Premium Points: Vol. 2

In this edition of Premium Points, dissects the possibilities for Rick Pitino's 2010 recruiting class, breaks down the Cardinals basketball exhibition season, examines the football coaching situation and finishes with UofL women's hoops.

It's an unusual recruiting year for Rick Pitino's basketball program. Last spring, the Cardinals had three verbal commitments from the 2010 recruiting class, including top five prospect Jeremy Tyler. Now, one week from the start of the early signing period, Louisville is still waiting for their first commitment. That's because Tyler skipped his senior season of high school to play professional hoops overseas, Justin Martin de-committed and the Cardinals decided to part ways with Josh Langford.

So who will Louisville sign this month? That's a good question.

Tobias Harris, a five-star forward, is the guy Louisville needs to land. Harris visited Louisville last weekend and came away impressed with the Cardinals. He's got NBA ability and sounds intrigued about the possibility of playing for Rick Pitino, who has groomed NBA forwards Jamal Mashburn, Walter McCarty, Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, Earl Clark and Terrence Williams.

Louisville has stiff competition for Harris, though. While Louisville helped themselves with Harris during his visit, Syracuse, Tennessee and West Virginia are also considered strong players for his services. Harris plans to announce a decision Nov. 19, one day after the early signing period ends. It's unclear whether he'll sign a letter of intent.

The Cardinals best chance might be with 6'5 forward JJ Moore. Moore had a great visit to Louisville a few weeks ago and there's some indication the Cardinals might be the team to beat. After visiting Louisville, Moore planned to re-visit Pittsburgh and St. John's, his other two finalists.

Louisville will bring in point guard Russell Smith during the signing period, and if the Cardinals offer, he's expected to sign on the spot for Louisville. Smith is a DeJuan Wheat-type point guard who can score in a variety of ways. He was impressive at the adidas Classic in Cincinnati this summer and Louisville could use a backup for Peyton Siva next season. Though he's not highly rated, he's talented enough to compete in the Big East because of his quickness, defensive tenacity and scoring ability.

Knowles might be hard to keep on the bench this season.
What can you say about Preston Knowles? The guy is certainly fun to watch. He earned his reputation as an energy guy who played relentless defense off the bench. But he's clearly made vast improvements offensively during the off-season. He looks capable of being a big-time scorer for Louisville this season and is playing the best basketball of his career early this season. And I haven't seen a player get his kind of elevation on the jump shot in a UofL uniform in a long time.

This team is going to be entertaining to watch and one of the reasons is freshman point guard Peyton Siva. The two plays he made the other night against Bellarmine were unbelievable for a – maybe – 6-foot point guard and the reverse follow slam definitely brought me to my feet. He's the point guard Rick Pitino has been looking for and he's going to play a major role for this team because of his quickness and passing and ball handling ability.

When all is said and done, I'd expect Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings to anchor the Cards front court this season. Samuels certainly appears more interested in rebounding this season – he had 14 the other night, though, only four came on the defensive glass – and Jennings is one of the most athletic big men in the nation. There's going to be some early season growing pains, especially for Jennings. But I fully expect those two will handle the bulk of the duties for Louisville up front by the start of Big East play.

One quick mention for freshman forward Rakeem Buckles. He's got the look of becoming an accomplished Big East forward down the road. I've always liked his length and ability to put the ball on the floor. I think he's going to develop into a good rebounder because of his athleticism and long arms. I also was encouraged to see him pull the trigger from deep and connect against Bellarmine. His development this season will have a major impact on the Cardinals chances of winning a second straight Big East title.

I'm still concerned about small forward. Reginald Delk and Kyle Kuric are capable but still have lots to prove. The three guard lineup Rick Pitino put on the floor for the start of the Bellarmine game is probably Louisville's best group right now. But you sure hate to lose Knowles' spark off the bench, plus he gives up size playing the three. It's going to be interesting to see how this critical position shapes up as the season goes on.

With still one month left to go in the 2009 football season, Cardinal fans' focus isn't on the remaining four games against West Virginia, Syracuse, USF and Rutgers. UofL fans are seemingly interested in just one thing: Who will be the new coach next season? I don't know. I'm often asked when we'll hear something official regarding Steve Kragthorpe's job status. Louisville's final game is Nov. 27 against Rutgers and I'd be surprised if AD Tom Jurich travels to Las Vegas with the basketball team for the Nov. 28 contest against UNLV. Further, I'd expect official direction on the matter shortly after the season concludes against the Scarlet Knights.

There have been all sorts of names bandied about as potential replacements and I'm not going to list them because you're already aware of them. Who ever takes the job will have a major rebuilding task awaiting them. The talent level is clearly down at UofL, especially on defense and along both lines. Louisville needs a proven winner, not necessarily a 'big name-guy,' to take the reins and turn the program around. It won't happen overnight and it's going to take solid recruiting and player development to get the Cardinals back into Big East title contention.

Patience will have to be afforded a new coaching staff, and I don't think that will be a problem with the vast majority of UofL fans. Most realize this isn't the program that won 41 games from 2003-2006. This is a program that is 8-12 the past two years and has lost eight straight Big East games, many by wide margins of defeat. It's going to take someone with lots of passion, energy and attention to detail to turn Louisville into a program capable of winning the Big East title.

On the football recruiting front, usually by this time we've had a solid group of official visitors on campus for visits. To my knowledge, that hasn't happened the past two home games against Southern Miss and Arkansas State. More than likely, the bulk of Louisville's official visitors will arrive on campus in December and January when the coaching situation has sorted itself out. For fans who follow football recruiting, I'd expect lots of new names to emerge on that front leading up to National Signing Day next February.

I don't know what to expect from Jeff Walz' team this season, but I'm sure he'll get the most out of what he's got to work with. Clearly, I don't think he's got a Final Four caliber squad this season and I think this young team will experience plenty of growing pains.

However, if Walz gets everybody back and healthy – the team resembles a MASH unit this preseason – they could push for a top four Big East finish. Walz always puts an entertaining product on the court and I'd encourage Louisville fans to get out to Freedom Hall this season and support a young, but talented Cardinals team.

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