The Louisville Cardinals host the Pittsburgh Panthers Monday night as they try to bring a three-game losing streak to an end. After an amazing start to the season, where they stood as the nation's top-ranked team and had a 4-0 conference record, the Cardinals have lost three Big East games in a row. Now Rick Pitino and Louisville must focus on their next two huge games at home to try to get out of such a funk.
The Cardinals will need to lean heavily on the senior leadership of guard Peyton Siva. A big reason why Louisville made a run to the Final Four last season was the play of Siva. He will need to put forth a much stronger effort than he did over the weekend if Louisville wants to get back on track.
In two of the Cardinals past three losses, Siva has been a non-factor. On Saturday in their 51-53 loss on the road against the Georgetown Hoyas, Siva was held scoreless on just two shot attempts and could not stay out of foul trouble. Also, in Louisville's 68-70 loss to the Syracuse Orange, Siva was shut down, scoring just three points, making only one of his nine field goals.
Another player who will need to pick up the slack for Louisville is sophomore forward, Chane Behanan. The 6'6" forward had some big games for the Cardinals early on in the season but has slowed down in conference play. He put forth a 22-point effort in an 87-78 win over Memphis in mid-December. He, again, had a huge game in the Cardinals' 80-77 win over rival Kentucky, scoring 20 points.
Behanan has been very successful on the defensive end, corralling 1.7 steals per game. He has also been active on the boards, grabbing 7.5 rebounds per contest. However, in the past three losses, Behanan has not had success on offense. He has scored just 21 points over the past three games, for an average of 7 points.
Junior Russ Smith has been sensational for Louisville this season. Averaging 18.4 points per game, Smith has been the go-to scorer for the Cardinals. Smith had a tough time making shots in last week's 64-73 loss to Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. He had just eight points and made only two of his 13 shots.
For Louisville to regain success, Siva will need to be the emotional leader of this squad. He needs to elevate his game as the lone senior on the roster. Behanan will need to get back in the zone offensively and continue being a disruption on defense. The Cardinals leading scorer, Smith, must continue as the team's go-to player down the stretch.
It is a team effort, no question, and each member of this Louisville squad must step up. If Siva and Behanan can play as they are capable of, and if Smith can continue scoring, then the Cardinals can bounce right back.