By Noah Allison
After a crushing home loss to conference rival University of Memphis, Rick Pitino’s Louisville basketball team responded with a close but reassuring defeat of Southern Methodist University 71-63.
The win puts the Cardinals at a 14-3 overall record with a 3-1 record in American Athletic Conference play. The loss to Memphis instilled realistic doubts of this year’s team, proving how difficult it is to be the team to follow up a National Championship. Last year’s Cardinals lost three games in a row, yet just the third overall loss of this season was enough to have many fans ready to give up.
Obviously this year’s squad is not last year’s, and part of the problem is they are trying to be. This 2013-14 squad is starting to realize that they can only be themselves; they have to find out how they win games, not how last year’s team won games.
One of the biggest problems the Cards have been facing this year is the play of centers Mangok Mathiang and Stephan Van Treese. Neither has stepped up to the challenge of being the true starting center for Louisville. Van Treese is second on the team with 80 rebounds while Mathiang is fourth on the team with 68. Neither one is rebounding at a high enough level for Pitino or Card Nation to have confidence in them.
On Sunday they both were benched for sophomore power forward Montrezl Harrel. Harrel, a six-foot-eight true power forward, is the teams leading rebounder with 143 rebounds on the year. Although Harrel is not the tallest on the team, he has proven to be the only one with the tenacious attitude that it takes to go down low and grab the rebound. Against SMU he led the Cards with 13 rebounds, the second highest total coming from senior guard Russ Smith who had five.
If the Cards are not able to get more members of the team to successfully rebound then the upside of this team is not too high, but Pitino will continue to mix and match until the production starts coming.
One move he made on Sunday was giving senior small forward Luke Hancock his first start of the season and moving junior Wayne Blackshear to the power forward position. With the smaller, faster and better shooting line-up the Cardinals were able to play their best half of defense all season according to Pitino.
In his first start of the season Hancock produced a career high 23 points hitting four three-pointers. Including the loss to Memphis it is Hancock’s second straight game with at least 20 points. The senior captain had been hindered with an Achilles tendon injury all season that he is just now fully recovered from.
Smith also had 23 points in the win against SMU, the two senior captains combined for over half of the Cardinals total points and it seems that they will have to be able to put up points at will throughout the season if the Cardinals wish to win the AAC.
To the Cards credit they know that they are a good team, and that is what is most important. It is natural for fans and media members to over stress the Cards three losses. The biggest problem most everyone has with the team is that they are not playing as well as they should be. But the optimistic way of seeing it is they are not playing as well as they could be.
For as tough as their three losses were, they legitimately could have won all of them. If these Cards had won all those games there is no doubt they would be one of the most highlypraised teams in the country.
If there is one reason why the Cardinals were able to win last year’s National Championship it’s because they were able to improve on a game-to-game basis. If there is one thing the loss to Memphis did, it’s wake this team up to the fact that the season goes game by game.