The Louisville Cardinals have an excellent team and are looking to return to the Final Four. They have the Big East preseason Player of the Year in Peyton Siva but all of the buzz this year is for junior standout Russ Smith. Smith is Siva’s backcourt mate and is an electrifying scorer. Smith was a role player with last year’s Final Four team but now he’s become one of the Big East’s best and most exciting players.
Smith was not heavily recruited out of high school. His size and his decision making are things that make people look past him or criticize him. While he does occasionally take bad shots and sometimes his play is erratic, Smith is fearless and does not back down from anyone. His attitude in the past may have hurt him, but he’s figured it out to help him and most importantly help his team. Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said of Smith, “He’s out of his freakin’ mind…” but he also said “We have one of the premier players in the country.”
The 6’1 guard is leading the Cardinals in scoring and is third in the Big East with 20.0 points per game. Smith plays at a very high pace and is a great scorer in transition. He also can spread the floor and knock down the three-point shot. Smith averages two three’s per contest and has a .364 three-point pct. He is also a catalyst on the defensive end. Louisville is known for their stifling full court pressure defense and Smith fits the role. Smith leads the Cards with 37 steals in the early part of the season which is second in the Big East. He has at least three steals on eight different occasions already this season.
In the Big East opener against Providence on Wednesday, Smith came off the bench and lead Louisville to an 80-62 win. He scored 23 in the contest in his third straight game of scoring 20 or more. Smith’s best game was last Saturday against in-state rival Kentucky where he scored 17 of his 21 in the second half. Smith sparked a great win for his squad and really showed the ability to take over a game on both ends of the floor.
Louisville is 13-1 and is ranked 4th in the country. The Cardinals have a more experienced group which is better offensively than their Final Four team last year. With the emergence of the exciting Smith, Louisville has a chance of achieving more. Smith will continue to thrive and Louisville will follow his lead. Next match-up for the #4 Cardinals is on Wednesday, January 9 against Seton Hall.
Big East Power Rankings
1. Louisville, 2. Syracuse, 3. Cincinnati, 4. Notre Dame, 5. Georgetown, 6. Pittsburgh, 7. Marquette, 8. Connecticut, 9. Seton Hall, 10. Villanova, 11. South Florida, 12. Rutgers, 13. St. John’s, 14. DePaul, 15. Providence
John Cavaliere scouts and writes about the Big East for NetScouts Basketball.