2012--13 RECORD 35--5 BIG EAST 14--4 (T-1ST) WHAT'S BACK MINUTES: 70.0% POINTS: 74.1% REBOUNDS: 64.7%
The most scoring-friendly rule changes of college hoops' modern era could have a profound effect on the defending champs. Hand- and forearm-checking will now result in automatic whistles, and no team's guards are more difficult to defend without making contact than Louisville's Russ Smith and Chris Jones. Yet no team's defensive identity will be more challenged by the heightened scrutiny of physical on-ball pressure than the Cardinals'.
Coach Rick Pitino's aggressive, 94-foot matchup press helped force turnovers on 27.0% of possessions last season, second in the nation only to VCU; Smith had 83 steals and specialized in bumping and fleecing ballhandlers. "I'm trying to make him more of a steal off-the-ball guy this year," Pitino says, the theory being that fewer attempts at pocket pickings—and more pickoffs of rushed passes—will keep Smith on the court. What Pitino will not consider is dialing back the press. "We're not going to change the amount of pressure," he says. "We're just going to move our feet even more."
Opponents rarely moved fast enough to check Smith last season, when he had 9.1 free throw attempts per 40 minutes, the third-best rate of any starting guard in the country. And his new sidekick, Jones, made even more trips to the line, generating an estimated 10.7 foul shots per 40 as a sophomore at Northwest Florida State. The two speedsters were already a pain to contain; when asked if the Cards' guards can be kept out of the lane under the new rules, Jones shakes his head and says, "I really don't think so." The rule change should result in more freedom of movement, but as teams adjust in Year 1, will Louisville foul itself out of the national title race, or foul out everyone else?
Projected Lineup (2012--13 STATS)
G CHRIS JONES‚Ä†
JR. 5'10" 21.8 PPG 4.2 APG
G RUSS SMITH*
SR. 6'0" 18.7 PPG 2.9 APG
SF WAYNE BLACKSHEAR*
JR. 6'5" 7.6 PPG 3.1 RPG
PF MONTREZL HARRELL
SOPH. 6'8" 5.7 PPG 3.6 RPG
PF CHANE BEHANAN*
JR. 6'6" 9.8 PPG 6.5 RPG
SF LUKE HANCOCK
SR. 6'6" 8.1 PPG 39.9 3PT%
C STEPHAN VAN TREESE
SR. 6'9" 1.7 PPG 3.1 BPG
‚Ä†JUNIOR COLLEGE STATS
RICK PITINO (13TH SEASON)
SI Who's your best leader on the floor?
RP Luke Hancock. He's the most cerebral basketball player we have—the guy who really understands a game like a coach understands it.
SI Who is the point guard now that Peyton Siva is gone—Chris Jones or Russ Smith?
RP We're going to play with two one guards. Neither is a true point. A point guard's mentality is to run the offense and get guys good shots. A one guard is a guy who creates the offense.
SI What's the next step in Smith's evolution?
RP For him to be a pro—and I'm just quoting NBA people because for me as a college coach, he's great—he needs a better assist-turnover ratio, better shot selection and less dribbling. His assist-turnover ratio was about even last year [116 to 108], and they'd like to see it be 2.5 to 1.
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ROUND OF 64
ROUND OF 64
DAVID E. KLUTHO/SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (MASCOT)
ANDY LYONS/GETTY IMAGES (JONES)
PORTER BINKS (PITINO)