Respect Rutgers

So here comes Rutgers again, one of the Big East basketball teams without much tradition, without much respect, a team Louisville defeated 64-49 a couple of weeks ago. U of L should do even better at home, right? Maybe, maybe not. Take someone for granted in the Big East at your own peril.

The Scarlet Knights showed glimpses of being a good team in the first game with U of L before running out of gas. Over the next few games, they surprised everyone by kayoing No. 18 Villanova 80-68 at home and shocking a good Pittsburgh team 77-64 on the road, just the eighth loss for the Panthers in 100 games at the Peterson Center.

Rutgers guard Mike Coburn, a freshman who managed only one point in the first game, is playing with a new found confidence. He was named National Freshman of the Week by Rivals after scoring 23 against Villanova and followed up with 17 points and five assistants against Pittsburgh. He also had 23 in Rutgers’ overtime loss to Seton Hall this week.

RU has gained a lot of respect lately and will be looking for more at Freedom Hall. Don’t take the Knights lightly.  As fellow blogger Tom Heiser might add, let’s hope the game isn’t close.

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FAN APPRECIATION — Ten thousand dollars worth of prizes — hopefully no cheap T-shirts — will be given away during Fan Appreciation Night as the U of L Lady Cards host South Florida at 7 p.m. Saturday at Freedom Hall. Free tickets are available from Rally’s

Prizes include free gas for a year from Thornton’s, lawn tractor from Hartland Equipment, a night’s stay, dinner and golf for two from Caesar’s, and restaurant gift packs from Hall of Fame Cafe, Stony River, Texas Roadhouse and Tumbleweed’s.

That’s not all. The Shane Company and Sam Swope, local purveyors of diamonds and cars, are giving away the “featured prizes.”

Louisville Football Chips

Finally, there’s something to look forward to on the football front. Among them:

— The results of Steve Kragthorpe’s first recruiting class will be unveiled Wednesday, February 6 at 4 p.m. during the annual football signing party at the Brown & Williamson Club.

They call it a party but it’s really just a bunch of guys and a few women standing around looking at videos. The pep band and cheerleaders are there but don’t expect any food like at a real party. The bar is open but I don’t recall ever seeing any food, ever (hint to Tom Jurich).

— Governor Steve Beshear asked the General Assembly to approve the privately funded bonding plan for the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium during his budget address on Tuesday.

It won’t cost the state anything so there should be no reason for any legislator to oppose it. Let’s just hope that David Williams, leader of the Senate and a U of L alumnus, is on board. He made it possible for ex-Governor Ernie Fletcher’s $75 million grant for the downtown arena to become a reality.

But if the current Governor is for something, Williams is usually opposed to it. Beshear has already stripped Williams of a couple of pet projects. One can only hope that Williams doesn’t choose the stadium expansion issue to get back at Beshear.

Crum, Pitino Still Differ On The 3

Former Louisville basketball coach Denny Crum and current coach Rick Pitino have always had different approaches when it comes to employing the three-point shot. Don’t see either of them changing their opinions in the near future.

Still an avid fan who attends U of L home games, Crum has been reserved in his comments about Pitino, acknowledging at times that Pitino is a good coach and an excellent recruiter. But after the UConn game, which U of L lost while connecting on 11 of 33 three-point attempts, Crum could no longer restrain himself.

On his local radio show, Crum was highly critical of the number of “bad” three-point shots in recent games. While acknowledging that players should be responsible, he pointed the finger at Pitino for allowing players to get away with taking so many out-of-balance shots, suggesting that Pitino’s coaching was at fault.

Crum, it can be argued, saw a great career frizzle away because he was slow to adopt the three-pointer. This probably affected his ability to recruit good shooters in the nineties (yes, we remember Boo Brewer). Pitino, meanwhile, took great advantage of the shot while taking three schools to the Final Four and a national championship and becoming one of the most sought-after college coaches in the game.

It’s difficult to argue with Crum’s assertion that too many attempts are coming while players are not in balance and that some players should not be taking three-point shots. Crum would never have put up with it. Jeremy Hazzel, of Seton Hall, would have been sitting at the far end of the Crum’s bench [instead of collecting 29 points as he did recently in burying U of L].

Even more difficult is denying Rick Pitino’s overall success in giving players the green light to shoot the three. Pitino believes the three-pointer is the great equalizer. He encourages his players to be aggressive, not timid in shooting threes, often living and dying with his three-point philosophy.

After a loss, it is too easy to find fault with coaching philosophies, a fact with which Denny Crum should be well acquainted. Fans respect your opinion, coach, but we place even greater value on your restraint.

Add Passion and Time

No doubt now, hindsight is perfect: U of L should have used its last timeout with nine seconds on the clock. Any play Rick Pitino called would have been better than the aimless freelancing at the end.

UConn a good team. U of L lost by only two points in a game in which it looked like they should have been beaten by 15. If Juan Palacios’ final shot had fallen, all the weaknesses would have been glossed over — the poor shot selections, the inconsistent effort, the lack of floor direction, and the missing killer instinct.

One has to wonder why these things are missing when the team is led by one of the game’s best coaches. Some observers have bemoaned the lack of passion on this team. Players go through all the motions but the all out extra effort required to excel seems to be missing. You know it when you see it — or don’t see it.

On the other hand, maybe they’re just a little slow to catching on to what the coaching genius is trying to impart. Fans have given up early on Pitino teams in the past only to see them become a serious threat by tournament time.

You see signs of greatness at times. Terrence Williams scoring triple doubles. David Padgett’s outmaneuvering more agile counterparts. Jerry Smith using perfect three-point shooting form. Edgar Sosa occasionally flashing down the lane. Earl Clark making the right decisions, looking all-pro at times. Derrick Caracter thundering a dunk. Juan Palacios making the shot he missed tonight.

Maybe with some added passion and a little more time …

Entering Hornets’ Nest

You know how it is during the really big games at Freedom Hall, when everyone is into the game? Intensity among fans is through the roof. You can’t hear yourself think, much less talk. Even the gray-haired folks are going berserk. That’s how it’s going to be at the XL Center in Hartford tonight.

The U of L game is a huge one for UConn. Husky fans undoubtedly envision a rapid return to the glory days, eager to add to the NCAA basketball championships they earned in 1998 and 2004. UConn won Big East Tournament titles in 2004, 2002, 1999, 1998, 1996 and 1990. They’ve been there, they expect to return.

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As was obvious in the win over a 17-2 Indiana team, this UConn team takes defense seriously. They will be much more aggressive at home, count on it. The Huskies are also a very unselfish team, with five players hitting for double figures in the IU win. Craig Autrie led all scorers with 15 points, A. J. Price 14, and Hasheem Thabeet 12. Jeff Adrien and Stanley Robinson each tallied double-doubles with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Two players, including one starter, averaging 20 points between them, missed the IU game.