Even if Rick Pitino wasn't the head coach at Louisville; and even if the Cardinals hadn't historically been the class of Midwest college basketball before and after their move to the Big East, there would still be a buzz around the home of the twin spires around this time of the year. Throw in a new arena that drew a sellout crowd for an intrasquad scrimmage, and the anticipation reaches a crescendo normally reserved for a Final Four.
The Yum! Center is by far the biggest and main attraction to Louisville basketball this season, replacing Freedom Hall as the home of Cardinals hoops. Louisville will officially christen their new venue against reigning national runner-up Butler on November 16th; and according to Pitino, the arena is "the finest arena ever built." Always a firm believer in the fact that facilities were key to a major college basketball program's success, Pitino discussed the impact of the new building with me last week at Madison Square Garden when the coach was in the Big Apple for Big East media day. "It has parts of the Staples Center, the Charlotte Bobcats' arena, (the Time Warner Cable Arena) and Conseco Fieldhouse all rolled into one," proclaimed Pitino when addressing the new arena. Pitino gets to face his old team in his new building as well, as John Calipari and Kentucky invade the Yum! Center on New Year's Eve before former Pitino disciple Kevin Willard leads Seton Hall into the Bluegrass State on January 5th in what will be the Cardinals' Big East opener.
Louisville heads into the new season having lost Samardo Samuels to the NBA and starting guards Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith to graduation, and their former backcourt partner Preston Knowles is now not only the team captain, but also Pitino's lone senior on a young team that will showcase guards Kyle Kuric and Mike Marra much more than last year, when each showed flashes of brilliance against Syracuse on two separate occasions. Pitino also hinted that sophomore guard Peyton Siva could also play 30 minutes a game. Up front, the Cards got an added boost when freshman center Gorgui Dieng was cleared by the NCAA for immediate eligibility. Dieng will team with Terrence Jennings in the post, with Jared Swopshire the likely candidate to become the next productive Louisville wing, something Pitino has been searching for since Terrence Williams was drafted by the New Jersey Nets in 2009.