LOUISVILLE – There’s an inherent problem with pre-season polls – a lot of looking forward, a lot of looking back, and neither can really help when it comes to the present.
Based on its national championship last season, Connecticut began this season ranked in the top five. Every college basketball fan knew life without Kemba Walker would be tough for UConn, but this tough?
The Huskies’ troubles continued Monday with an 80-59 loss to Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center.
Now 1-5 in its last six games, Connecticut is 15-8 overall, has a losing record (5-6) in the Big East and has dropped completely out of sight in the Associated Press poll. The Huskies aren’t even receiving votes now.
The Cardinals, currently riding a five-game winning streak, know something about the fickleness of polls.
Based on returning players and a highly rated freshman class, Louisville began the season ranked ninth in the AP poll. Playing 12 of its first 13 games at home U of L started the season 12-0 and rose to No. 4 in the nation.
But as the injuries piled up and the competition got tougher the Cardinals hit a 2-5 stretch and fell out of the Top 25.
Now, with some players working their way back from injuries and freshmen starting to pick up what playing college basketball entails, Louisville is now ranked 24th.
If Monday’s game is any indication, the Cards could be climbing higher.
“Our guys continue to have a lot of fun,” U of L coach Rick Pitino said. “That was a display the likes of which I haven’t seen in quite some time.”
The first half wasn’t the prettiest basketball you’ll ever see. Both teams shot below 40 percent, although the bright side for Louisville was seven assists on its 11 made shots.
The second half, for the Cardinals, was a series of highlights - good shooting, great defense, great effort on the boards.
“We’re at our best when we’re having fun, playing with confidence,” Louisville point guard Peyton Siva said.
Slowed for much of the season with an ankle injury, he came through with nine assists and just two turnovers Monday.
Sophomore center Gorgui Dieng twisted an ankle in Saturday’s win over Rutgers and was listed as doubtful for Monday.
Instead he started, scored 15 points and had six of the Cardinals’ 10 steals.
“No matter what I was going to play,” Dieng said.
All of Louisville’s steals came in the second half when U of L held UConn to 38.5 percent shooting while hitting 50 percent of its own shots both overall (21 for 42) and 3-pointers (7 for 14).
The Cardinals average 9.5 steals per game, second in the Big East and sixth in the nation.
“I thought our passing was phenomenal,” Pitino said. “Our passing and unselfishness were phenomenal.
“I thought Peyton Siva played terrific,” he added.”When you shoot the ball well you play better defense. A lot of guys get deflated when their shots don’t fall no matter what you tell them, but Peyton did such a good job of finding people wide-open shots. He and Russ Smith really dogged the ball.”
And they kept the Huskies off balance. UConn shot just 35 percent for the game. Jeremy Lamb, the team’s leading scorer at 17.6 points per game, was held to seven points.
Louisville outrebounded the larger Huskies 45-36 with U of L freshman Chane Behanan grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds.
“We played great defense and fed off that,” Pitino said. “This is a very good confidence builder going into a very tough stretch at West Virginia and Syracuse at home.”
U of L, now 19-5 overall and 7-4 in the Big East, plays its next game Saturday at West Virginia before hosting No. 2 Syracuse next Monday.
It’ll be a good chance to see which poll prognosticators have Louisville pegged correctly.