In their final tune-up before officially opening the KFC Yum! Center with highly ranked Butler, the Cards manhandled an undermanned Kentucky Wesleyan squad 96-54. Rick Pitino played a bunch of different combinations, highlighted by the starting lineup of Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, Kyle Kuric, Stephan Van Treese, and Gorgui Dieng, mainly to get those guys as much experience as possible going into the official opener.
The projected starters only logged about 20 minutes each with Kyle Kuric playing the most at 24 minutes. Even though there was a lot to like after the win, it’s really hard to know just how much stock to put into this performance because Kentucky Wesleyan was dealing with several injuries. The Panthers are a very good Division II team, but we did not see them at full strength.
Having said that, rather than go into a game recap, I’ll just talk about what I like as the Cards head into the Butler game on Tuesday night.
First, I like the mentality of this team, specifically in terms of passing. After two exhibition games, I love how so many guys are looking to pass. Not all of those are executed well and lead to some turnovers, but I love the mindset of sharing the ball. In the style of play the Cards are playing/implementing, passing is critical. This team may not always physically execute the pass, but the mindset is there and I’m extremely pleased to see that.
Another thing I like about this team is their depth. The Cards can legitimately play ten players each game without much of a drop-off in talent. For example, against Kentucky Wesleyan, Kyle Kuric (projected starter a small forward) had a rough night offensively. He went 1-7 from the floor and missed all his three point attempts.
No worries, Mike Marra stepped right in. Marra, who appears to have toned down the hair just a bit, shot 6-8 from three point range, drained all four of his free throw attempts, and scored 22 points off the bench.
Obviously, no one expects Marra to score 22 points each night, but my point is Kuric didn’t have it last night. However, his “back-up” did and the Cards did not skip a beat. Get used to it because I think there will be plenty of times this season when a non-starter or “back-up” leads UofL on a given night.
Finally, I love what I’m seeing out of this sophomore class. The improvement between last year and the start of this year has been tremendous and they will only get better as the season progresses. The most noticeable improvement I have seen is in their demeanor on the floor.
Last year, it was pretty clear Rakeem Buckles, Peyton Siva, Marra, and Van Treese were still trying to adjust to playing major college basketball. This year, though, they no longer have that look. It looks they feel they belong on the court and no longer have that deer in the headlights appearance.
Even though there has been improvement from the first and second exhibition game, the Cards will need to keep improving as Tuesday’s game against Butler approaches. The Bulldogs are a well oiled machine and every player knows their system extremely well.
It should be a raucous atmosphere at the KFC Yum! Center. We’ll have more on that game in the coming days.