State of the Cards Address: Defending Champs Edition

After last night’s beat down of the South Florida Bulls the Cards have 8 days off until the huge Top 15 matchup at home vs. Cincinnati likely for the league lead nearly halfway through the regular season. With this 8 day break ahead and the Cards playing the best stretch of basketball over the past few games we have seen all season, I thought it no better time than now for a State of the Cards Address.

Things we now know:
- Russ Smith continues to impress as a Senior by improving his game to become more effecient (45% FG, 40% 3pnt FG and 71% FT) as well as taking the leading roll in the assist category (4.8APG w/ 1.5-1 Assist-TO Ratio). Russ returned for his Senior season after getting input from current NBA scouts who said he needed to work on his turnover rate and shot selection in order to become a first round prospect. Unfortunately it appears that even though he has done EXACTLY what the scouts said he needed to that he is not going to be in the 1st round discussion. Smith is a true scorer who is never shy in the big moments. Often times early in this season we have seen Smith put the team on his back and take over the game for Louisville. He is the ultimate key to this team, especially come tournament play. He can get past ANYBODY in college basketball and is stroking the 3 at a career high clip of 39.8%.

- Rick Pitino proves again why he is in the Hall of Fame with the move of Wayne Blackshear to a sixth man role where he is finally living up to his potential. In the past three games Blackshear is averaging 16pnts, 4.3reb, 1.3ast, 1blk and 1stl per game while hitting on a ridiculous 64% on 3pnt FGs and averaging a season high 27mpg. Blackshear is proving to be a key player for the Cards. He knows the offense and defense perfectly as a Junior and has the body to post up on the 3pnt line or slash to the basket to score. Early in the season Blackshear had been plagued with early game foul trouble. Since moving to the Sixth Man role he is averaging only 2 fouls per game.

- Montrezl Harrell is finally rounding into form in all major facets of his game including Scoring, Rebounding and Defense. Over the past 4 games Harrell is averaging 12.8pnts, 10reb and 2blks per game while committing less than 2 fouls per game. He is proving why scouts have been drooling over his game and is projected as a 1st round lottery pick in next years draft. He always brings energy and effort on every play. He still needs to improve his rebounding a tad but I can see a ton of similarities between Montrezl and Kenneth Faried of the Denver Nuggets.

- Luke Hancock is in post season Luke mode while its still just the middle of the regular season which bodes very well for the Cards. In the past 5 games Luke is averaging 16pnts, 3.2reb, 2.6asst and 1stl per game. Luke is the definitely the most savvy player on this Louisville squad and as a Senior never gets frazzled by any situation as he proved in last years Final Four and National Title game.

- Chris Jones is currently fighting a hip injury and to be honest the team is actually playing better with him out of the lineup. When healthy he is averaging an effective 11.3ppg, 2.9ast, 2.2reb and 1.9stl per game. Oddly enough his chemistry with backcourt mate Russ Smith appears to still be a work in progress and at this point in the season that is a bit troubling. Chris is still a key piece to this team and as chemistry continues to develop and his knowledge of Pitinos system grows down the stretch he will become an even more valuable asset to the team.

- Terry Rozier is quickly showing why he has become an instant fan favorite. Not only can he shoot it from anywhere in the building but his long athletic frame make him an ideal slasher off the dribble which often sucks the defense in allowing for kickouts to the 3pnt line for wide open shots on the perimeter. Also impressing Card fans is his apparent chemistry with Russ Smith. When the two are on the floor together the offense just flows better and brings the team together as one unit. Once Chris Jones is healthy it would not surprise me at all to see Rozier maintain the starting PG role with Jones coming off the bench ala Wayne Blackshear and running the point for the second unit.

- Mangok Mathiang is still extremely raw but is really hitting his stride of late and showing why the fans have Gorgui like hopes for him as he continues to develop. Mathiang is a red shirt freshman and is averaging 6.6pnts, 3reb, 1.3blk and 1.7stl over his past 3 games while playing a modest average of 16mpg. Coach Pitino says that Mathiang may be slightly ahead of where Gorgui was at this point in his Freshman campaign. Mangok has an ideal body type for the post standing at 6’10 and 210lbs which for a freshman really isnt that bad. He needs to add some muscle mass and work on the timing on his blocked shot attempts but overall he is developing very nicely and will be a true key player as the season progresses and especially come tournament time.

- Tim Henderson continues to be another fan favorite and doesn’t dissappoint when in the game. He is continuing to be a solid 3pnt shooter as he continues to hit from downtown at a 37% clip. Henderson got a nice surprise by being put on Scholarship when one opened up for the 2nd semester following the departure of Chane Behanan.

- The rest of the bench mob include VanTreese, Gill, Agau and Levitch. Of this group VanTreese is the biggest contributor backing up the 5 spot for Mangok. On the season VanTreese is averaging 2.9pnts, 4.7reb, 1blk and 1stl per game, very solid for the senior backup Center. Both Gill and Agau are going to be key players for this team in a couple of years but for now they are working on the basics and just trying to improve when given the opportunity. Gill is a deep 3pnt threat while Agau shows flashes of being a very strong, quick post player. With another couple of years in Pitinos program these guys will reach their full potential and be key contributors, for now they are relegated to spot duty.

What still needs to happen to get back in the National Title discussion:
- Mangok has to continue to improve on defense with his shot blocking and on both ends of the court with his rebounding. This team doesn’t need him to be a scorer as we have more scorers than we have had in recent memory but we HAVE to have good defense and rebounding to advance in the March.

- Montrezl over his past few games has really hit his stride but he has to keep that up for this team to reach its full potential. He is often the most energetic player for either team on the court in a given game but in big time games he has shyed away from his effectiveness, often times due to foul trouble. This must improve by March and he has to improve upon the play of the role Chane Behanan has played in the postseason for this team in the past 2yrs.

- Chris Jones really needs to work on his chemistry with the guys. He is an extremely talented player both as a scorer and a rebounder despite his lack of size. Chemistry and knowledge of Pitinos system right now are the only things hindering Jones development. Those two things have to click for him to continue to be a major contributor for this team.

- Wayne Blackshear and Luke Hancock have to continue to be the huge contributors from the 3pnt line. Louisville has no shortage of shooters but these two guys are the keys to the 3pnt barrage. With these guys hitting their 3′s consistently this Louisville team can become even more unstoppable.

Overview:
- The team is really hitting their stride at the right time and in typical Pitino fashion during conference play. Our only three losses have been to ranked teams and one of those games (vs. Memphis) we should have won but collapsed at the end of the game. This team still has not reached their potential as it has struggled to find a true identity after losing Gorgui and Siva to the NBA and more recently Chane Behanan to expulsion from the university due to violations of university policy. The key to the remainder of the regular season to me is Chris Jones. Once he comes back he HAS to be more of a floor leader when hes out there instead of focusing so heavily on scoring. He is an uber talented JUCO transfer and was named the JUCO National Player of the Year last year while being heavily pursued by both Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Kansas coach Bill Self. Jones eventually made the choice to join the defending champs instead of the Jayhawks but he has to improve upon his chemistry with the guys. Its not anything he is doing wrong in my opinion, its just something that comes with time and once it arrives we will be a complete team. The sky is still the limit for this years squad and if the upward trend the team is on continues we will soon be back in the National Title discussion. Thanks for reading, please share this article with your friends/family and help us build our fanbase for the site/blog. In the next day or so keep a look out for the State of the Cards Address: Football Edition.

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