Pitino, who will begin his 10th season at Louisville when the Cardinals open the season in the new 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center Nov. 16 against national runner-up Butler, also will be without three recruits who were expected to soften the losses of Samardo Samuels, Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Reginald Delk.
Earlier this summer, Pitino announced that Justin Coleman, a Top 50 high school prospect, and Roburt Sallie, a transfer from Memphis, didn't meet academic qualifications to play for UofL this season. Tuesday, Pitino announced that Gorgui Dieng, the Cardinals top recruit, also was recently ruled ineligible to play this season.
"This is going to be a bridge year, building something to the future," Pitino said. "It's definitely a rebuilding year. When I say bridge you never know when it's going to be completed. I'm hoping to have it completed this season and not somewhere down the road."
Pitino believes he has three starters in place – Terrence Jennings at center, Peyton Siva at point guard and Rakeem Buckles at power forward. Preston Knowles and Chris Smith, a transfer from Manhattan, will battle for the starting job at shooting guard, while Kyle Kuric and Mike Marra will challenge at small forward.
"We have a lot of holes that we have to fill," Pitino said. "Our top four scorers left. Three players that we expected to be in uniform are ineligible academically. We have some injuries. But I think out of all the teams I've coached at UofL this one has the best attitude."
While Pitino's teams have become known for their 2-3 zone the past several seasons, Pitino promised an up-tempo style that will resemble his Kentucky teams of the 1990's.
"We're going to win with a new style of play, and we're going to create a new style of play," Pitino said. "It's not going to be easy to play for these guys."
Despite a lack of depth, Pitino said his team will play "75 percent" man to man this season, which would be a radical departure from the 2-3 zone he has favored in recent seasons.
"When I first took over at Kentucky I wanted to build a style of play and we had all slow guys but just like a bridge year there I was building to the future," Pitino said. "Even though it may not be totally catered to this group where numbers are concerned we're going to play it anyway to go into next season."
Pitino also said that Knowles was back in good standing with the team. Pitino put the senior guard in the proverbial "dog-house" earlier this summer for his off-court behavior.
"Preston has done everything I've asked from him this summer," Pitino said. "He went through a difficult summer and the requirements we asked of him. The final thing was working in the homeless shelter for two weeks. I think it opened his eyes to what life is all about and how fortunate he is. I think it matured him and he's back 100 percent, ready to go."
The Cardinals will start practice later this month without two players – junior forward Jared Swopshire and freshman point guard Russell Smith -sidelined with injury. Smith, who is expected to return this season, is out 12 weeks with a foot injury. Swopshire suffered a sports hernia-type injury that has kept him out of action the past month.
"I'm more concerned with Jared Swopshire," Pitino said. "He hasn't touched a basketball in a month. He has a very difficult injury. He has an abductor injury where the muscle separates from the groin area. We've been very conservative with it because it's like a sports hernia-type injury. He will not be there for the start of practice but should be ready for the first game. We're going to give him a good six weeks without any basketball."
Pitino also announced that Ralph Willard and Mark Lieberman have switched roles. Lieberman, who came to UofL this summer as director of basketball operations, will replace Willard on the bench while Willard moves into an administrative role.
"Mark is one of the best man to man teachers I've seen in a long time," Pitino said.