Louisville basketball gets another chance to practice in front of its fans on Saturday and this time the Cardinals will be looking for signs of progress from their last Red-White scrimmage two weeks ago.
The intrasquad game tips off at 4 p.m. at the KFC Yum! Center, after the football team’s noon game at Florida State. The second scrimmage, unlike the first, when the lineups changed at halftime, is expected to be played as if it’s an entire game, with players sticking to the same team.
“These games help understand what it’s like to play in front of a big crowd in a big arena, get the jitters out,” coach Rick Pitino said after the first exhibition.
In that game, Pitino said he was most impressed by his team’s shot-blocking. The Cards racked up 16 swats, including five from freshman Ray Spalding and four from sophomore Anas Mahmoud.
Those numbers could go up with redshirt junior Mangok Mathiang, a 6-foot-10 big man who will play both power forward and center this season, back in the lineup after missing the last scrimmage because of an eye injury.
If the season began today, the safest bet for Louisville’s starting lineup would have Mathiang and sophomore Chinanu Onuaku playing together as the team’s big men, with Damion Lee sharing the backcourt with Quentin Snider and Trey Lewis.
But two issues in that potential starting group popped up two weeks ago and will be key things to follow in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Onuaku’s fouls: Onuaku, a 6-10 center who is projected to be a first-round NBA draft pick next summer by multiple analysts, battled foul trouble. He tallied eight — yes, eight – fouls in the first half of the scrimmage. Part of that, Pitino said, was due to Onuaku’s work-in-progress conditioning and part of it was due to poor defensive movement by the big man.
It’ll be interesting to see Saturday if Onuaku has made progress in those areas after two more weeks of workouts. If he struggles with foul issues during the season, Louisville’s frontcourt depth will be tested, but the emergence of the 6-10 Spalding as an impact newcomer, paired with Mahmoud and Jaylen Johnson’s development, alleviates some concern about Onuaku’s fouls.
“(Onuaku) is getting better and better, but he’s going to learn to be a factor,” Pitino said after the last scrimmage. “He had eight fouls in the first half. He would be on the bench and wouldn’t play that much. They’re going to call more fouls this year, much more than they ever have, and they’re going to stay with it until there’s freedom of movement. He’s got to learn to move his feet and not foul as much.”
The lead guards: Another issue that came up two weeks ago was something that emerged during the team’s exhibition series in Puerto Rico this summer. Lewis and Snider are still learning how to play with each other, and they are learning unfamiliar roles in Louisville’s two-lead-guard system.
Lewis played off-guard at Cleveland State, where he was asked to score, but he is now trying his hand at point guard. Snider, who started 10 games at point guard last season, joked in Puerto Rico that he has never not played the point in his entire basketball life. Now he must learn how to operate without the ball.
Snider said two weeks ago that he and Lewis were working hard on their backcourt chemistry, but Pitino was still frustrated with their performance in the first scrimmage, saying they did not make their teammates better.
“That’s what they need to learn to do,” Pitino said.
Adel’s cramps: A third thing to follow in Saturday’s scrimmage is freshman forward Deng Adel’s ongoing cramp problems. He cramped up a few times in Puerto Rico and again in the first Red-White workout, which slowed him down after a solid start.
Pitino said the 6-7 Adel will play quite a bit in a rotation that will push Lee to the off-guard and either Snider or Lewis to the bench. That group showed in Puerto Rico that it gives Louisville length and athleticism.
But Adel has to overcome the cramping because “he’s the best defensive player on the team,” Pitino said.
“He fills up the box scores with rebounds, assists, steals, points,” Pitino said. “He does a lot of things.”
Follow U of L hoops writer Jeff Greer on Twitter (@jeffgreer_cj) for regular Cards updates.
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