"We've been consistent all season long with giving great effort," Pitino said Thursday.
Louisville's relentless effort defensively (the Cards rank 10th nationally in field goal percentage defense) is the major reason the Cardinals are 13-2 heading into Saturday's game against Notre Dame. But the Cardinals have struggled offensively. More times than not this season, Louisville's defense has been good enough to overcome opponents. But as Big East play heats up, Louisville must step up their offensive execution and productivity.
While Louisville has held five opponents below 30 percent shooting, including St. John's (28.1 percent) in a 78-63 win Tuesday night in New York, the Cardinals have shot 40 percent or worse on five occasions. In losses to Georgetown and Kentucky, Louisville shot just 41.7 percent and 32.2 percent, respectively.
What is the cause of Louisville's struggles offensively?
Against Georgetown and Kentucky, at least, the Cardinals didn't generate enough points off turnovers or second chance opportunities. Though UofL outscored Georgetown and Kentucky in the paint, they came up short in second chance points against the Hoyas (11-15) and Wildcats (6-20). Kentucky also had more points off turnovers (15-19), typically a key stat in Louisville's favor. Louisville averaged only 65 points in those two losses, seven lower than their season average.
Another reason for Louisville's offensive struggles has been the inconsistent play of Peyton Siva, the Cardinals floor general and set-up man. The junior point guard missed considerable practice time - and two games - early this season because of a concussion and ankle injury and is still trying to get back to last year's form.
A Bob Cousey Award finalist, given annually to the nation's best point guard, Siva's shooting percentage is down 11 points (45 percent in 2011; 34 percent in 2012) this season. While Siva has struggled shooting, his biggest issue has been inconsistency.
Against Memphis, Siva had 13 points, 9 assists and only 3 turnovers. Against Western Kentucky, Siva had more turnovers (6) and fouls (5) than points or assists. Siva rebounded with 15 points and six assists against Georgetown, but got in early foul trouble against St. John's, forcing him to sit out much of the first half.
Thursday, Pitino attributed Siva's recent struggles on his penchant to commit "bad" fouls.
"I think the head scratchers are just due to bad fouls," said Pitino. "There are good fouls and bad fouls. A good foul is you're drawing a charge and the referee calls the block. He's making fouls that are taking him out of consistency."
Even as Siva struggles to regain consistency, Pitino is confident he will. Siva ranks fourth in the Big East in assists, fifth in steals, 14th in assist-turnover ratio and ninth in free throw percentage. He ranks 20th nationally in assists and has made six or more assists seven times this season.
"He's the one guy on the team I don't really concern myself with and fret over," Pitino said.
One thing Pitino does want Siva to focus on is his shot selection. Siva has made just 8 of 38 three's this season, a not-so-good 21.1 percent.
"He's worked very hard on his shooting," said Pitino. "The key to guys that aren't knock down shooters is don't shoot it early in the clock. Peyton is an average to good shooter. What we want him to do is take the three-point shot under 10 seconds. We don't want him to shoot it with 30 seconds. That's true of Chane Behanan. It's true of Peyton and Kevin Ware. You don't want them to shoot the three early in the clock, but they have the total green light under 12 seconds to put it up or they'll be a liability."
Pitino not surprised by Willard's success
In just his second season at Seton Hall, former Louisville assistant Kevin Willard has the Pirates on the verge of the Top 25 after consecutive wins over West Virginia and #8 UConn. Seton Hall is 13-2 and 2-1 in Big East play this season.
"Nothing surprises me when it comes to Kevin Willard because he's one of the most brilliant young men I've had the good fortune to work with," Pitino said. "He has a tireless work ethic and a good tactician. He's building it the right way."