Now that UofL's non-conference schedule is complete, the Cardinals re-start Big East play this week against St. John's with an 0-1 league record after falling 71-68 to the Hoyas in their Big East opener.
Though Louisville hasn't been at full strength this season, the Cardinals hope reserve center Stephan Van Treese and talented freshman guard Wayne Blackshear return to the lineup this month in time to provide additional help for a stretch run.
A 6'8 junior, Van Treese saw his first action this season against Butler before reinjuring his patellar tendon Nov. 26. Expected to provide quality minutes behind starting center Gorgui Dieng after averaging 4.2 points and nearly five rebounds during Big East play last season, Van Treese hasn't played since reinjuring his knee.
Blackshear, a former Top 25 recruit, was expected to play a major role for the Cardinals this season until two shoulder surgeries derailed his freshman season. Blackshear began individual instruction last week and dressed for the first time this season against Kentucky. Pitino is hopeful that Blackshear, a big-time scorer in high school, can get into shape quickly and return to the court later this month.
"The problem is every time Wayne gets hurt he puts on 15 pounds," Pitino said. "So we've got a major problem. We should be spending this time getting his basketball skills back, but we're spending this time trying to get 15 pounds off of him just to get him in shape.
"We didn't do a very good job monitoring his diet while he was hurt. He couldn't work out so he was going to put on some weight. We expected it to be three to six pounds. Instead he put on 15. We should have monitored his diet better and we didn't."
Blackshear has made progress with his conditioning during individual instruction sessions and could become a capable reserve for Kyle Kuric, who played 38 minutes against Kentucky. Louisville's leading scorer, Kuric is averaging a team-high 35.7 minutes per game.
"Five minutes into (individual instruction) he's exhausted," said Pitnio. "He couldn't go 20 minutes the first day, but now we're up to 35. He would have been back in two weeks if he would have kept his weight down. My son said he's going to be a worthy substitute at best and that's hoping he gets into shape."
Pitino also hopes Kevin Ware's role increases during Big East play. The 6'4 freshman has seen limited time since joining the team Dec. 14, including four minutes Saturday in Louisville's 69-62 loss to Kentucky. Ware missed two free throws and had a turnover against the Wildcats.
"The guy that you guys haven't seen that's really good is Kevin Ware," Pitino said. "Sometime he's going to get 20 minutes and you're going to be blown away. We're trying to work him at the two now as well. He'll get more minutes it's just a matter of time. He's only been here a few weeks. But he is a very good basketball player."