TIME 7:30 PM
SITE Freedom Hall
OFFICIALS Scott Johnson, Tom Eades, Brent Hampton
After two weeks of practice, the University of Louisville men's basketball team will take the court against their first oppenent when they face off against Division II Kentucky Wesleyan in the season-opening exhibition.
"Right now we're trying to get everybody meshing as a unit and trying to get everybody healthy to play," Pitino said heading into the game. "Taqaun is about 90-95-percent and Ellis Myles is pretty much back."
One of the biggest questions of preseason appears to be answered, as junior Taquan Dean will start at point guard. He'll be joined in the backcourt by 6-4 Larry O'Bannon with Ellis Myles, freshman Tello Palacios and junior All-America forward Francisco Garcia starting in the frontcourt.
"For us to prosper, we're much better when Otis George and Brandon Jenkins come in off the bench," Pitino explained. "They provide a tremendous spark for our team. It's not necessarily the best five that will start but it's the five that will mesh together best."
Palacios, who Pitino indicated after Saturday's intra-squad scrimmage might not play because of a lacerated finger, will be in the starting line-up tonight against Kentucky Wesleyan.
"He's going to play," Pitino said. "He hasn't missed a practice."
The Panthers, who finished 22-8 last season, are led by junior center Frank Phifer (14.5 ppg., 10.4 rpg.) and junior guard Craig Schoen (12.7, 4.8 apg.).
"There's no minuses [to playing Kentucky Wesleyan] but I'm not sure there are any pluses either," Pitino admitted. "They've got some problems with the NCAA right now in terms of who's going to play. So we don't know if they'll be fully loaded and ready to go."
6-6 senior center Franklyn Ferguson and 6-6 senior forward Dontae Truitt have both been declared ineligible for the Panthers this season. Truitt started 18 games in 2004, averaging 19.3 points, while Ferguson, who played for Louisville Moore High School, averaged 8.6 points and 4.9 boards.
"They're probably as good as any Athletes in Action team that would come in here," Pitino said of the Panthers. "They're an up-tempo team and they shoot it well."
Moreson than tonight's opponent, the exhibition will provide Pitino's team an important opportunity to improve in certain key areas; namely on defense.
"I can tell you that we're a long way away from opening our season from a defensive standpoint," Pitino said. "Offensively, we're a pretty good basketball team but defensively we have a long way to go."
With newcomers Palacios, Brian Johnson and Lorenzo Wade being counted on to provide impact minutes this season, Pitino says his freshmen are still trying to find their way on the defensive end of the court.
"The newcomers are dragging us down somewhat [defensively]," Pitino said. "But I've never been around freshmen who are steller defensive players. It's going to take some time and anytime you play freshmen alot of minutes they're going to be behind defensively. They're not used to college defense physically or mentally because the scouting is so new to them."
Despite the defensive weaknesses, Pitino likes what he's seen during practice from his fourth team, particularly their passion for the game.
"This is a pretty good basketball team," Pitino said. "The thing I like about this team is their passion for the game. When you have 12 or 13 guys who are passionate about the game you're only going to get better every day. And that's the case with this basketball team."