Can Louisville bounce back vs. Cincinnati?

Louisville seemed to turn the corner after December losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina, winning seven of their next eight games. But after starting Big East action with a 3-0 record, the Cardinals have dropped three straight. Can Rick Pitino solve Louisville's problems with Cincinnati visiting for a key game Sunday?

Louisville has shown this season they can compete with the best teams in the nation but haven't been able to beat those teams. The Cardinals seemed to turn the corner after December losses to Charlotte and Western Carolina, winning seven of their next eight games – the lone loss to top-ranked Kentucky. But after a 3-0 start in the Big East, the Cardinals have dropped their past three conference games, including an 80-77 loss to Seton Hall Thursday night.

Can Pitino turn things around with Cincinnati coming to town Sunday afternoon? Here's a few key problems he'll have to solve if hopes to get the Cardinals back to their winning ways:

Problem: Lack of senior leadership. Senior captains Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith aren't getting it done for the Cardinals. Sosa might be having his best season at Louisville, but he missed crucial free throws at Pittsburgh that cost the Cardinals a win and committed a costly turnover in the final minute of a one possession game against Seton Hall. Strangely, Smith has struggled all year. A career 40 percent three-point shooter, Smith is shooting just 25 percent this season. Smith was scoreless against Pitt and hasn't scored in double figures during Louisville's three-game losing streak.


More minutes for Peyton Siva and ...
Solution: Give Preston Knowles and Peyton Siva more minutes. Pitino also might try a lineup with Siva at point guard and Sosa at shooting guard. Knowles' three-point percentage is down this year, but he's averaging almost 10 points per game, is an 87 percent foul shooter and has almost a 2 to 1 assist turnover ratio. He's also the Cardinals best perimeter defender. Siva's definitely the quickest player on Louisville's roster and Pitino has complained lately about team quickness. As for moving Sosa to SG, he's made 43 three's this season and is the team's second-leading scorer at nearly 14 points per game.


...Terrence Jennings might fix some of UofL's problems.
Problem: Lack of production at the forward positions. Reliable replacements for Terrence Williams and Earl Clark haven't been found this season. Rick Pitino has shuffled Jared Swopshire and Rakeem Buckles at power forward, and Reginald Delk and Kyle Kuric at small forward. Regardless who is in the lineup, Pitino still hasn't found a solution. Swopshire seems out of position banging in the paint and Buckles inexperience at the Big East level is evident. Delk plays hard but isn't a consistent producer, while Kuric rebounds but isn't a big threat offensively from the perimeter.

Solution: Recruiting. Pitino is trying to land five-star SF Justin Coleman and promising PF Gorgui Dieng for next season. In the short term, Pitino might try moving Samardo Samuels to power forward and inserting Terrence Jennings into the starting lineup at center. Small forward is more problematic. Maybe it's time to experiment with Jared Swopshire at the three and play zone.

Problem: Poor team defense. During Louisville's three-game losing streak, opponents have collectively shot 50.9 percent from the floor, including 52.9 percent (18-34) from the three-point line. For the season, the Cardinals field goal percentage defense is the highest in eight years.

Solution: As mentioned above, more minutes for Jennings, Siva and Knowles. Jennings is Louisville's best interior defensive presence, Siva has 18 steals and Knowles might be the best perimeter harasser on the team. Jennings nearly leads the team in blocked shots but plays only the seventh most minutes on the team and only played 16 total minutes in the Cardinals past three games. Knowles is second on the team in steals and is Louisville's best rebounding guard at 3.7.

Problem: Subpar three-point shooting. Louisville is shooting just 31 percent from the three-point arch this season and that's a problem because Pitino's offenses have always relied heavily on the three ball. When the bombs aren't falling, Louisville's offense can sputter. Jerry Smith, Peyton Siva, Jared Swopshire, Kyle Kuric and Mike Marra are each shooting below 30 percent. All five have attempted at least 24 three-pointers this season.

Solution: Stop shooting so many three's. Pound the ball inside more to Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings. Samuels is shooting 54 percent from the field and leads the team with 138 free throw attempts and has made 71 percent from the foul line. Jennings leads the team in field goal percentage at 63 percent. Samuels only got six shots against St. John's, four against Villanova with Taylor King trying to defend him in the post and seven vs. Seton Hall. That's not enough looks for Louisville's best offensive weapon. Mike Marra almost has as many field goal attempts this season as Jennings (65-63).


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