Is Louisville ready for the Sweet 16 after rough first weekend?

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Wins over Manhattan, Saint Louis leave Rick Pitino frustrated

Is Louisville ready for the Sweet 16 after rough first weekend?

Louisville handled the best shot from a coach who knew what the Cardinals were going to do before they did it. In the next game, Louisville handed the champions of the Atlantic 10, a league with six NCAA bids, its worst loss of the season.

Louisville had one of the most stifling defensive performances of the NCAA Tournament so far, holding Saint Louis to 16 points in the first half and 0 of 15 from 3-point range.


Then why does Rick Pitino seem so frustrated?

That defensive performance wasn’t enough. His star player is still struggling to adjust to how opponents guard him. His team is too turnover happy.

“The past three years have been one of the more wonderful experiences of my life in terms of the quality young men I'm coaching, but this is a difficult team to coach, very difficult.”

Louisville will head into the Sweet 16, a stage of the NCAA Tournament where Pitino is 11-0, with a handful of questions exposed by the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament.

“The past three years have been one of the more wonderful experiences of my life in terms of the quality young men I'm coaching, but this is a difficult team to coach, very difficult.”
-Louisville coach Rick Pitino
After facing Manhattan on Thursday and Saint Louis on Saturday, Louisville will be on its biggest stage since last year’s title game when the Cardinals draw either an undefeated Wichita State team they faced in last year’s Final Four or rival Kentucky.

Russ Smith also had his moments, but the tug of war between Louisville’s star player and the Cardinals’ coach has resurfaced at the worst time.

“Russ Smith has grown so much as a basketball player, but he still has one thing left,” Pitino said. “I tried to explain this to him at halftime, but he has a very difficult time. He's a distracted young man, understanding this. ...

“He doesn't understand the scouting of the other teams. He's all Michael (Jordan), all Kobe (Bryant). But he doesn't get that those guys in the other locker room are a lot smarter than me. He doesn't get it."

Smith shot 6 of 19 from the field and turned the ball over 16 times during the weekend. Louisville’s 31 team turnovers in two games kept Manhattan and Saint Louis in striking distance.

The concerns didn’t end with the Cardinals enigmatic guard. Louisville shot 36 percent from the field against Manhattan, including a mere 38 percent from 2-point range. The ratios were better against Saint Louis, but turnovers meant Louisville averaged less that a point per possession for the first time since a March 1 loss to Memphis.

“Every team can play defense at this stage,” Pitino said. “So you've got to have great offense to win, and you've got to really execute and make free throws, do smart things.”

For a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with legitimate aspirations of repeating as national champions, those are major concerns.
 

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