Rick Pitino doesn't know what to expect from his tenth team at UofL. He doesn't know who will lead the Cardinals in scoring this season; or who will grab the most rebounds, dish out the most assists or make the most steals. That's not surprising considering Pitino will break in an entirely new starting lineup against the Bulldogs.
"Our basketball team right now is void of a starter from last year," Pitino said. "I have no idea where this team is. From a starting lineup standpoint my mind changes every day. I couldn't tell you who is starting."
One thing that Pitino does know about his team is that he has a lot of interchangable parts. Pitino said he can play 10 or 11 players, and his second unit has often bettered the starters in practice.
"I know for certain this team can get out and run," Siva said. "One thing we can all do is get each other open shots. We have great shooters."
Louisville enters tonight's game having blitzed Kentucky Wesleyan 96-54 in their final exhibition tuneup last week. The Cardinals shot nearly 50 percent, made nine threes, dished out 20 assists, and connected on 25 free throws.
"Our team has come together lately," Siva said. "We've been building our chemistry. One thing we're big on this year is sharing the ball and ball movement.
Louisville definitely won't ease into the new season. Butler, who lost to Duke 61-59 in the NCAA championship game last March, returns three starters, including guards Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored. Mack is the Bulldogs leading scorer, Nored the team's best defender.
"We know we're in for a big challenge and we've been preparing all week," Siva said. "They're [both] great players. Nored is an unbelievable defensive player. Shelvin Mack is a great offensive player. It's going to be a big task for us to get out and stop them."
Pitino understands his team faces a major challenge against Brad Stevens' Bulldogs. "Butler is a Top 20 team," Pitino said. "They're a very impressive basketball team. Shelvin Mack is a great guard, and their other guard was defensive player of the year. This is a big-time basketball team.
"We understand they're good up front, they're good in the backcourt. They're not going to beat themselves. They're an outstanding foul shooting team and they don't turn it over much." Siva will be matched against Nored, a physical junior point guard who played a key role in Butler's run the national title game last season.
"This game is going to show if we're able to play with the best, we're going to go out and compete," Siva said.
Over the last three seasons, Butler has won 86 percent of its games, second-best nationally behind Kansas. Though the Bulldogs are efficient offensively, their strong-suit has been defense. Pitino says Louisville will have to make good decisions with the ball to win the game.
"Turnovers have been our number one problem," said Pitino, whose team had 17 turnovers against Ky-Wesleyan. "Fifty percent of it is due to fatigue and fifty percent is we have very inexperienced basketball players because they don't know where their teammates are."
Though Pitino's focus in the preseason was getting his players to play fast, he doesn't believe Butler will allow the Cardinals to accelerate the pace. If Butler slows the tempo, Pitino wonders if his team has the patience to execute an experienced opponent.
"I don't think they're going to allow us to play at the pace we'd like to play at, they're too much of an experienced team," Pitino said. "We're going to have to take it when it's there and when it's not there take good shots and not become impatient because they'll burn you if you become too impatient. We don't see this as a 100-90 type game."
Pitino hopes that Preston Knowles can shake off the rust after missing time in the past week with an injury. Pitino said that Knowles will play, but won't start against Butler. Louisville's top defensive guard, Knowles could play a key role trying to guard Mack, a Lexington native who averages 20 points.
"We thought he was a very good basketball player, but we did not recruit him," Pitino said. "They are a very fundamentally sound basketball team. We're going to have to shoot well, we're going to have to shoot well from the foul line and keep our turnovers down to beat them."
Is an inexperienced Louisville team ready to beat the defending national runner-up? Pitino is eager to find out.
"I know one thing, we're going to get a lot better," Pitino said. "We have tremendous growth in our basketball team. The great thing about this basketball team is every week we see major improvement offensively and defensive. If we're ready to play against Butler I just have no gauge for that now."
GAME FACTS - Louisville vs. Butler
Date: Tuesday, Nov. 16
Time: 8:05 p.m. ET
Site: KFC Yum! Center/Crum Court, Louisville, Ky. (22,000)
TV: ESPN will televise the game, with Dan Shulman (play-by-play) and Dick Vitale (color) calling the action.
Radio: WHAS (840 AM) will broadcast the game on radio, with Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Bob Valvano (analyst) calling the action.
SIRIUS: Game will air on SIRIUS channel 122 and XM Channel 143.
Next U of L Game: Nov. 20 vs. Jackson State in the Global Sports Shootout, KFC Yum! Center at 7:30 p.m. (WHAS/Wazoo Sports statewide)