Pitino keeping it simple for No. 20 Louisville
Rick Pitino is arguably one of the most meticulous strategists in college basketball, bombarding his Louisville players with offensive sets. It could overwhelm even the most experienced of teams, but Pitino believed it was a necessary process to prepare the Cardinals for Big East play. But it also led to some pretty ugly basketball, particularly in November. "My teams are very tough to watch the first few games of the season," Pitino admitted. So are the results. The Cardinals (1-0) have stubbed their toes in November in seven of Pitino's eight seasons on the sideline. Last year, Louisville was ranked No. 3 when Western Kentucky dominated the Cardinals in Nashville. Two years ago, they fell to BYU in Las Vegas. Three years ago, Dayton knocked them off the day after Thanksgiving. The only time Louisville, under Pitino, escaped November unscathed was 2005, when the Cardinals played only one game before the calendar flipped to December. With a team searching for a new identity after stars Earl Clark and Terrence Williams left for the NBA, this November looked to be perhaps even tougher than usual until Pitino had an epiphany of sorts over the summer. Maybe, he figured, less is more when you're coaching a team filled with eight freshmen and sophomores. So instead of inundating the Cardinals with detailed plays from the day practice started, he asked them to push the ball instead. Rather than put together a dozen offensive sets he expected to be executed flawlessly from the get-go, he has kept the playbook basic. "I just tried to evaluate why we're not good early on, and I think I put too much in," he said. Keeping it simple paid off in a remarkably easy 30-point win over short-handed Arkansas on Tuesday. The Cardinals knocked down 15 3-pointers, took only a handful of challenged shots - one of Pitino's biggest sticking points - and responded immediately when Arkansas closed within two points early in the second half. "It's the best we've looked in an opening game since I've been here," he said. "I think it's just the result of us putting very few things in and getting better at what we put in earlier in the year," Pitino said. Besides, if the Cardinals are going to defend their Big East championship, Pitino knows the fewer plays they call the better. He'd prefer it if Louisville is too busy getting points in transition to worry too much about where the ball needs to go in the halfcourt. So would his players. "He wants us to get out and push it and not slow it down because we're so deep and we've got a lot of guys that can play," said sophomore forward Kyle Kuric. The Cardinals used that depth to wear down the Razorbacks, and they'll need it this weekend when they play East Tennessee State, Morgan State and Appalachian State as part of the Hall of Fame Showcase at Freedom Hall. Playing three games in three days isn't Pitino preference as the short turnarounds don't allow for much gameplanning. That might not necessarily be a bad thing. At least for now. Kuric admitted being overwhelmed as a freshman by the various interpretations of a given play. "It's hard to realize when they call out a play you have to know exactly what to do, you can't sit there and think about it," Kuric said. "So you just have to kind of go on reaction and do it that way." The playbook will get more detailed as the season wears on, but Pitino is encouraged by what he's seen. There will still be mistakes - Pitino is still waiting for sophomore center Samardo Samuels to start asserting himself in the paint - but Pitino can live with them if the Cardinals make shots and play with the kind of intensity that marked their second-half surge by the Razorbacks.