By Jeff Goodman
Rick Pitino knows what to expect now.
Mike Marra isn't walking through that door. Neither is Rakeem Buckles. Louisville's coach also says it's highly unlikely that big man Stephan Van Treese will return this season and the timetable for talented freshman Wayne Blackshear has been pushed back to March due to one issue after another.
"We've been so used to shuffling the lineup," Pitino said. "This group has weathered the storm and outside of one game, they've played good basketball."
If you had told Pitino and Cardinals fans that with this rash of injuries, their team would still be 15-5 overall, they would have gladly taken it. However, after a 12-0 start, many that frequent the Yum! Center had a false sense of what this team is all about.
It's a good team, but not a great one.
Even with a healthy Marra, Buckles and Van Treese, it's probably not a team capable of cutting down any nets - whether it be in Madison Square Garden or New Orleans.
But Pitino still doesn't feel as though it's out of the question for this group -- now that roles are becoming clearer -- to make a run at second place in the Big East. Right now Louisville sits at 4-4 in the league, just two games behind second-place Georgetown and Marquette.
"It's possible," Pitino said.
Peyton Siva played well in the second half against Pittsburgh and also in the victory over Villanova, but Pitino said the key to this team -- as much as anything else these days - is making certain that much-improved big man Gorgui Dieng is on the floor as much as possible.
"We're a good team as long as he's on the floor," Pitino said. "He's our most valuable player."
Pitino said that Blackshear, the prize of a stellar recruiting class that also consisted of Chane Behanan, Zach Price and Kevin Ware, has only practiced once since returning from the shoulder injury that has kept him on the shelf all season. A stomach flu has shut him down since then.
"I was hoping to get him back for the Big East regular-season, but now I'm hoping we can have him for the Big East tournament," Pitino said. "If he practices well, we'll play him. If not, he'll redshirt."
Ware, who joined the team after the first semester, isn't ready to contribute. "I like him, but he's not ready -- and it's not his fault. It'd rather go with Elijah Justice as my fourth guard right now."
Pitino said that he may start to play Price, who has seen in action in just eight games this season, especially against big front lines. The last week or so was the first time all season when this group practiced knowing what it had in its arsenal.
"I still like this team," he said.
Especially in a league that isn't quite as top-heavy as in recent years.
"The top four aren't as good as they've been in the past," he said. "But the bottom is also better. It seems like anyone is capable of beating anyone."
Pitino went onto say that's the way it is around the entire country -- except for maybe one program that resides down the road.
"Kentucky is the only dominant team in terms of talent," he said.
Pitino gushed about Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, about his talent, attitude and motor. "He's going to get better and better," he said.
And the secret to knocking off the Wildcats?
"You've got to find a way to get (Anthony) Davis off the court," Pitino said. "You've got to get him in foul trouble and make sure he plays less than 25 minutes."