I’m not one to panic about a Rick Pitino coached team. Only once in his career at Louisville has a team gone into the season with promise and failed to go to the NCAA. Unfortunately, that was the 05-06 team that went to the NIT. That is also the last time the Cards lost three games in sequence in the Murderer’s Row known as Big East basketball. That 05-06 team lost 3 major players – Francisco Garcia, Larry O’Bannon and Ellis Myles – from the previous year. As we all know, this year’s team lost two lottery picks – Earl Clark and Terrence Williams. The correlation is too much to overlook.
How can this be prevented from happening again? Well if you remember, the NIT team had a upperclassman backcourt of Brandon Jenkins and Taquan Dean. Two good players who made their fair share of plays over their careers, but never could be expected to carry the team alone. Both Robins who needed a Batman to compliment their powers. Not taking anything away from them, that’s just how it was. I’m starting to see the similarities between that backcourt…and this year’s duo of seniors – Jerry Smith and Edgar Sosa.
Only the 05-06 back-court lacked quality back-ups. An overweight freshman Andre McGee and over-matched Brad Gianinny were Dean and Jenkins’ replacements. That is where the difference lies. This years teams supposed “back-ups” are not a step down whatsoever. One is a ball of fire with confidence in his shot and tenacious defense in Preston Knowles. The other is a pure point guard who had recruiting analysts drooling in freshman Peyton Siva. Neither has been able to get into a rhythm this year (with the exception of Knowles against PITT) due to Pitino’s extreme loyalties to Sosa and Smith. To avoid history repeating itself, something of a changing of the guard must occur ASAP. Smith and Sosa haven’t given the senior leadership that was expected.
Let’s face it, Sosa and Smith are having trouble getting the job done this season. Smith has gone from having the nickname “Raindrops” to “The Drought” overnight. His shot isn’t falling and it is affecting his whole game – intensity, rebounding and defense. Plus, it seems at times like he’s just going through the motions, waiting for the game to end. The frustrating part is that he was the complete opposite for the last three seasons. Even if his shot wasn’t falling, he would make it up on the defensive end (most of the time). This year his confidence is shot and that’s not a good recipe for a shooting guard who regrettably feeds off his offense. Sosa has been brilliant at times, but immature at others. He can fill up the buckets with the best of them, yet that isn’t a pre-requisite for a solid point guard. Whether it be the missed foul shots at PITT or the poor decisions against Seton Hall, Sosa hasn’t become the distributor Pitino would have liked him to be by now. Both players have given their all to the Cards and Pitino has been extremely loyal (almost to a fault), but it’s hard to justify not playing the Siva/Knowles combo the majority of the minutes based on performance.
Former coach and Hall of Famer Denny Crum said on his radio show that if he had Peyton Siva on this team, he would play 38 minutes a game. Every time the guy gets into the game something good seems to happen. He plays with a swagger and confidence unmatched by anyone but Knowles. As a pure point guard, he distributes and facilitates before looking for his shot. The freshman conducts himself on and off the court like a person 10 years older. Siva is downright electric, yet he hasn’t played more than 11 minutes (Nova) since the conference opener. In that game, he had 12 points. Why not give the guy 30 minutes to see what happens? Can’t get much worse. Right?
Caoch Pitino is stubborn sometimes. He went into the season saying “Preston Knowles will be the best 6th man in college basketball” so that’s what was going to happen. What happens if he completely outplays the guy ahead of him? Is he still the 6th man or has he deserved a start? There is no one on the team with the confidence in his shot like Knowles and after a small slump early on, his shot is back on track. He has even shown he can run the offense with some success in Sosa/Siva’s absence. I have tried to justify playing Jerry Smith more minutes than Knowles, but it is impossible. Knowles is simply the better option and it is evident in every aspect of the game.
A 3-guard line-up with Sosa/Knowles/Siva or a small back-court of Siva/Sosa would work as well. However, a new wrinkle must be added soon or else this team will end up playing the last game in Freedom Hall in the NIT. The team doesn’t deserve that. The fans don’t deserve that. Most of all, the hollowed floor of Freedom Hall doesn’t deserve to have the last game played on it be involved with the NIT.
A little change could prevent that.