October 12, 2011

Column: Cards basketball is right around the corner

By Cameron Tillett–

Last March’s finish in the NCAA tournament left a sour taste in the collective mouth of the University of Louisville basketball fan base. A first round exit to a hungry Ohio Valley Conference team isn’t exactly a fairy tale of postseason success. However, that doesn’t mean Card fans should be any less excited for the upcoming season. With college basketball season right around the corner, Louisville is in prime position to have a very successful and exciting year. The true talent of this team is yet to be seen, but a glimpse of it will be revealed Friday, Oct. 14 when the Cards host the red-white scrimmage for the first practice of the year at the KFC Yum! Center.

Looking back to the beginning of the 2010-11 season, expectations weren’t exactly high. Louisville is always expected to perform well, but many considered the 2011 season to be a bridge year to the 2012 season. After all, U of L lost key contributors such as Samardo Samuels, Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith from the 2010 team. And highly touted blue-chipper Peyton Siva looked like he needed another year to develop into the player many envisioned him being.

But Coach Pitino used a relatively easy nonconference schedule to raise the collective confidence of the team as well as the confidence of each individual player. This also allowed the Cards time to gel and become a team that was greater than the sum of its parts. There was no superstar on this team, though Preston Knowles was certainly the heart and soul. If you told most Louisville fans before last season that their team would win 25 games and tie for third in the Big East, they would happily accept such a reality. The point is that Louisville surpassed all expectations during the regular season. Though the Morehead loss still stings, it’s no reason for despair.

Even after losing Knowles to graduation and junior big man Terrence Jennings to the draft, Louisville still has a majority of the important pieces from last year’s team and brings a top 10 recruiting class featuring guard Wayne Blackshear and forward Chane Behanan.

One of the biggest keys to this season will be how junior jumping jack/ point guard Peyton Siva responds to being the new leader of the team. He’ll be expected to set up his teammates, break down the defense, score in a multitude of ways and set the overall attitude of the team. He won’t be without support as senior swingmen Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric return with loads of experience in big game situations and will help ease the scoring load. Blackshear will also be counted upon to provide some instant offense and could take playing time away from the veteran backcourt players.

The front court is a little less solid but still looks promising barring one problem: the health of senior forward Jared Swopshire and junior forward Rakeem Buckles are still up in the air. But fans can still stay optimistic. Sophomore forward Gorgui Dieng made significant strides during his freshman season and can only be expected to keep improving. Behanan, though undersized at power forward, is an absolute monster down low and will rebound with the best in the Big East. Junior forward Stephan Van Treese will provide energy and size off the bench.

All in all, Louisville has a promising upcoming season. The Cards won’t sneak up on anybody this year, but they have a chance to make a deep run in March.

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