Louisville's trip to the Bahamas showed some of the Cardinals early season strengths and weaknesses. InsideTheVille.com breaks down what we learned about Rick Pitino's team.
Peyton Siva is clearly the leader of this Louisville squad. He makes the Cards go, gets after opposing guards defensively and creates scoring opportunities for others. His three-point shot looked better in the Bahamas, too, especially the 3 of 4 first half performance Friday against the Shockers. If Siva consistently hits open jumpers, he's going to be one of the top point guards in college basketball.
One of the major questions for Louisville is whether there's a legitimate backup on the roster to spell Siva. Chris Smith didn't look like the answer in the Bahamas. Russ Smith played better off the ball. Freshman Kevin Ware could be the answer Rick Pitino is looking for, or at least he better be.
Louisville isn't going to have problems scoring from the perimeter. Kyle Kuric, Mike Marra, Chris Smith, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith all showed in the Bahamas that they're capable three-point marksmen. Chane Behanan and Rakeem Buckles are capable of connecting from deep, too. As is freshman Wayne Blackshear.
Sophomore center Gorgui Dieng should be a more dangerous offensive threat than Terrence Jennings. He showed a nice turnaround jump shot in the Bahamas, and soft touch around the basket. The question with Dieng is will he be an upgrade over Jennings on the defensive backboard?
Dieng should blossom this season as he gains experience and gets the bulk of minutes at the center position. Depth, though, appears a concern behind the promising sophomore. The bulk of the reserve minutes will likely fall to freshman Zach Price, who showed flashes of promises in the Bahamas, but clearly needs to develop quickly to impact in the Big East this season.
What to make of Russ Smith? He looked good scoring the basketball in both televised games, but he figures to be hard pressed to find meaningful minutes at the two with Chris Smith, Wayne Blackshear and Mike Marra. Still, it's clear Smith made significant improvement during the off-season. It would be ideal if he develops into a reliable backup for Siva, given his size and quickness. For that to happen, his decision-making with the basketball has to improve.
Chane Behanan lived up to the hype. He's only going to get better as he gains experience, but he has the size, skills and toughness to make a major impact as a freshman. Physically imposing around the basket, Behanan will draw lots of fouls in the paint, and help Louisville on the boards. He'll need to continue working on those free throws, and pick things up quickly on defense.
It's clear Angel Nunez needs added strength to be a consistent performer in the Big East. But the 6'8 forward can knock down shots from deep. At some point, Nunez' combination of perimeter skills and length will make him a valuable contributor for the Cardinals.
Kyle Kuric is going to be one of Louisville's most consistent night-in, night-out players this season. He's money from the deep corner, and can finish the break with powerful dunks, as the Irish found out last season. Perhaps the only major question is whether he can rebound his position against the better small forwards on Louisville's schedule? Still, he's primed for a big senior season.
Chris Smith won't wow onlookers. But the senior guard is as steady as they come. He does a little bit of everything for the Cardinals as he can score, rebound, and turn up the intensity with his energy. He'll be a reliable contributor in the backcourt again this season.
Depth is going to be one of Louisville's primary strength's. That will allow Rick Pitino to turn up the full court pressure and keep it on opponents for 40 minutes. Expect this team to create a lot of turnovers again this year after leading the league in forced miscues last season.
Louisville's freshmen received valuable experience in the Bahamas, and in practices leading up to the games. They now know how Rick Pitino expects them to play and practice. They also had extra time to find their roles on a team that returns several key veterans. That experience should pay dividends for the Cardinals this season.