Pitino building 'bridge' to better season. Maybe.

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Rick Pitino’s stressful summer (see: Sypher, Karen) is poised to become a even more stressful 2010-11 season as Louisville braces for a so-so campaign.

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Junior forward Jared Swopshire is out at least six weeks with a “sports hernia-type injury.” Freshman guard Russ Smith broke a bone in his right hand and is out 7-11 weeks. Transfer Roburt Sallie and freshman Justin Coleman were both rulled ineligible.

The latest blow came when the NCAA ruled freshman forward Gorgui Dieng ineligible, leaving the Cardinals with 11 healthy scholarship players.

However, Pitino sees the light at the end of the tunnel. He’s calling it a “bridge” year, as in “our 2011 recruits are really, really good, so don’t panic when this season goes downhill.”

“This is going to be a bridge year,” Pitino said Tuesday at a Louisville function. “We’re building something to the future — to the new arena. It’s definitely a rebuilding year, but you never know when the bridge is going to be completed. I’m hoping to have it completed this season and not somewhere down the road. We have a lot of holes we have to fill.”

As Eric Crawford of the Louisville Courier-Journal writes, the Cardinals’ season was going to be rough even if everyone was healthy. But with a fancy new arena opening – the KFC Yum! Center – Pitino has to prep fans and boosters for the worst.

Then the 2011-12 season rolls around and things improve. Perhaps dramatically, argues Mike Rutherford of Card Chronicle.

My point is this: love or hate the present head coach, the combination of Rick Pitino, Louisville’s current sophomores and juniors, and potential stellar recruiting classes in 2011 and 2012 could very well be the best shot this program has at a national title this decade.

The caveat? If Pitino doesn’t keep reeling in big-time recruits and can’t put together an impressive 2011-12 season, he may not get a chance at that title. Not as long as the Sypher drama lingers.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.