September 20, 2012

Expectations grow high as basketball season approaches

By Noah Allison–

With it being early fall, most people’s minds are on the gridiron. But as it gets colder and colder, the time for the Cardinals to step onto the hard court will come, and there are a lot of reasons to be excited for basketball season this year at Louisville.

The U of L men’s basketball is the No. 2 ranked team overall in the preseason rankings. Ending the 2011-2012 season on a thrilling Big East Tournament Championship run and a winning streak that lasted late into March, the Cards lost in the Final Four to eventual National Champions and heated cross-state rivals University of Kentucky.

The Cardinals don’t go into the season depending on young freshmen talent; instead, they head into the season with one of the most matured and veteran teams in the NCAA, with senior leader Peyton Siva at the helm. Siva brings with him a senior steadiness that is crucial when it comes down to winning late in a close time. The point guard has an uncanny ability to control the offense and distribute the ball to any of the offensive threats that are on the court with him. But when the going gets tough, he also has the ability to drive to the basket and get the gritty points.

Reeking havoc under the basket is the shot-blocking machine, junior, Gorgui Djeng. The 6’11” center set the single season U of L record last year with 128 blocked shots. But for as much as he loves denying hopeful opponents, he isn’t one to be denied himself. An offensive presence in the middle creates easy points and second chance points for the Cardinals.

Fellow junior Russ Smith brings an explosive presence to the floor and can change the pace of the game in an instant. The offensive threat brings his gritty New York City style of play to the court in Louisville, but where his presence is greatest is on defense. Last year Smith set the single season record for steals at U of L with 87, always ready to catch the opposition sleeping, and more than willing to make them pay.

Sophomore Chane Behanan was one of the most productive freshmen in the Big East last year as a starter. He brings an ability to score and more importantly rebound giving the Cardinals more control of the ball and more explosive plays.

The Cardinals head into the season with talent and depth, expecting production from sophomore Wayne Blackshear and transfer Luke Hancock. Incoming freshmen include 6’8” forward Montrezl Harrel and 6’10” center Mangok Mathiang who are in no hurry to play but are there to learn and enhance the future of the program.

In his 12th season at U of L, head coach Rick Pitino is no stranger to success and is approaching the season with humility and preparation: staging a team that swarms to the ball, adjusts to the competition and proudly represents the University of Louisville.

Photo: Cody Hibbard/The Louisville Cardinal

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