Cards illustrate press template
The only thing more telling than watching Louisville’s patented full-court pressure defense is seeing its results. The Cardinals rank first in the Big East in steals per game in conference play, are No. 2 in turnover margin and their leader in steals in Big East play is 6-foot-6, 250-pound forward Chane Behanan.
“You can’t really grasp it until you’re in the situation,” said sophomore point guard Myles Mack of the Rutgers men’s basketball team. “On TV, it looks rough. I bet you in person it’s even rougher.”
Louisville has provided the Scarlet Knights their share of rough moments. Head coach Mike Rice was ejected from last year’s game at the KFC Yum! Center. The Knights also lost, 55-37, in likely the lowest point of a low 2010-2011 season.
Louisville’s high-pressure, high-energy defense is mostly responsible.
“I can’t even explain how dangerous it is,” said sophomore point guard Jerome Seagears. “This might be the reason they were No. 1 in the country at one point. They force so many turnovers, they get so many easy buckets, they get out in transition.”
The Cardinals caused 32 turnovers in the teams’ previous two meetings. Mack and Seagears, Rutgers’ primary ball handlers, were only responsible for one.
The Knights will likely need similar results tonight, when they host the No. 11 Cardinals with an emphasis on breaking Louisville’s persistent pressure.
But getting past Louisville’s first wave — Big East preseason Player of the Year Peyton Siva and guard Russ Smith — are only the first of many obstacles, Mack said.
“It’s [center Gorgui] Dieng in the back, and Russ and Peyton Siva are still trying to back-tap the ball from you,” he said. “You just have to be as careful as possible.”
Rutgers’ pressure defense, meanwhile, has received mixed reviews.
Mack said the Knights’ on-ball press defense must improve, while Seagears said remaining focused longer is a priority.
Mack said the team has four or five different pressure packages, all designed to force a faster tempo.
“It’s difficult to do it sometimes in the Big East because of the fact that you don’t want to give up layups,” Rice said, “but at times you’re going to have to give up some open shots to get the pace in your strength.”
The front of Rice’s press — the 5-foot-9 Mack and 6-foot-1 Seagears among others — will not likely clog too many passing lanes and force deflections. Rice said he never considered changing the structure of his press — namely putting longer wings at the top — because of its effect on the back end.
“If you’re going to have smaller guys in the secondary, they’re just going to throw it over their heads, and then it’s a jailbreak,” he said. “We can’t do it as well or as consistently as [Louisville] because [of] some of [our] personnel and certainly the shot blocker in the back. We can’t give up layup after layup after layup and think we’re going to be successful.”
So Rice will settle for speeding up the tempo, which he will likely caution against Louisville, which thrives on it. Mack said he thinks Rice trusts the team to press more this year, although its pressure unit remains a work in progress, specifically its rotations.
“We’re getting there,” Seagears said.
Rice said the team’s goal is to have a winning February, although what that amounts to remains arbitrary.
“As a coach,” Rice said, “you always have to think you’re getting better.”
For updates on the Rutgers men’s basketball team, follow Tyler Barto on Twitter @TBartoTargum.