L'ville gets head start on season in Bahamas

Louisville will get a head start on the upcoming season with a four-game tour in the Bahamas. InsideTheVille.com breaks down five key storylines to follow on the Cardinals trip to the Caribbean.

Louisville begins its exhibition tour in the Bahamas Wednesday evening – a four-game preseason showcase that Rick Pitino hopes gives his team a head start for the upcoming season.

The Cardinals will play four games, beginning with an intrasquad scrimmage tonight at 7:30 p.m. Louisville is scheduled to face the Commonwealth Giants on Thursday, Aug. 11, the Real Deal Shockers on Friday, Aug. 12. The Cardinals will play another intrasquad scrimmage Saturday at 7:30. All four games will take place at Sir Kendal Isaac Gymnasium in Nassau.

WHAS-TV, an ABC-affiliate in Louisville, will televise the Cardinals' Aug. 11 and Aug. 12 games. Pregame shows for each telecast will begin at 7 p.m. The games will not be televised in high definition because of production limitations on the island.

Junior point guard Peyton Siva, senior shooting guard Chris Smith, senior small forward Kyle Kuric, freshman power forward Chane Behanan and sophomore center Gogui Dieng are the probable starters in the Bahamas.

Bulked up Gorgui Dieng will be on display in the Bahamas.
Several expected contributors this season won't play in the Bahamas. Forwards Jared Swopshire (groin) and Rakeem Buckles(knee), both coming off injuries, won't participate, but are expected to be ready to play when practice formally starts in October. Freshmen Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware haven't yet enrolled at UofL and aren't with the team in the Bahamas.

After Louisville's season ended with a first round NCAA Tournament upset loss to Morehead State, Pitino openly talked about retirement. That discussion appears mute for the next few years after Pitino said last week he wants to win another championship and intends to fulfill his contract, which runs through the 2017 season.

Tuesday, the UofL Athletics Association approved the financial terms of Pitino's contract extension. Pitino will receive $3 million annually through the 2013 season, while his base salary will increase to $3.9 million for the last four years of the deal.

Five things to watch in the Bahamas

Rebounding Improvement?

Louisville's major weakness last season was its rebounding. The big question heading into Louisville's four-game swing in the Bahamas is whether Rick Pitino has solved his team's board woes during the off-season?

Only four Big East teams were worse than Louisville on the boards last season, but the Cardinals return 73 percent of their rebounding from a year ago despite the loss of Terrence Jennings. In Louisville's 10 losses last season, the Cardinals were out-boarded by 8.5 per game – that includes lopsided rebounding margins in upset losses to Drexel and Morehead State.

Louisville should be helped by the return of forwards Jared Swopshire, who sat out last season with a groin injury but averaged 6.1 rebounds as a sophomore two years ago, and Rakeem Buckles, who missed large chunks of the season with multiple injuries, but led Louisville in rebounding last season before a knee injury ended his season last February.

In the Bahamas, it will be interesting to see how well sophomore Gorgui Dieng and freshman forward Chane Behanan control the boards. Both players will be counted on heavily this season to grab boards to help start Louisville's fast-break attack. Will Dieng and Bahanan be up for the challenge?

Will Louisville still have great chemistry?

Rick Pitino's team gets a head start on the season in the Bahamas.
Great things weren't expected from Louisville last season, but the Cardinals won 25 games, finished third in the nation's best league and advanced to the Big East Tournament finals before falling 69-66 to eventual NCAA champion UConn.

What was the secret to Louisville's success? Chemistry.

"It was the finest locker room I've seen in ten years," Pitino said. "Since I've been here I've never had more fans come up to me to tell me how much they enjoyed last year's team. Everybody could see that the players got along great."

Louisville didn't have overwhelming talent last year. Still, the Cardinals played together, were fun to watch and had a knack for winning close games. This season, Pitino has added a Top 5 recruiting class to a team that returns largely intact. Will the chemistry still be there with five new players, including McDonald's All-Americans Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear, in the mix?

"If we can add more talent and keep that great attitude then you'll have something special," Pitino said. "Last year's team was so focused on the name on the front of the jersey. Those guys made me feel great about the game of basketball."

Is Siva's shooting improved?

With Preston Knowles' departure, Louisville now will follow the lead of junior point guard Peyton Siva.

Siva had a breakout sophomore season, emerging as one of the top point guards in the Big East. Now, after dishing out 182 assists last season, Siva appears poised to lead Louisville to big things this season.

"He's the best leader on the team and everybody looks to him for leadership," Pitino said. "He's a natural leader. He talks the most. He leads the most. He leads by example on the court and off. It's amazing that he's such a good leader."

With Siva on the court, Louisville upped its tempo last season. That won't change this season. "He's one of the fastest players you'll see so it behooves us to play at a quick pace again," Pitino said.

The Seattle product averaged 9.9 points, 5.2 assists and two steals. Siva ranked second in the Big East in steals and fourth in assists. This season, Siva looks to improve his 27 percent three-point shooting.

"It's improved but not dramatically," Pitino said. "It's all balance with Peyton. Most great shooters have great balance and Peyton is always falling down. He understands how important balance is because he's so bright."

Dieng's development?

Gorgui Dieng is Louisville's center of attention after Terrence Jennings' premature leap to the pros. Is the 6'10, 225-pound Senegal native up to the challenge?

Dieng's development is one of the big keys to Louisville's season. He showed considerable promise as a freshman playing behind Jennings, averaging 5.7 points, 4.4 rebounds, while blocking 56 shots. Dieng, who started 10 games as a freshman, was third in the Big East in blocks, and posted 13 points and 12 rebounds in a February home win over NCAA champ UConn.

Pitino likes Dieng's scoring ability, offensive rebounding and passing skills. Now, Pitino has issued a challenge to Dieng, who boasts a 7'2 wingspan, to become one of the top shot blockers in college basketball, while improving as a defensive rebounder.

"Where he's got to get better is shot blocking and becoming a defensive rebounder," Pitino said. "I've put the challenge to him to become a great shot blocker. He's got to take it upon himself that nobody comes in the lane when he's in there. He's got to learn that. He's not there yet."

Freshmen ready to contribute?

Rick Pitino has given high praise to freshman forward Chane Behanan. The former McDonald's All-American will be in the starting lineup at power forward in the Bahamas, and he's been impressive in practices leading up to Louisville's trip south.

"He's got a natural gift for the game," Pitino said. "He's physically ready to play right now and he gets it. I'm surprised how good his attitude has been in practice."

Behanan will contribute. That's not a question. What is questionable is whether or not 6'10 center Zach Price and 6'8 forward Angel Nunez are ready to help Louisville this season. Both players have considerable promise, but must prove they're ready to play at a high-level. Price could play a key role this season, providing depth behind Gorgui Dieng, while Nunez would provide Louisville a new dimension on the wing with his length.

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