After Louisvillebeat Stanford 78-58 in the first round of the NCAA tournament last March, theCardinals behaved like middle schoolers. They giggled through TV interviews,cracked up at booger jokes, mocked big man Derrick Caracter for his prodigiousappetite and acted shocked when fans asked for autographs. Not surprising,really. More than half of them--including the team's two leading scorers--werefreshmen and sophomores who had never been to the Big Dance before.
The joyride endedtwo days later with a 72-69 loss to Texas A&M, but with its seven topscorers back and everyone a little more mature, Louisville should go deeperinto the postseason next March. The key? Maintaining that youthful energy whileplaying with more poise and discipline.
That energy waslagging early this fall, however, prompting coach Rick Pitino to run a tape ofone of the team's first practices. He harped on the lack of effort at thedefensive end, pointing out players who dropped their hands, failed to box outand didn't recover in transition. "We have enough offensive talent to beoutstanding," says Pitino, "but the biggest test will be to become agreat defensive team."
Junior TerrenceWilliams is up for the challenge. Pitino calls the 6' 6", 210-poundswingman "the best athlete in college basketball" and seldom has tosend him off to do sprints on the treadmill during practice (the punishment forbeing lazy). "I'm being held to a different standard now because I'molder," says Williams. "I want to be like Coach P, the general on thefloor."
November 19, 2007
Likewise, the 6'9" Caracter, who missed seven games as a sophomore for violating teamrules, has grown up. "Last year he gave me 100 percent [effort]25¬†percent of the time," Pitino says. "Now [he gives 100 percenteffort] 75 percent of the time, and the other 25¬†percent is damngood."
But this doesn'tmean Louisville is all work and no play. "After every practice we turn themusic up full blast and dance," says sophomore guard Jerry Smith."We're pretty goofy. We like to be a big loving family, always havingfun." For this talented bunch, there should be plenty of laughs thisyear.
Nov. 18 JacksonState
Nov. 21 at UNLV
Nov. 23-24 LasVegas Invitational (vs. BYU; plus North¬†Carolina, Old Dominion)
Dec. 1 Miami(Ohio)
Dec. 8 Dayton
Dec. 15 Purdue (inIndianapolis)
Dec. 22 New MexicoState
Dec. 26 MoreheadState
Dec. 29 Iona
Jan. 5 atKentucky
A lot depends on what happens in Vegas: UNLV and BYU could prove dangerous, andall eyes will be on a potential showdown with No. 1 UNC. The Iona game featuresa matchup between Pitino and former Cardinals assistant Kevin Willard, who"is going to become another Billy Donovan," says Pitino. The rest ofthe schedule is soft, with one huge exception: Pitino's return to Rupp for ashowdown with Kentucky.
Coach Rick Pitino(7th year)
Big East record12-4 (T-2nd)
NCAA tournament 2ndround
Instant access tothe latest and best Cardinals stories, stats and fan blogs from across the Web,selected by SI's editors.