By Kris Carr:A bridge year?
Ten years ago when Rick Pitino was hired as the men's basketball coach at the University of Louisville, I thought in 2010 we would be discussing at least one national championship banner that he had hung in Freedom Hall or the new gorgeous Yum! Center. He has come close, but he has not finished the job.
Mr. Pitino has also become involved in one of the most controversial sports stories of the decade, after admitting to an affair in an upscale restaurant and becoming involved in a high profile federal extortion case. This case and his involvement in it were no doubt distractions that contributed to an unexpected loss in the 2008 Elite Eight when his very talented team had earned the number one over all seed and also contributed to the almost nonexistent 2010 recruiting class. Needless to say, confidence in the coaching staff is not at an all time high.
Now in light of all this, Coach Pitino is trying his best to sell us the concept of a bridge year. A year in which to not to expect to much from this year's Cardinal team. A year in which we should just enjoy our 300 million dollar seats in our new downtown arena and dream of next years supposed legendary recruiting class. This is going to be a tough sell.
This year's team is going to have to overachieve to avoid a trip to the dreaded NIT. The starting five is talented and has some experience. Peyton Siva could become an emerging Big East point guard star. Terrance Jennings is a 6'11” athletic center that needs to finally live up to his potential. Kyle Kuric showed his skill by bombarding #1 ranked Syracuse with 22 points in one half. Senior Preston Knowles is just two years removed from leading the Big East in three point shooting. Lastly, forward Rakeem Buckles seems to be poised for a breakout year after dominating early scrimmages and pre-season games.
The problem, though, is not the stating five. It is the next five players off of the bench. The Cardinals do not have any proven help past the starting five.
The lone bright spot in recruiting was the NCAA granting the appeal of freshman center Gorgui Dieng to play college basketball. Although a raw talent, Dieng is a super athletic center, with a 7'4” wingspan giving the Cardinals a legitimate shot blocker down low and adding to depth to the front court.
So what do we have to look forward to as UofL fans this year. If the Cardinals can split their big four non-conference games (UNLV, UK, WKU, and Butler) and then go .500 in the Big East, I feel that will be enough to go the big dance. If this team makes it to the second weekend of the tournament, Pitino might deserve Coach of the Year ( that is if he was not responsible for the depleted roster in the first place).
So we are left as fans to deal with the situation that Mr. Pitino has laid out for us this season. I plan on sitting in the very nice new downtown arena and watching my Cardinals who I have always and will always support. Hopefully, they will surprise us all and win some games they are not expected too. A nice way to ring in the New Year would be a win over the blue guys to the east. We will also hope and pray that the 2011 highly regarded recruited class survives the previous pitfalls that have hit Pitino's recent classes. If it does not, there will be a large portion of Cardinal nation asking Tom Jurich to work his hiring magic again and find us a new basketball coach.
I'll see you all downtown. Go Cards!