The headlines that you are going to see stemming from the start of Louisville’s trip through the Caribbean is that the Cardinals lost both ends of a double-header in their opener against Puerto Rico’s national teams.
What they won’t tell you, however, is that neither of those losses should be all that concerning.
In the opener, Louisville rested their starters, giving their young guys and end of the bench players a chance to perform against Puerto Rico’s Junior National Team. Louisville lost 94-88 and trailed by as much as 16 points, but to get an idea of who was on the floor for most of the game, think about this: walk-on Jay Henderson led the team with 16 points.
The second game pitted the guys that are going to play the majority of the minutes going up against Puerto Rico’s Senior National Team, the one that includes former first round pick Moe Harkless, longtime NBA point guard J.J. Barea and the infamous Renaldo Balkman. The Cards lost that game as well, 89-81, but there were some things that we can take out of it:
- Damion Lee was awesome, finishing with 36 points and, as beat-writer Jeff Greer of the Louisville Courier-Journal put it, “he was U of L’s best player, looking confident and assertive.” Louisville is going to need someone to shoulder the bulk of the scoring load this season, and Lee — who averaged 21.4 points at Drexel as a junior — looks ready.
- Donovan Mitchell didn’t play in the first game, although he came off the bench as the sixth-man in the second game. He struggled, but seeing where Pitino has Mitchell in his rotation should give you an idea of what kind of role he’s going to play this season.
- Quentin Snider started at the point but he played just 18 minutes as Mitchell and senior transfer Trey Lewis played the majority of the minutes in the back court.
- Mangok Mathiang played 30 minutes, and while a lot of that had to do with the fact that Chinanu Onuaku — who had 13 points and 10 boards — was in foul trouble, he looks like the odds-on favorite to start at the four.
The record on this trip doesn’t matter. What’s important is that Rick Pitino essentially gets three weeks with this team to start implementing offenses and defenses he’s going to use during the season. Louisville is rebuilding this season. They have a number of new pieces playing key roles as well as a couple of returners that are going to be asked to play much bigger roles than in previous seasons. Getting this time together is huge for a team going through this many changes.