We always knew it didn’t we? We always suspected The Man with the Silent L was capable of dominant double-double performances. As a matter of fact, he proved that even before Behanan’s departure, but things have only been more productive for the sophomore forward since then. Why? Because Rick Pitino depends on him.
The question mark on this year’s team was at the beginning, is now, and ever shall be the lack of an inside presence. With the “graduation” of Gorgui Dieng to the pros, a drop off in post production on both ends of the floor was to be expected. Even with the talent and promise of a Behanan-Harrell duo at the 4, the inexperience of Mathiang and the timid play of career reserve man Stephen Van Treese led many experts to believe that the 5 position was a cause for major concern and potentially a threat not only to the Cards’ title defense but even their ability to be serious contenders for a place in a third consecutive Final Four.
You may be surprised to learn that prior to Behanan’s departure, the Cardinals were out-rebounded a total of 4 times in 13 games – against UNC and UK, and inexplicably against FIU and Hofstra. Since then, however, U of L has been out-rebounded by 5 of their 7 opponents – Memphis, Rutgers, SMU and USF twice – as the team’s biggest glaring weakness is becoming more and more obvious on the stat sheet.
The team’s rebounding numbers and inside game may not be up there with college basketball’s elite, but a certain Hargrave product is proviing to be among the elite individual talents and has made it a point to try and put more of the load on his gigantic shoulders. His point production hasn’t skipped a beat, which is surprising considering you would imagine the loss of a proven scorer like Behanan would turn opponents’ focus entirely to Harrell, not to mention Trez wouldn’t be as fresh playing 30+ minutes per game as opposed to 25. He’s also kept with his defensive efforts and his team play setting good screens and making an assist here and there. Where his biggest contribution could be seen is in the rebounding category. Louisville may be losing that battle, but it’s not for lack of Trez:
With Behanan: 12.0 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game
Without Behanan: 12.3 points per game, 9.4 rebounds per game
As you can tell, with every additional 1-2 minutes of playing time, Montrezl grabs another rebound. He’s pulling in almost a quarter of the entire team’s rebounding production and that’s a monstrous step up for a guy who only played 16 minutes per game last year and averaged just 3.6 rebounds. Even considering the hype surrounding his talent and potential at the next level, I think we’re still a bit surprised by how positive his reaction has been to the loss of his teammate and the challenge his team faces.
Montrezl has shown us all before the powerful dunks, flashy assists, authoritative blocks, the whole nine yards… What we didn’t expect to see from Montrezl was leadership. Just when Pitino needed it most, he found his leader in the post. Harrell has stepped his game up with immaculate timing and the team is starting to regain some momentum. It’s still unclear whether the Cards have the strength at the 5 position to compete with the best of the best, but one thing is no longer an uncertainty, and that is the question of “Who is the main man in the post for Louisville?” If it wasn’t clear before, it certainly is now: It’s Montrezl Harrell.