Unselfish Cardinals off to perfect 3-0 start
As a rule, Louisville coach Rick Pitino doesn't look at the stat sheet until eight games into the season.
Doing it earlier, he figures, is foolish. It takes at least a handful of games to get a real feel for a team's strengths and weaknesses by Pitino's math.
Still, there's one statistic that jumps out at Pitino while he tries to gauge his team's perfect 3-0 start. Heading into Saturday's game against Marshall (3-1) the Cardinals have assisted on 72 percent of their field goals so far, a number Pitino believes is proof his players are buying into his system.
''We're encouraging guys to make the extra pass, create player movement, create ball movement,'' Pitino said. ''You usually don't find that many assists for that many points, so that is a very positive sign.''
The unselfish play has led to some remarkable scoring balance. The Cardinals have had a different leading scorer in each of their three games and at least four players in double figures in every game, including seven in a blowout win over Chattanooga on Monday.
Pitino stressed before the season started he had ''no idea'' who would lead his team in scoring as he tried to rebuild a roster that lost its top three scorers from a year ago. He still has no clue, and he's not complaining.
Is this the most talented team he's had? Hardly. He's not so sure it will matter.
''As we get in the Big East you'll say 'Well, this team has a better starting five, this team has a better starting five,''' Pitino said. ''But the whole is greater than the sum of its parts with this basketball team. That's why they're a good basketball team is because the whole is very good.''
There remains plenty of room for growth. Pitino is hoping guard Preston Knowles can become the ''go-to'' player Pitino envisioned when opting to reinvent the Cardinals in the offseason.
Though he's pleased with the way his players have adapted to his uptempo system that stresses pressing, running the floor and shooting 3s, Knowles hasn't flourished, at least not yet.
The senior captain has been slowed by a leg injury and struggled to stay in shape, something Pitino blamed on Knowles' inability to stick to a conventional diet.
''Preston's idea of losing weight is doing hot yoga,'' Pitino said with a laugh. ''He would be a great cameraman or a great writer, he subscribes to the same diet. God forbid he should get on a treadmill.''
Knowles remains the team's best on-the-ball defender, but Pitino blamed Knowles' lack of conditioning on some sloppy defensive play when the ball is elsewhere.
''What happens when you're not in great shape is you rest off the ball, you stop sprinting the lanes and in this style you've got to go all out all the time and we need him to play more minutes,'' Pitino said.
Not that Louisville has needed Knowles to be great yet. The Cardinals upset Butler to start the season then backed it up with easy wins against overmatched Jackson State and Chattanooga.
Pitino expects a slightly tougher challenge from the Thundering Herd, who have the kind of size the Cardinals haven't had to match up with yet. His team's cohesiveness so early in the season has yielded some surprising finds, namely the development of freshman backup point guard Elisha Justice and sophomore forward Stephan Van Treese.
Both were expected to be fringe players when the season began, now they're a vital part of the lineup.
''I'm pleased with this team top to bottom,'' Pitino said. ''I mean we have a lot to work on ... but I'm very pleased with everything about this basketball team, their desire to play, their willingness to learn, their eagerness to be early, their attitude, their support of each other. It's all good, and we just have to keep on winning.''