Something has been missing this season for the University of Louisville basketball team.
With the departure of former center Gorgui Dieng leaving the Cardinals void of a true center to anchor their front court, head coach Rick Pitino has had to rethink and recreate his starting five seven times through 22 games this season.
The most recent incarnation of the team's starting unit, which Pitino admits brings a new direction, helped lead the No. 12 Cardinals to a 87-70 win over Central Florida on Saturday night in the KFC Yum! Center.
"You plan all summer for rotations, you work on it for months, and all of the sudden you get hit," Pitino said of his oft-changing lineup. "So I am trying to (find the right mixture), while we're trying to get a win."
The most notable insertion to Saturday's starting lineup was Wayne Blackshear at the power forward spot. The strategy moved regular four-man Montrezl Harrell to center, and allowed center Mangok Mathiang to come in off of the bench, while keeping forward Luke Hancock as the team's lead swingman.
Pitino said that the decision to start Blackshear at the four was made with offense in mind. Sacrificing size and rebounding for the opportunity to spread the floor.
"When (Blackshear) is on the court, we've got five guys who can score, and we're a threat," Pitino said. "(I'm willing to sacrifice some rebounding) for more scoring, and that's what I decided on tonight."
"You have so many more offensive weapons with Wayne at the four."
Blackshear, who coupled a 10-point effort with six boards, echoed Pitino's sentiment of offensive opportunity created by his presence at the four.
"(Playing power forward) works out kind of well, because it gives us the opportunity to have another shooter, myself and Luke, and also Russ (Smith) is out there, to spread the defense out," the junior said.
"I don't mind playing the four. Doing a little pick-and-pop, posting-up there, so it's OK with me."
In the win, four of five Cardinal starters scored in double-figures. Russ Smith led the way with a game-high 27, while Hancock and Harrell chipped in 16 and 14, respectively, en route to 87 points- the team's largest output since its 91-point effort against Huston on Jan. 16. If the lineup continues to generate that kind of offense in the games to come, it's likely that Blackshear has found a home as the Cardinals' new starting power forward.
"We're exactly where we were last year, in terms of record. But we're not exactly where we were in terms of execution. I think we can become a very good offensive basketball team with Wayne at the four."
Some of his teammates like Blackshear in the lineup with Luke Hancock saying it "makes us more dynamic."