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January 6, 2014
Louisville's lineup shuffles after Behanan, Ware
That's the question facing Louisville basketball coach Rick Pitino in the wake of the dismissal of power forward Chane Behanan and, to a much lesser extent, the apparent shutdown of junior guard Kevin Ware.
Behanan, a 6-foot-6 junior, was dismissed from the team last week for an undisclosed violation of university policy. He had spent most of the preseason on indefinite suspension but was reinstated for UofL's second game of the season. He had been coming off the bench this season.
The No. 12/8 Cardinals (13-2, 2-0 AAC) were already thin in the frontcourt, so now Pitino will have to make some adjustments, which may include some experiments, as their American Athletic Conference schedule picks up steam.
Some clues may be offered when the Cards return to the KFC Yum! Center Thursday night for the first time in 23 days to host No. 24/22 Memphis (10-3, 0-1), although the rotation may change from game-to-game depending on the opponent's strengths and weaknesses.
Behanan's dismissal will almost certainly mean more playing time for sophomore Montrezl Harrell. But so far the main beneficiary has been senior Stephan Van Treese, who has seen his minutes rise from 14 per game in the previous seven outings to 22 in the last two with Behanan missing.
Van Treese, whose playing time had dropped the past month after he had started the first six games, got six points, six rebounds and four blocks in a 90-65 rout of Central Florida in UofL's AAC opener. He played 25 minutes -- just one minute shy of his season high against Hofstra on Nov. 12 -- in Saturday's 83-76 victory at Rutgers but was much less effective, with three points, three boards and one block. On the season, Van Treese is averaging 3.1 points and 4.9 rebounds per game, now second on the team.
Pitino could also emphasize a faster pace by utilizing a three-guard lineup more often, a set he has already frequently used against smaller and/or outmanned opponents with Russ Smith, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier.
After opening with 11 of 12 games against vastly inferior foes, UofL's frontline deficiencies were exposed for the second time this season in the 73-66 loss at Kentucky when the Cards' frontcourt starters were outscored by UK's starting trio 37-15 and outrebounded 23-10.
"I don't want to say they're not producing," Jones said. "I think we should get them the ball more. As the year goes on, I think they'll find spots in the defense that will get them the ball and put them in a great position to score."
Pitino compared his frontcourt to Christina Aguilera in a blog post on his Website.
"It's like having Christina Aguilera to sing at a concert, she comes out, ignores her great voice and dances for two hours," Pitino wrote. "That's our frontcourt."
"Our frontcourt is the weak part of our basketball team," Pitino said later, stating the obvious. "Now we have to juggle on the fly. We're all let down by this."
The same problem was evident a month earlier in a 94-83 loss to North Carolina.
"Playing a couple of teams this year, from a physical standpoint, we are getting outplayed in the three, four and five spots," Pitino said. "Never mind execution wise, we are just getting taken on the backboard, taken inside and we have to improve in those areas."
Even though he still hadn't reached the level of his play from last season, when he started, Behanan leaves a huge hole in Louisville's frontcourt. He was the team's leading rebounder (6.3 rpg) and was also contributing 7.6 points and shooting 63.6 percent. He was UofL's most effective offensive rebounder, grabbing 16.7 percent of his opportunities to rank 21st in the nation.
"Behanan is a major factor," Pitino said. "He helped us win two Big East titles, he's helped us go to two Final Fours. He helped us win a national championship."
The good news for the Cards is that they can probably dominate the weak AAC -- call it Conference USA light -- even without a strong frontcourt. Besides UofL, Memphis is the only other ranked club in the nine-team league. The problems will come when the NCAA Tournament begins, but UofL has more than two months to work things out before then.
In a statement that accompanied news of his dismissal, Behanan said, "I want to apologize for letting down my family, teammates, coaches (athletic director) Tom Jurich, this university and the Louisville fans."
Pitino said the Cincinnati native will probably transfer to another school -- the route Pitino, "as his friend and mentor," recommends. "I wouldn't hold him back from any situation," Pitino said. "We have lost a really terrific young man in many respects. Between the lines, he gave great effort and was a great teammate, a wonderful young guy to be around. Away from the lines, he did not do the right things over and over and over."
Behanan told ESPN.com that he is going to enroll in a drug and alcohol rehab program in Houston run by former NBA player and coach John Lucas.
"I'm hoping to go down there, take care of myself and then hopefully get another opportunity - wherever it may be," Behanan said. "I haven't decided what I'm going to do yet. First, I'm going to go get help. I'm going to work on myself and being a better person. I'm still young and still learning. I'm hoping I can learn and get where I want to go in life."
Former UofL player Brandon Bender, who coached Behanan in AAU basketball, told WDRB that at least a dozen programs have contacted him to ask about Behanan, including Arizona, Iowa State, Southern Miss and Ohio State. The Buckeyes have reportedly already sought permission to talk to Behanan. ZagsBlog.com reported that Arizona State, Northwestern, Utah, Delaware, Oregon and Iowa State were among the schools that have reached out to Behanan. He could sit out one year, then be eligible to play an entire senior season in 2015-16.
WARE'S SEASON PROBABLY OVER
Pitino said Ware may be shut down for the remainder of the season as he recovers from being kicked in the shin two weeks ago in the spot where he suffered a compound fracture last year.
Pitino said a definite decision on Ware has not been made, but it could lead to an eventual redshirt season.
"He got a pretty big kick in that area, and it's very tender," Pitino said. "He doesn't feel like he could get back, and the trainer doesn't feel he could be back to the level he was at. Only time heals these problems."
Ware, who has been sidelined since getting hurt in U of L's Dec. 17 game against Missouri State, has averaged only 5.9 minutes and 1.7 points this season. He has played a total of 53 minutes in nine games.
"Ware is not a factor on our basketball team," Pitino said. "He hasn't been this season, and we've been playing without him. I think Kevin, if he redshirts, you have to apply for it obviously, but he'd get it probably more than anybody in America. Two things have to occur: He has to come back for his senior year, and if he's an integral part of the team he could stay for two years.
"Or he could graduate, which we hope to do in four years, and choose to (transfer a) level down if he doesn't get back to where he was. I think he will get back to where he was. It is a bad break, but it's not a Kobe (Bryant) situation with an Achilles' (tear) or an ACL. This is a bad break. It just needs time."
HENDERSON GETS SCHOLARSHIP
Senior guard Tim Henderson is no longer a walk-on. Pitino has awarded the product of Louisville Christian Academy -- both a fan and teammate favorite -- a scholarship for his final semester as a Cardinal.
It was a popular move as his teammates cheered and congratulated Henderson when Pitino announced the scholarship in front of the players.
"I was surprised," Henderson said. "But if you stay positive through the ups and the downs, then good things happen."
Henderson has appeared in 14 games this season. He will always be remembered -- and held in high esteem by Cardinals fans -- for hitting two three-pointers within 42 seconds to spark UofL's comeback win over Wichita State from a 12-point deficit in last year's Final Four semifinal.
"Tim has been a joy to coach, plays his butt off every day, knew how to play defense coming in," Pitino said. "His high school coach did an excellent job of preparing him."