would appear to have a team with good length and athleticism that, outside of the point guard spot, is very tall and pretty skilled.
If positionless basketball is the wave of the future, the Cardinals have caught that wave. From Deng Adel to V.J. King to Bowen to 6-11 forward Malik Williams there’s not a ton of difference in their games. All are 6-7 or taller, all can range outside, King, Bowen and Adel can all put it on the floor and go by defenders. Add Ray Spalding, who can defend any position and Anas Mahmoud, another mobile big man who can defend multiple spots, and you begin to get the picture of a defense that can get out and pressure, try to bother teams with its length, and switch everything without losing much at any spot.
How the five-spot will be utilized with Mahmoud and whoever winds up sharing it with him, whether Williams or newcomer Lance Thomas or Spalding, will be an interesting question for Pitino. Whoever is there, it won’t be someone with a traditional post-up game. Mahmoud is skilled at scoring inside, though he has yet to develop a power post game. He also has the ability to let the offense run through him, as David Padgett did from the center spot at U of L years back, something Ray Spalding also can do.
Whoever fills that spot will be a threat to hit the mid-range jumper after setting ball screens, something the Cards haven’t really had since late in Gorgui Dieng’s career – and Pitino utilized Dieng a great deal, running the offense through him at times (nine assists in the ACC Tournament championship game, six assists in the NCAA title game).
Pitino is hoping this is the year Spalding makes his move at the four spot. The departure of Jaylen Johnson left an opening for him for more minutes, for better or worse, and he now will have a chance to be on the court more. It’s also probably the natural spot for Williams, a talented player with the ability to stretch defenses from a shooting standpoint, though Pitino feels that Williams will be a player who likely is going to have to be on the court for major minutes somewhere.
With King and Bowen, Pitino has a pair of McDonalds All-Americans at the three spot. King figures to take a step forward from his freshman year, something that has become pretty common at Louisville. Terry Rozier and Donovan Mitchell blossomed as sophomores, and King figures to do the same thing with increased opportunity on the court. Bowen, however, brings something important to that position – competition and depth. Both, but particularly King, could also be used to spell Deng Adel at the two spot.
Adel should remain a centerpiece of the team at the two. His ability to handle the ball (nervous turnovers a year ago notwithstanding) and his overall play make him the most important player on the team, at least at the start of the season.
Quentin Snider remains a gifted offensive point guard, but he’ll be pushed by 6-2 freshman Darius Perry, who prides himself on defense. Incoming freshman Jordan Nwora gives Pitino (stop me if you’ve heard this) another wing who can shoot it.
Two players you shouldn’t forget about: Dwayne Sutton, the former Manual High standout who has been placed on scholarship for next season, could defend and rebound his way into significant minutes. And Ryan McMahon, whose shooting ability could further stretch defenses – especially with the other shooters Pitino now can put on the court. Whether McMahon slides in for some point guard work or spells Adel at the two or both, his familiarity with what Pitino wants and his ability to make shots in bunches mean Pitino will want to find a way to get him into games.
Pitino has recruited a plethora of shooters. He will, he already has acknowledged, have to lean on this group of freshmen more than he has any other freshman group in his career.
How well this team is able to defend and rebound should determine how far it ultimately goes.
But it’s an intriguing group. From a style standpoint, it could resemble some of Denny Crum’s teams from the early 1980s, which featured no distinguishable positions, just a bunch of versatile, athletic players.
Bowen’s signing also figures to boost Louisville into the preseason Top 10 at least. Matt Norlander of CBS.com says it could boost the Cardinals as high as preseason No. 5 in that site’s rankings, and come close, perhaps, to making them a projected favorite in the ACC.
Pitino will just have to figure out, perhaps, a new way to proceed with an intriguing roster makeup. Of course, he’s done that more than once in his Hall of Fame career.
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