Louisville's offensive breakthrough

Improvements by guards Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are fueling fast start

Updated: December 28, 2012, 12:40 PM ET
By John Gasaway | Basketball Prospectus
Peyton SivaKevin Jairaj/US PresswirePeyton Siva's improved ability to take care of the ball has boosted Louisville's offense.

The Louisville Cardinals enter this weekend's game against the Kentucky Wildcats as the nation's No. 4-ranked team, and there's a case to be made that the Cardinals' success to this point in the season represents a clear instance of the dog that didn't bark. Coach Rick Pitino's team is right where everyone expected it to be (Louisville was ranked No. 2 in the preseason), but that doesn't mean an 11-1 record was foreordained for this group. In fact, the Cardinals have had to make at least one major improvement simply to live up to expectations.

Pitino was able to guide his team to an appearance in the 2012 Final Four despite the fact that this was the No. 12-ranked offense in the Big East last season. (I don't wish to shock anyone, but that level of performance was worse than what we saw from DePaul, to name one not terribly formidable comparison.) The key words there are, of course, "appearance in the 2012 Final Four." However, "worse than DePaul" surely carries some descriptive heft as well, and the Cardinals' best shot at another national semifinal was always going to entail a substantial improvement on offense.

That is exactly what has happened. But before I detail the Cardinals' improvement on offense, let me be clear.

One of the nation's top defenses -- again
The topic of the Cardinals' new and better offense is of interest only because their defense is still amazing, just like it was last season. Duke scored 1.03 points per possession in handing Pitino's team its only loss, and Memphis recorded the same number against this D. Those two games represent the Louisville defense at its "worst," which is appropriate because that defense held the Blue Devils' offense to their season-low performance in terms of efficiency.


To read John Gasaway's full take on Louisville, you must be an ESPN Insider.