Freshman Montrezl Harrell is making a career out of being Chane Behanan's understudy.
Harrell filled in for Behanan at the start of the season for two exhibition games and the opener against Manhattan while Behanan was serving a suspension. And now the 6-foot-8, 235-pounder is being forced into the starting power forward spot under a much more pressurized situation.
Behanan suffered a sprained left ankle in practice Monday and is expected to miss at least the next three Big East Conference games, starting with Wednesday night's contest against Seton Hall (12-3, 1-1) in the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J. The No. 3/4 Cards (13-1, 1-0) will be seeking their ninth straight win.
UofL coach Rick Pitino said Behanan will be sidelined for a week to 10 days, meaning Harrell will also be in the lineup against South Florida (9-4, 0-1) Saturday in the KFC Yum! Center and Monday at Connecticut (10-3, 0-1). Behanan could be back for the showdown with No. 7 Syracuse (14-1, 2-0) at home on Jan. 19.
Harrell, whom Pitino has called one of the best freshmen in the country, is contributing 6.6 points and 4.4 rebounds while playing in every game and averaging 19.3 minutes in relief of Behanan and at center.
"Montrezl is doing alright," Pitino says. "He's doing terrific for a freshman, it's just defensively he's caught out of place. He doesn't understand the zone real well, so that's something I think he'll benefit from, getting a lot of experience right now, the same way Zach Price and Stephan Van Treese did (while Gorgui Dieng was injured)."
UofL will certainly miss Behanan, who leads the team in rebounding at 7.1 per game and has been one of the Cardinals' most effective players lately. In the last six games, the 6-6 sophomore has averaged 16.0 points, 5.8 boards and hit 57.1 percent of his shots. But co-captain Luke Hancock thinks Harrell will fill in just fine.
"I think Chane is a little bit more of a polished scorer, but Montrezl can give you just as much," Hancock says. "He plays hard, gives you everything he's got the whole time. He's going to rebound, block shots and he'll be able to hold down the four spot."
Hancock also says he doesn't see a need for the Cards to change the way they play significantly.
"Not really," Hancock says. "Montrezl can score on the block. Chane can shoot a little bit better, but we're going to go to him just like we do Chane inside. We expect a lot out of him."
UofL's biggest challenge against Seton Hall will be containing the Pirates' perimeter shooting while at the same time preventing them from driving to the basket or getting the ball to 6-9, 290-pound center Eugene Teague (12.9 ppg, 8.5 rpg).
"They move the ball well, they make the extra pass, they dribble penetrate, they have a terrific low post player in Teague, who can give anybody problems," Pitino says. "So you've got to do something about him on the interior, and without Chane that's going to be a difficult assignment because he does a lot of things to help that cause. And they'll play a lot of zone, and Chane has been a good weapon against zones, so we've got to alter our (offensive) plan."
The Hall attempts the most 3-pointers in the Big East (23 per game), makes the most (8.7) and shoots the second-best percentage (.382). Four Pirates have made 21 treys or more, led by junior guard Edwin Fuquan's 32-of-64 (50 percent). UofL's opponents are shooting just 30.6 percent from beyond the arc.
"Our pressure will be huge, being able to rotate correctly and close out on shooters," Hancock says. "From the film I've watched, they'll shoot deep threes, contested threes; they shoot a lot of them and make a lot of them. Running them off the 3-point line will be key, making them put the ball on the floor. But at the same time Gorgui's inside, and we don't want to get him in foul trouble."