Louisville enters this week with a three-game winning streak and a 5-4 record in the Big East. It hasn't been pretty, and none of the wins in the current streak have come against squads with a winning conference record, but the Cardinals will take it.
That leaves the team three games behind Syracuse and two behind Marquette, but right in the middle of a crowded Big East pack looking for a top four seed in the conference tournament. Nine teams have between three and five losses in league play, which puts the Cardinals in position for either a prime spot in the conference tournament or a disappointing slide to the bottom of the league.
The Cardinals now have a week off, and there's plenty to work on. First is ball control. The Cardinals had 24 turnovers Jan. 28 in a 60-51 win against Seton Hall and have more turnovers than assists on the season. If that holds the rest of the way, the 2011-12 squad will be the first Pitino crew not to have more assists than turnovers since 2001-02, his first year with the program.
Most Louisville teams have thrived on pressure defense, forcing its opponents into careless turnovers. This team ... not so much. It's been bothered by the press even by opponents like DePaul and Seton Hall who are often underwhelming when they try to force the tempo.
Peyton Siva is the only point guard that Pitino seems to have confidence in, even though Siva is playing through an injury. Elisha Justice is getting time off the bench, though he's been banged up himself. Russ Smith also slides over from the wing as needed, and freshman Kevin Ware could theoretically take on an increased role.
The time off should help injured players get healthier, particularly Siva. It will also give the coaching staff a fresh chance to figure out how not to keep ball control from derailing its high hopes for this season.
NOTES, QUOTES--Just when it looked like the Cardinals were back on the right track in the ball handling department, they came crashing back to reality against Seton Hall on Jan. 28. After committing just nine turnovers against Villanova earlier in the week, it gave the ball away a season-high 24 times against the Pirates. Point guard Peyton Siva was the biggest offender, with seven turnovers as compared to four assists.
--Rick Pitino reunited with a former employee in Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard, who served as one of his assistants for six seasons. The master retained his domination over the pupil, however, as Willard fell to 0-3 against Pitino for his career.
--In a matchup of potential All-Big East candidates in the paint, Louisville's Gorgui Dieng got the better of Seton Hall's Herb Pope. Dieng went 3-5 from the field and 5-6 from the line on his way to a line of 11 points, 14 rebounds, five blocks and a pair of steals. Pope scored 12 points but needed 13 shots to do it, and added 12 rebounds and one blocked shot.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNELTHIS WEEK'S GAMES:
-- vs. Rutgers, Feb. 4
KEY MATCHUPS: Rutgers has been a tough team to figure out this season. The Scarlet Knights have a pair of wins over opponents who came into the game ranked in the top 10 (Florida and UConn), and also had some ugly losses. that's the plight of a young team reliant on freshmen, as the Scarlet Knights are on Eli Carter and Myles Mack. Another player to watch is junior forward Dane Miller, who has the talent to be an impact player on both ends of the court but also has a tendency to play passively on offense.
FUTURES MARKET: Louisville freshman Kevin Ware is having a tough time cracking the rotation even with the team's injury problems. He's averaged fewer than two minutes a night over the past four games through Jan. 28.
PLAYER NOTES--Stephen Van Treese is still out with a left knee tendon strain, and it doesn't look like he'll be back anytime soon. Coach Rick Pitino said this week that he was unlikely to return before March, if he was able to come back at all this season.
--Freshman forward Wayne Blackshear has returned to practice, according to Pitino. The 6'5 Chicago native hasn't played this season because of a shoulder injury.
--Chane Behanan finished just short of a double-double against Seton Hall on Jan. 28, with eight points and a dozen rebounds. Coach Rick Pitino praised him after the game, but one number that won't make the coach happy was the six turnovers he committed along the way.
--Peyton Siva committed seven turnovers in the victory over Seton Hall. He's had at least four turnovers in four of the past seven games.