Premium Points: Vol. 1

Louisville tips-off the 2009-10 basketball season Wednesday night with their first exhibition game against Georgetown (KY) College. After watching practice and two scrimmages, provides an early season break down of Rick Pitino's Cardinals.

I keep getting asked this question from Louisville fans excited about the start of basketball season: How good is Rick Pitino's team going to be this season?

My short answer: Pretty good, I think. It's still early and despite having three seniors on the perimeter this is a very young team. Four freshmen and as many sophomores will be counted on this season which makes the prediction business risky, especially when you take into consideration an 18-game Big East schedule.

Here's what I think I know about this team after watching them practice once and scrimmage twice. This looks like an old-school Pitino team with a bunch of excellent shooters, a strong back court, lots of depth and an inside punch with Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings. I'm excited to see how this team develops early this season because they're extremely fun to watch because of the way they shoot the basketball and the energy they bring to the court.

Can they win the Big East? I think so, and I wouldn't be shocked if they defended their conference title. The Big East is wide-open this season and the Cardinals, with nine former Top 100 prospects and two McDonald's All-Americans on the roster, have as much talent as anyone.

Let's talk first about Peyton Siva because I love to watch this guy play. He's the point guard Pitino has been waiting for and he'll have a big impact this season. He's a leader on the court and he's tough. He's also going to causes problems for opposing defenses because he's quick enough to blow by his defender and get into the lane, where he finishes well and creates for his teammates. He'll bring a lot of energy off the bench and will give the Cardinals a new offensive dimension when he's on the court.

The guy who is trying to keep Siva on the bench, Edgar Sosa, finally appears to grasp his role as a floor leader. Sure he scored a game-high 25 points in the Red-White scrimmage and had four turnover to just two assists. But he looks more under control this season and doesn't appear to be forcing the issue like he has in the past. I'm looking for Sosa to have a big senior season for the Cardinals.

Jerry Smith was quiet in Sunday's scrimmage but he's reported in the best shape of his career. It's clear Smith dedicated himself over the summer and is ready to play a big role for Louisville this season. After three seasons, you know what you're going to get with Smith, a steady performer who can get hot from three. He's also expecting to become a father sometime this week and you'd expect that to provide him a little extra motivation on the court.

As good as those three guards are some might argue Preston Knowles is the best guard on Louisville's roster. They wouldn't get much argument from me. Knowles is still a defensive nightmare for opponents but he's made significant offensive strides during the off-season. He's always been able to hit three's, but Knowles has now added a new dimension to his game off the bounce. Pitino likes to bring Knowles off the bench because of his energy but he's going to be hard to keep out of the starting lineup.

There's a battle brewing at small forward between Reginald Delk and Kyle Kuric. Delk was a two-year starter at Mississippi State and he's the leader for the job. But Kuric, who is more confident and assertive this season, might be the better player and appears to be the most improved player on the team. Delk didn't grab a rebound in the Red-White game and that's not going to curry favor for playing time. Meanwhile, Kuric was all over boards hauling down nine. Kuric also scored 18 points, hitting three's, getting put backs, driving and scoring, and knocking in midrange jumpers. Kuric's going to see a lot of playing time and may eventually become the man at small forward this season if Delk doesn't pick up the aspects of his game besides scoring.

Rick Pitino is talking about not playing Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings together. But it's hard to envision a starting lineup at Big East time without those two on the court at the same time. Samuels appears more aggressive on the boards and should have a monster season down low because Louisville has a number of capable shooters around him. Samuels will face double-teams in the post and if he can find the open man on the perimeter he's going to benefit.

Every season, Rick Pitino has a whipping boy. Terrence Jennings might be that guy this year. Look for Jennings to come on strong as the season progresses. He's still a work in progress offensively but he might be the league's top shot blocker with Hasheem Thabeet in the NBA. Few big men in the nation run the court or are as athletic as Jennings. When he starts to put it together on offense he's going to be hard to handle.

Rakeem Buckles is a cross between Earl Clark and Otis George. He's a better offensive talent than George but probably isn't the instinctive rebounder that Clark was. He's needs additional strength to reach his potential but he's going to contribute this season. Buckles is capable of putting the ball on the floor from the four spot and once he learns to use that skill to create opportunities for others he'll be hard to keep off the court. He'll be a factor later in the season.

George Goode gives Louisville a servicable guy in the post who will grab rebounds and block shots. He's strictly a role guy and if he'll rebound and defend he'll earn his minutes this season. And if opposing centers don't come out on him Goode is capable of knocking down an occasional three as he did in the Red-White scrimmage.

Jared Swopshire will start out at power forward tomorrow against Georgetown (KY) College but he's going to be pushed at that position by Buckles and either Jennings or Samuels. Swopshire struggled finishing in the paint during the scrimmage and he's not a natural power forward. He's one of these 'tweener' guys and he has to find his niche on this team.

Rick Pitino won't hesitate to insert Mike Marra into the lineup when teams are packing the zone to stop Samuels in the paint. Marra is a deadly shooter when he gets his feet set and squares to the hoop. He lit it up in both recent scrimmages, that is until the other team switched defenses. If Marra wants to become more than a zone-buster, he'll need to learn to move without the ball and work off of screens to get free for open shots.

Stephan Van Treese will find minutes here and there this season. He appears able to run the court, willing to bang under the basket and is a fairly adept passer from the high-post. Van Treese plays hard, has good size and will probably get a look early to see how he responds against high level competition.

The two significant questions I still have about this team: Rebounding and small forward. On the first, Louisville needs Samardo Samuels to step up and grab boards and needs production from the three and four spots. It's an area to keep a close eye on going forward. I outlined the battle at the three position above and that one should iron itself out in the first month of the season. If Delk steps up and assumes control of that position, Louisville will be solid because Kuric is capable of playing solid minutes. The question I have is whether Kuric is ready for a starting role in the Big East as a sophomore? We'll see.

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