Cards post-season hopes depend on freshmen

Louisville's four freshmen played major roles during the Cardinals regular-season run to a second place Big East finish and a Top 15 national ranking. So it figures that Rick Pitino's rookies will factor heavily in Louisville's success during the post-season.

Louisville's four freshmen played major roles during the Cardinals regular-season run to a second place Big East finish and a Top 15 national ranking. So it figures that Rick Pitino's rookies will factor heavily in Louisville's success during the post-season.

One thing is clear. These freshmen are anything but ordinary.

Only one freshman class in U of L history, Denny Crum's 1978 freshman class, averaged more points during their initial season (28.4) than have Edgar Sosa, Derrick Caracter, Jerry Smith and Earl Clark this season. The 1978 class, of course, helped lead Louisville to multiple final fours and the 1980 NCAA championship.

Who knows if Pitino's freshmen will enjoy the same post-season success as Derek Smith, Scooter McCray, Jerry Eaves and Wiley Brown, but they'll get their first crack at post-season play tonight in the Big East quarterfinals in New York's historic Madison Square Garden.

This season, Pitino's freshmen quartet have contributed 28.3 points per game, 40 percent of the team's scoring. They've also averaged 10.9 points and 5 assists and are largely responsible for helping the Cardinals win six more Big East games than they did last season before their arrival.

The 6-1 Sosa, a New York native, earned All-Big East freshman honors this week. Sosa averages 10.8 points and leads Louisville in steals (42), is second in assists (85) behind sophomore forward Terrence Williams and third in three-point goals made (41-of-119). In a slugfest in the regular-season finale against Seton Hall, he hit four three-pointers and led the way to victory with 18 points.

"Edgar has had as good a freshman year as any freshman I've coached from the beginning to the end," Pitino said. "He's gotten considerably better as the season has gone along."

Before the season, a few of Pitino's New York friends – namely recruiting analyst Tom Konchalski and basketball writer Dick Weiss – didn't think Sosa could run the show for the Cardinals, believing him more of a scorer than a true point guard.

"Sosa didn't really play like a point guard – as a matter of fact a lot of my friends in New York didn't think he was a point guard," said Pitino. "They thought he played like a two-guard and had a two-guard mentality, but he has developed into a point guard."


Clark is expected to start tonight.

Sosa's development into a point guard has been one of the main reasons for Louisville's turnaround this season. Once the light went on for Sosa, suddenly the Cardinals transformed from a 12-6 team that appeared headed nowhere to the 22-8 team that enters tonight's contest as the No. 2 seed in the Big East Tournament.

"He has the ability to make other people better. In the beginning of the year he did play like a two-guard, but he's learned how to play the point position and he does it quite well," said Pitino.

Smith, Caracter and Clark have each gotten better as the season has progressed, too. Smith, a 6-2 guard, leads the Big East in three-point shooting percentage (47 percent) and averages 8.2 points and leads the Cardinals with 55 three-pointers. The 6-9 Clark will make his second start of the season tonight and has averaged 8 points and four rebounds over the past 12 games. He grabbed 10 rebounds against Seton Hall Sunday. And since returning six games ago from suspension, Caracter has scored in double figures in five games. Most importantly, Louisville hasn't lost since his return.

"I think all of our freshmen have come far," Pitino said. "They've all improved dramatically since the beginning of the year. Jerry Smith has been consistent all year long and Derrick and Earl have gotten a lot better. Derrick still has to learn to pass out of the post better – that's his major weakness – but he's starting to rebound better."

Pitino said he was amazed by his freshmen's fearless – and atypical play this season. Normally, as Pitino pointed out, freshmen are prone to mistakes, occasional defensive lapses, and inconsistent play, especially on the road.

The Cardinals, however, have been very protective of the ball all season long and have been good defensively down the stretch, holding opponents to just 40 percent shooting, 28th best nationally. Louisville also won six Big East road games, tied for the most in the league with Georgetown and Pittsburgh.

"The amazing thing about this year is they've broken all the freshmen rules," Pitino said.

Pitino hopes his freshmen continuing breaking the rules, especially the one about experience being key to post-season success.


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