Rick Pitino’s Louisville teams have generally been balanced offensively, but even though it’s not unusual for multiple Cardinals to lead the team in scoring at different points in a season, there have usually been one or two go-to guys on each roster.
The sobering reality for UL: If there is a Russ Smith, Terry Rozier or Damion Lee playing for the 2016-’17 Louisville Cardinals, he has yet to emerge. The question for Pitino and Co. in this early stage of the season might be whether that matters.
The Cards suffered a three-point loss to Baylor on a neutral floor at the Battle 4 Atlantis last week, but that hardly is cause for panic. Louisville is still 5-1 with solid victories against Wichita State, Old Dominion and William & Mary, all potential NCAA Tournament teams.
Baylor, dare we say it, could have a very good shot at preventing Kansas from winning a 13th straight Big 12 title. The Bears made national statements with victories against Oregon, VCU, Michigan State and Florida Gulf Coast.
Fourteenth-ranked Louisville certainly gets another opportunity to prove itself Wednesday night against No. 15 Purdue… but you couldn’t blame the Cards if there is a little bit of anxiety after blowing a 22-point lead against Baylor.
The Cardinals have five players averaging at least eight points per game and seven averaging at least six. Sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell leads three players averaging double figures with 13 points per game, but even he has been up and down throughout the first six games and is shooting less than 40 percent from the floor.
As Baylor stormed back over the final 15 minutes or so, it was hard for Pitino to find any single player he could count on to get a bucket and slow the Bears’ run. Mitchell did hit a 3-pointer to tie it with 3:29 left in the game, but also had some critical turnovers late.
In addition to hosting Purdue, the Cards have their annual contest against Kentucky and a game versus Indiana among their stiff tests before fully jumping into a merciless ACC schedule.
Perhaps there is still time for somebody on the team to step into the alpha dog role. Mitchell is still young and took a backseat to Lee last season. Maybe he’ll become more comfortable taking control of games as 2017 approaches.
Or maybe hometown product Quentin Snider could be the man. Snider is averaging 11 points per game and shooting just 30 percent from the field. However, he’s scored at least 14 points in each of the Cards’ past three games and showed an ability to score in bunches at times last season as a sophomore.
Either one will need to shoot the ball with better consistency or at least figure out how to get to the free throw line if they are going to come close to matching the output of their backcourt predecessors.
Wednesday night against the Boilermakers is when one or both answers the call and becomes the kind of star Pitino has come to lean on.