The Louisville Cardinals are off to a 4-0 start heading into Wednesday's game against Florida International (4-2) behind the kind of selfless play Coach Rick Pitino said his team will need to rely on if it wants to survive in the rejuvenated Big East.
"I think this team realizes how they have to win, that they're not going to blow people away with their talent or size," Pitino said. "They understand who they are, what they are and how to get better."
The schedule hasn't exactly been daunting save for a season-opening victory over Butler. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Pitino knew there would be a feeling-out process as his mishmashed group — part of what he's called a "bridge year" — gels.
The team is ahead of schedule, but the Cardinals aren't exactly getting ahead of themselves. There's plenty of work to do over the next month before conference play begins.
Angered over Marshall's 25 offensive rebounds in a somewhat lethargic 80-66 win over the Thundering Herd on Saturday, Pitino ordered extra sprints in practice while ditching the somewhat low-key approach he'd adopted during the off-season. He experienced a surprising feeling while watching his players lug up and down the court: remorse.
"Al McGuire said anything you yell at your players and you feel bad about it, you should get out, so I'm thinking about getting out," Pitino said. "I didn't feel good about it because they're such nice guys. They work so hard, they're such a refreshing group to be around. They give everything they have, but that being said you can't give up 25 second shots in a game."
Consider the message received.
"We need to get stronger," said point guard Peyton Siva.
And the Cardinals need to keep the referees' whistles in their pockets. Siva and center Terrence Jennings have both been dogged by foul trouble. Though Pitino has no qualms about going to the bench, where freshman point guard Elisha Justice and sophomore forward Stephan Van Treese have been pleasant surprises, Siva knows he needs to do a better job at staying on the floor.
Siva said he's been warned by referees before the opening tip that they're going to be looking for defenders who get a little too aggressive when the ball is in the backcourt. It hasn't stopped him from collecting what he calls "boneheaded" fouls 60 feet away from the basket.
"When I pick up a foul, I know it's going to be a long night," he said.
His absence, however, hasn't turned into long nights for the Cardinals thanks to the steady play of Justice, who has a 3-to-1 assist/turnover ratio four games into his college career.
Siva doesn't view Justice's emergence as a threat to his own playing time. That was last year's team, not this one.
"On any given night anybody can have a big night," Siva said. "You see Mike (Marra) have a couple big nights, Van Treese was big for us last game. Elisha has stepped up big. This team has a lot of good players on it. Hopefully it will continue going down the road."
Indiana 7-footer ineligible
The NCAA declared Indiana center Guy-Marc Michel ineligible to play college basketball. School officials made the announcement Tuesday after the team left for Boston, where the Hoosiers play Wednesday in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge.
The 7-foot Michel was expected to give Indiana a strong inside presence this season. But the NCAA began investigating his eligibility before the exhibition season began. The governing body determined that Michel enrolled in a university in 2006, which started his five-year clock to play college basketball.
He played in five games on the club team before the NCAA adopted a new rule that allows recruits to compete on teams with professionals and maintain their amateur status.
No. 13 Tennessee 86, Middle Tennessee 56: Tobias Harris scored 21 points and Scotty Hopson (University Heights) had 19 as Tennessee cruised in Knoxville. The Vols (6-0) opened with an 8-0 run and trailed only once. Hopson was 4-for-5 from three-point range in the first half and scored 14 points before halftime.
Miami (Fla.) 86, Mississippi 73: Durand Scott scored 27 points to lead host Miami. The Hurricanes (5-2) nearly wasted a 30-point halftime lead as the Rebels outscored the them 26-6 during a late second-half run. Scott converted four three throws in the next 1:25 to secure the Hurricanes' victory. Chris Warren paced the Rebels (3-2) with 23 points.
Florida Atlantic 61, Mississippi St. 59: Kore White scored 18 points to lead Florida Atlantic to a win in Starkville, Miss. The Owls (4-4) hit 23 of 54 shots from the floor and earned seven points off Bulldogs turnovers. Mississippi State (4-1) hit a season-low three three-pointers and missed several crucial free throws late in the game to finish 12 of 18 from the line.
LSU 73, Houston 57: Ralston Turner scored 15 points and Storm Warren had a double-double for host LSU. Turner, who handed out five assists, made six of his 10 field goal attempts. Warren matched his season-high with 12 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.
No. 7 Connecticut 62, New Hampshire 55: Kemba Walker scored 30 points and Connecticut returned from its triumphant trip to Hawaii with a harder-than-expected victory over visiting New Hampshire. Shabazz Napier added 11 points for Connecticut (6-0).
No. 8 Syracuse 78, Cornell 58: Rick Jackson had 17 points and 13 rebounds, his sixth double-double of the season, in host Syracuse's win. Former Kentucky player Mark Coury had seven points and six rebounds for Cornell.