There's something wrong with this Louisville basketball team. If fans didn't think there was after an embarrassing loss at home to Notre Dame, they surely do after the Cardinals were thoroughly dominated on the road by Providence 90-59 last night. The loss was Louisville's fourth in five games and the Cardinals' third Big East loss. It's not just the fact that the team is losing that has people worried, it is the way the losses have happened that causes people to wonder if there are larger issues hurting the team. With questions swirling, here's a look at both the tangible and intangible things wrong with the Louisville basketball team.
1. This team cannot shoot the three-pointers - Most expected a drop in three-point shooting production with the graduation of Preston Knowles. Few expected the drop to be this dramatic. How bad is it? By any metric, this is the worst three-point shooting team Rick Pitino has had at Louisville. The team ranks 258th in three-point shooting percentage at 31.4%. Since 2003 (as far back as I can look at the team statistics on KenPom.com), Louisville has not had a team that got less than 30% of its points from three-point shots. This year's team gets just 24.9% of its points from three (good for 231st in the country). By comparison, last year, Louisville got 35.3% of its points from three-point shots. KenPom's "effective field goal percentage" statistic is also unkind to the Cardinals. In effective field goal percentage, Louisville ranks 210th at 47.8%. This is also the lowest percentage Louisville has shot since at least 2003.
2. Inability to shoot the three is slowing down the rest of the offense - The inability to shoot the three hampers the rest of the Louisville offense. Pitino's Louisvilles teams have always used the three-point shot to make space underneath and to keep teams from collapsing on guards trying to get to the basket (like last year with Preston Knowles so often keeping teams honest and letting Peyton Siva get to the rim). Having at least one marginally good three-point shooter also helped role players like Kyle Kuric and Mike Marra make space for themselves as teams overreacted to other players' movements. With no one to fear outside, Louisville has virtually nothing to work with in a half-court set. As was the case with Notre Dame, defenses simply pack the lane to stop driving guards Siva and Russ Smith. On the perimeter, no fear of the three has kept a typically reliable shooter like Kyle Kuric from being left alone like he often was in 2010-2011. It's no surprise that Kuric's effective field goal percentage has dropped from 65.2 to 59% and his turnover rate has increased from 11.2 to 15.7.
3. More shots blocked and turnovers, fewer assists than ever - The lack of an outside shooting presence has forced Louisville's smallish guards to take the ball inside more and to no one's surprise, that has resulted in far more turnovers, more shots being blocked, and fewer assists. Louisville ranks 117th in the nation in having its shots blocked. The Cardinals are 171st in turnover rate after ranking just 45th last year. This year's team has the highest turnover rate (20.8%) of any Pitino-coached Louisville team. Last year the Cardinals had an assist on 64% of their made field goals. This year that number has dropped to 56.4%. A team accustomed to shooting the three and scoring in transition simply hasn't mentally adjusted to not being good enough to do those things and it shows in turnovers, shots blocked, and assists.
1. Injuries - Some might have discounted the impact that injuries were going to have on this team when they continued to win in the non-conference portion of the schedule. But with the losses beginning to mount, it's obvious that injuries are a big part of the problem for Louisville. There's no denying that Louisville would be a better perimeter shooting team if it had Mike Marra and freshman Wayne Blackshear in the lineup. Blackshear was a prolific scorer in high school and one of the nation's most sought after recruits. Marra wasn't particularly good at much else, but he could knock down the occasional three pointer and that's the thing Louisville needs most. Unexpectedly missing both has hurt the Cardinals. Additionally, seven other players have missed games due to injury and that constant roster shuffling has kept Louisville from developing much of an identity as a team. If you "are what you are in January", Louisville really hasn't had much time to determine "what it is" and it shows on the offensive end.
2. Chemistry - We have no way of knowing if it is true, but there are rumors of there being chemistry between players on the team. We posted last week on Chris Smith saying postgame that players are listening to fans and family instead of coaches in the huddle. It's hard to know what to think of things like this because we're simply not around the team to know how it impacts things like practice and game preparation. At the same time, Louisville should never lose to a team like Providence by 31 points. When things like that happen, it's reasonable to wonder if there are issues between the players on the team that are impacting the play on the court.
3. Is Anyone Having Fun? - Last year's overachieving team was so obviously having fun. Anyone who tuned in could see it in the demeanor of the players and Pitino himself often talked about how much he enjoyed coaching that team. This year's team does not appear to be having fun, in fact it looks miserable on the court. It could be a chicken/egg kind of thing where the team isn't having fun because of the struggles on the offensive end, but, we suspect that it's a feedback loop where the team (and Pitino) all look uptight and uncomfortable from the start and it shows in their play. Will having a little bit of success perhaps lead to some more fun on the court? Perhaps. but this is where coaching comes in and this Louisville coaching staff has to find a way to get the players to relax, to play with confidence, without fear and have a little fun. Something it has done very few times this season.