"There's some doubt with our basketball team because they're shaken," Pitino said. "We need some confidence. We've got to rally this basketball team in a positive way. I think they were the most overachieving team here when they went 12-0 and now their confidence is shaken a little bit. We've got to get back to giving incredible effort and get a W. We've got to win all of our homes games."
Louisville is 1-3 in Big East play after home losses to Georgetown and Notre Dame and Providence on the road. Pitino said his team has dug a big hole, and must win all seven of their remaining Big East home games, which includes undefeated and No. 1-ranked Syracuse, plus two games on the road to earn a bid to the NCAA Tourney. If the Cardinals don't attain those goals, Pitino said the Cards will have to win the Big East Tournament to make the NCAA Tournament.
"I told the media numerous times when we were 12-0 that I felt we were playing good defense but I didn't think we were executing," Pitino said. "We are very disappointed in our performance at Providence. If you ask me why it happened I would say this -- we've been in a lot of wars from the Memphis game on…and I think when Peyton Siva missed a couple of wide open layups early on in the game the air was let out a little bit, they started shooting great, we started pressing and it went the other way. We were 0 for 11 on challenged shots and you can't do that on the road."
Louisville will try to bounce back against DePaul Saturday at home and Marquette on the road Monday afternoon. DePaul played the Cardinals tough last season, and Pitino said the Blue Demons are better this year.
"We have certainly dug a hole," Pitino said. "The fact that we lost by 31 points isn't the problem. The problem is the Big East is very tough. We have to win all of our home games, which give us seven wins and we've got to get two on the road, which will not be easy because we have some very difficult road games. That's what we have to do to be in the NCAA Tournament or at the end we have to win the Big East Tournament. So that's our goal right now. If we lose to DePaul we're in big trouble."
Pitino's most pressing issue is finding a solution for Louisville's struggling offense. The Cardinals failed to top 68 points in any of their four losses, and have struggled to score inside and outside. Asked if there was anything he could do in terms of screening, movement to fix the offense, Pitino flatly said, "no."
"I think we are a limited offensive team from a talent standpoint," Pitino said. "Gorgui Dieng is a good basketball player but he's physically weak. At the power forward spot Chane is a subpar defensive player. Kyle Kuric is having a solid season, but isn't putting it on the floor. He's getting the most out of his abilities. Chris Smith is the same as Kyle, he's a solid player, but he's not having a great year. I think we can get more out of Russ Smith. And Peyton Siva is having one of those subpar years and we've got to get him out of it. Gorgui Dieng and Kyle Kuric are having solid years, everybody else is struggling from a statistical standpoint a little bit."
Pitino said he's considering lineup changes designed to improve Louisville's offensive output.
"The thing we could do right now is go small again and get a little better motion in our offense, get Kyle Kuric more shots and get some better passing on the perimeter," Pitino said. That's something we'll toy with going into this game."
That small lineup would include Peyton Siva at point guard, Russ Smith at the two, Chris Smith at small forward, Kyle Kuric at power forward and Gorgui Dieng at center. Siva, Smith and Smith are 6'2 or shorter. Kuric is 6'4.
"I call it a mosquito lineup," Pitino said. "When we were a good offensive basketball team last year it was with Kyle at the four, Chris at the three, Preston at the two and Peyton at one. That's when we played our best basketball. So that's always an option. There aren't as many buttons to push as there were last year because we're a little limited right now."
Pitino also announced that 6'5 freshman Wayne Blackshear has returned to practice and could play in two weeks.
"He practiced today, but what I think you're going to see is the same situation with Kevin Ware," Pitino said. "He'll probably play in about two weeks and hopefully by mid February he'll be in good enough form to contribute. We could use him because then we could play Kyle at the four and we'd have a bigger three with Wayne."
Louisville plays DePaul Saturday at 4:00, and the players understand there's no margin for error left at home.
"The guys had a team meeting and realize it can't happen again," Pitino said. "The chemistry is outstanding with this ball club because they're a great group of guys. I think they could improve in certain areas. Chris Smith's body language is horrible. But they are a great group of guys and they work extremely hard. They're going through a rough stretch right now and we've got to turn it around."