I never put too much stock in or get too excited about an early season win. By the same token I don't get overly concerned about or try to make too many assumptions about a teams weaknesses by early season defeats, particularly when they occur prior to December.
The reason for this approach is mainly because the season is long and with good coaching, game experience and chemistry most teams play better ball as the season progresses. And you know with Rick Pitino on the bench this team will be fine.
In Iowa, Louisville faced an extremely tough and experienced team that will compete with Michigan State, Wisconsin and Purdue for the Big Ten title this season right out of the gate. And you have to believe the fact that the Hawkeyes already had two regular season games and a foreign tour under their belts gave them a distinct advantage against the Cardinals, who were playing just their first game of the season.
"I felt our scheduling was the reason we lost this game," Pitino said. "They executed better at the endings of plays and I thought not having a couple games under our belt really hurt us."
Even with a scheduling disadvantage against a very good opponent, Louisville had every opportunity to win the game and if Nate Daniels' short jump shot falls through at the end of overtime, the Cards would have pulled off an impressive season opening victory.
But there were plenty of things to like about the Cards performance. For one, Louisville's defensive effort provided promising signs they'll become a better defensive team than Pitino has alluded to during the preseason. Sure they struggled to stop Iowa's Greg Brunner but the Hawkeyes shot just 43% for the game and committed 18 turnovers against U of L's pressure. The smaller Cards also blocked six shots despite foul problems for their two biggest defenders.
As will be the case most of the season, this team will outscore its opponents from three point range. That was certainly the case against Iowa, as Louisville made 11 three point field goals to the Hawkeyes 5. And this team appears to have the same ability as the 2003 Cards to come from behind against quality opponents. Against Iowa, Louisville came from behind late in the game not once but twice against the experienced Hawkeyes.
Sure the Cards have work to do up front. Louisville got just 27 minutes of action from Kendall Dartez and Otis George in the middle and their production during those foul plagued minutes was zero. Luke Whitehead again performed admirably against the taller Hawkeye frontcourt, logging another double-double but he'll need more help from Dartez and George this season. And the return of Nouha Diakite will be a key and likely determine whether or not this team reaches its full potential.
All things considered, Louisville's performance was typcial of a first game to start the season. At times the team was a little out of sync on offense and sometimes communication broke down at the defensive end to allow an uncontested basket. Turnovers were aplenty and sometimes decision making wasn't appropriate. But that's why they play until March. These things take time to iron out and chemistry doesn't develop overnight. So with a little patience and time to develop, this team has the makings of being very good by the time C-USA begins play.
And don't forget. This team placed four starters in double figures and nearly beat an opponent who entered the game with undeniable advantages. Add to that the fact Louisville played with its only two inside players in foul trouble most of the game and a key frontcourt talent still relegated to the bench because of certification issues ...and its best player, Francisco Garcia didn't play his best either, and there's much hope to be taken from this loss.
There's no question this team has some short comings. That is obvious to the most casual of observers. But a gritty performance against a big and physical opponent to start the season should serve as a building block to success the rest of the season.