While UofL's offense has been slow to produce big results – Rick Pitino's team has scored 70 or more points in just three games – the Cardinals remain unbeaten thanks to a defense that is allowing just 52 points per game, fourth best nationally.
Injuries have played a big role in Louisville's slow start offensively this season. The Cardinal also are still trying to overcome the loss of Preston Knowles, UofL's leading scorer last season.
"Preston Knowles practiced with us recently and he was by far the best player," Pitino said. "All of a sudden the offense for that team started clicking because he starts making one shot after another, getting into the lane and things. So it was quite evident that we really miss him. He has the ability to make difficult shots. This team is a lot different. It is a lot more low-post oriented. This team is far different because of the absence of Preston."
Louisville beat IUPUI, 90-60, Wednesday night. The Cardinals shot 55 percent from the floor, made 17 of 22 free throws and had 17 assists. But Pitino's normally potent three-point offense produced just 3 of 11 triples.
For the season, UofL is making just 31 percent from the three-point line, noticeably lower than most of Pitino's past teams. Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith and Russ Smith are all shooting better than 34 percent from behind the arch, but Peyton Siva and Chane Behanan are both connecting on less than 20 percent of their attempts.
"The offense will be fine," Pitino said. "When you're banged up you have to win with defense. We'll get better offensively, but defense has to be our staple to win. Preston could make shots under defensive pressure. Our guys can score when they're open. Preston could score when he was guarded."
Pitino believes Siva, who has been slowed this season with a concussion and an ankle injury, will play better now that he's healthy. Though he's shooting just 30 percent overall and 17 percent from three, Siva leads the team in assists (36), free throws made (25-29) and ranks third in steals. He also is averaging 9.3 points per contest."Tomorrow will be the first time this season he's been one hundred percent," said Pitino. "His stats are jaded because he hasn't been healthy. I've got great confidence he'll get back to where he was this summer."
With a healthy Siva directing action on the court, Pitino believes his team offense will begin to improve.
"Chris Smith is off to a very good start offensively," said Pitino. "He doesn't turn it over much, he shoots a good percentage from the field and three-point line. Kyle Kuric is capable of good things. Chane Behanan is going to get better and better offensively. We're trying to get him to improve his shooting because he can be a good shooter. And we're working with Gorgui on his low-post game."
Dieng, a 6'11 sophomore, is coming off an 18 point, 12 rebound effort against IUPUI, connecting on all eight of his field goal attempts.
"Gorgui doesn't give great effort exploding to the basket," said Pitino. "He relies more on his skills than he does on his explosiveness. We've got him working very hard on the Vertimax trying to get his jumping ability up while we're working on his moves. He's a good passer. Obviously, everything is about strength with him. He's 20 pounds away from being a big-time enforcer."
Jared Swopshire saw his minutes decrease significantly against IUPUI. The junior forward has been one of UofL's top reserves this season, but played only six minutes on Wednesday.
"(We were) partially working Rak in, the other part is he has had two really poor defensive practices," said Pitino. "The last game he didn't step up defensively in four or five situations and didn't block out all because of missed defensive assignments. We told him, ‘Swop if you keep doing that your minutes are going to go down.' He knows that and has played very well in practice and will get more minutes."
In his first game since injuring his knee last February, Rakeem Buckles played 11 minutes, contributing three points and four rebounds. "I've just got to get the cobwebs out and I'll be back to myself in a couple weeks," Buckles said.
Injuries continue to slow Pitino's team. Pitino said Stephen Van Treese could miss most of the season with a knee injury, "but getting Rak back alleviates that problem." Russ Smith also could miss Saturday's game against Fairleigh Dickinson after injuring his neck..........sleeping.
"Russ is probably not going to play in this game because he slept on his neck wrong and he cannot turn either way. There's not a whole lot you can do for it," said Pitino. "He hasn't practiced and probably will not play tomorrow."
With Elisha Justice still out of the lineup with an injury, who will backup Siva at point guard against the Knights?
"We'll probably have to go with Tim Henderson or Mark Jackson," Pitino said. "Probably Tim Henderson."
Louisville's injury problems have become unfathomable. Players have been injured in games and practices this season. Freshman center Zach Price was injured when he walked into a doorframe. Smith's injury asleep is a first for the Cardinals.
"We've had more injuries than most, but every team has injuries," Pitino said. "Two of our guys wear helmets in practice. Injuries are part of the game. As long as you can have injuries and learn your offensive and defensive lessons and still win that's the best scenario. It's when you lose injuries take a toll on you mentally."
Louisville's injury problems have forced Pitino to adjust his game plan early this season. Instead of his typical pressing and running style, Pitino's team has been forced to play a little differently to this point.
"We're just going to figure out a game-plan to win," Pitino said. "The second part of the season when we get into league play we'll start getting healthy and play our style of play. In the interim let's just figure out a way from our scouting to win. Throw everything else out the window. And we've done that and we're going to stick with it."
The Cardinals will get needed backcourt help next week when Kevin Ware becomes eligible. A former Top 100 recruit, the 6'4 will provide Louisville another athlete on the perimeter.
"We're going to get Kevin Ware next week so we'll get another body for practice," Pitino said. "It's going to help us to have another body for practice and then we'll see where we go. It'll probably take him two weeks to get going but we figure…that's when we'll be into the Big East season."
Former Louisville forward George Goode makes his return with Fairleigh Dickinson. Goode transferred during the off-season and leads the team in rebounding at nearly 11 per game. Goode averages almost eight points per contest. The Knights also feature former UofL commit Melquan Bolding. He averages 14 points for the 2-7 Knights.
"I was real happy that he transferred to Fairleigh Dickinson because he was going to get a lot of playing time, that was the key in this type of scenario," Pitino said of Goode. "So we're excited for him."