Slumping Louisville has dropped three of their past five games and Pitino hopes to avoid the Cardinals third loss in less than 10 days before heading to New York next week for the Big East Tournament at Madison Square Garden.
Disappointed in his team's play of late, particularly an anemic offense that has failed to score more than 57 points in four of the last fives games, including Wednesday's 58-51 loss to USF on Senior Night at the KFC Yum! Center, Pitino is searching for answers heading into tomorrows game against Syracuse, who beat the Cards 52-51 last month in Louisville.Will Pitino really shake things up this late in the season? If so, what will those changes look like? Though the Louisville coach didn't reveal his plans a few things are clear heading into the post-season.
For one, Pitino isn't happy with the play Kyle Kuric, who he has talked about moving to the two, and Gorgui Dieng. Though Kuric scored a team-high 14 points against USF, the senior forward didn't do much else to help the Cardinals, grabbing just two rebounds without an assist or steal. Dieng had just three points and five rebounds in 32 minutes against USF. Pitino said his sophomore center has been "pushed around" recently. He also said Dieng was "tired" after finishing with just five points and one offensive rebound in UofL's 57-54 win over Pittsburgh.
Pitino also told freshman forward Wayne Blackshear that he needs to either pack it in for the year or start playing like he did while earning McDonald's All-American honors at Chicago's Morgan Park HS. Blackshear played only one minute against USF, but the Cardinals could use his scoring ability to jump start its sluggish offense. Since scoring 13 points in his debut last month at West Virginia, Blackshear has scored in just one of the four games he's played.
Pitino also said after Wednesday's loss to USF that he may play freshman forward Angel Nunez more because of his outside shooting ability, something the Cardinals could definitely use. Louisville missed 13 of 14 three's in a close loss at Cincinnati last week and made just 5 of 22 threes against USF.
"I'm going to try to get Angel (Nunez) ready, even though he makes a lot of mistakes," Pitino said. "I've got to get him ready for this tournament. I've got to teach Kyle (Kuric) how to play the two and I've got to get Angel ready mentally."
Nunez has played sparingly this season, averaging just 4.6 minutes in 12 games. He played four minutes against USF, missing all three of his three-point field goals, while failing to score or grab a rebound. The 6'8 Nunez scored six points against both Providence and UConn, his two best efforts in Big East play.
"In these slow down games, every possession is fundamentals," Pitino said. "USF had guys who made shots and we had guys, other than Chris Smith, who didn't make shots. If you don't have shooters on the perimeter, it's going to be difficult to make shots. Russ Smith is good in a wide open game but he's not a good spot up shooter or 3-point shooter. If it's a fast game, you play Russ; if it's not, you play Angel."
Though UofL's game at Syracuse will have no impact on their Big East Tournament seeding, the Cardinals desperately need a signature win to boost their confidence and improve their NCAA Tournament seeding, currently a 5-seed but falling, according to ESPN.com's Joe Lunardi. Louisville is 0-6 against teams ahead of them in the Big East standings. Syracuse, at 16-1 in league play, has clinched the regular-season title.
Louisville will open the Big East Tournament as the No. 7 seed and will face the winner of the No. 10 - No. 15 game. Based on the current standings, Louisville would play UConn or Providence in the second round next Wednesday at 7:00 pm.