Rick Pitino is known for his defense. Well, that and his suits. And, OK, maybe that other thing. But in terms of basketball, Pitino is known as a defensive revolutionary, one of the most successful coaches in the history of college basketball at teaching and executing the full-court press. Few have ever done it better.
PetinoThe 2009-10 Louisville Cardinals? Not so much. The Cardinals are looking pretty ragged on the defensive end, and Pitino hasn't been afraid to say so:
"After the first week of practice, what I said was we were a very weak defensive team and a very weak rebounding team," Pitino said last week. "It's pretty much what you see. ... We're trying to work at it. The players are getting better offensively. We have to keep teaching."
"We're very young defensively," Pitino said when his team was in the midst of a recent three-game losing streak to Villanova, Pittsburgh and Seton Hall. "We don't play very good defensively and Louisville always has done a good job percentage-wise making teams shoot a low percentage, and we're unable to do that right now.
"We have to keep on working on getting better at it. The effort is there. The guys are willing to pay the price. We're just a very weak defensive team."
The Cardinals are still pressing, and they're still pretty good at forcing turnovers -- their opponents' turnover rate is 23.8, good for 34th in the country. This is a product of the Cardinals press. Pitino's team can still do that much.
The rest of the vital signs look far less encouraging. Louisville is ranked 166th in the country in opponent effective field goal percentage, which in layman's terms means that teams that play Louisville tend to shoot pretty well. When they do miss, Louisville is allowing its foes to grab 34.4 percent of those misses, good for 244th in the country, and Louisville opponents are getting to the free throw line at a borderline-alarming clip. The only good thing here is turnovers. Everything else looks bad.
Pitino's still a great teacher. Unfortunately, the time for defensive lessons is pretty much over. By January 29 your team either gets it or it doesn't. Maybe Louisville can improve down the stretch, but that improvement will have to move fast. If the Cardinals still plan to make the NCAA tourney, they're running out of time.