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Louisville’s struggles on Saturday the result missing key players

Nov 9, 2013, 4:08 PM EDT

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If you didn’t watch No. 3 Louisville’s 70-48 win over the College of Charleston on Saturday afternoon, if you simply took at gander at the box score after getting your fill of college football, you would think that the short-handed Cardinals made short work of the Cougars.

Hey, they won by 22 points, right? Russ Smith had 21 points and five assists. Chris jones went for 12 points, six boards, five assists, two steals and zero turnovers. They forced 21 turnovers, committed just three, and obliterated the Cougars on the offensive glass.

About par for the course.

But that wasn’t the case at all.

In fact, for about the first 35 minutes of the game, it looked like Charleston was going to take this thing down to the wire. They trailed 29-21 at the break and, despite Louisville making a couple of surges in the second half, were down just 48-45 with seven minutes left in the game. I watched it, and I’ll be honest: I came away much more impressed with Charleston than I did with Louisville. That’s not to say that I think the Cougars are a better team, but given the situation — the No. 3 team in the country playing at home on the day they receive their national title rings — I don’t think Doug Wojcik can in anyway be disappointed with his team’s effort.

Here’s the catch, however: Louisville is a long way from being whole right now. Chane Behanan may be back with the team, but he’s still suspended. He didn’t play Saturday. He sat the bench in street clothes. Luke Hancock was sidelined as well, dealing with an achilles injury that may keep him out for a few games. Throw in the fact that Wayne Blackshear started the game 0-for-11 from the floor, and the issue for the Cardinals is evident.

On Saturday, they were a one-dimensional team.

There was no low-post scoring presence with Behanan out. As good as Harrell is, he’s more of an effort guy, an athlete that will score in transition and will get dunks off of rim runs and offensive rebounds. He’s not a guy that you dump the ball into on the block and expect a bucket from, especially not when he’s going up against a Charleston frontline that can match up with his size.

With Hancock sidelined and Blackshear struggling, there was no perimeter shooting from this group, either. The result? When Louisville was forced into a half court set, the only way they were able to generate offense was through the ability of Jones and Smith to create off the bounce. They became a team that relied almost entirely on high-ball screens, and while that’s usually a major part of the Louisville offense, it becomes much more effecting when a defense as to be concerned about jump-shooters or a big man ducking-in.

It’s not a coincidence that when Blackshear finally got into a rhythm late in the second half, Louisville when on a 22-3 run to close out the game.

So yes, this was a concerning performance by the Cardinals.

But the concerns should be addressed once this group gets to full strength.

Hopefully, for Cardinal fans, that will happen by the time they have to face off with North Carolina in the Hall of Fame Tip-Off.