I’ll be the first to admit that when Chane Behanan was dismissed from the Louisville basketball program at the beginning of the calendar year, my outlook for the 2013-14 season changed.
It’s not that one player makes that big of a difference and to be honest, Behanan wasn’t playing as well as he had in years past. With that said, Louisville’s already thin and undersized front court got even smaller.
The team had already been struggling on the backboard and wasn’t producing many points from the front line. At the time, the loss of Behanan appeared to be one of the worst things that could have happened to the team.
Two months later, Chane Behanan’s dismissal doesn’t seem like such a huge blow. Thanks to Montrezl Harrell, Louisville’s thin and undersized front court isn’t noticed quite as much anymore. Sure, the Cards are still getting out-rebounded in the majority of their games, but Montrezl Harrell’s offensive impact and shot blocking ability has made it much less of a factor.
Harrell had lofty expectations heading into his sophomore campaign. After an impressive stint with the United States U19 National Team and a solid showing at the Adidas Nations event over the summer, Harrell was a projected lottery pick by most.
In each and every game this season we’ve seen something from Montrezl Harrell that shows why he’s so highly coveted by NBA Draft experts. Guys like Harrell with that type of length, athleticism and motor isn’t something that comes along very often.
To start the season, he wasn’t playing poorly by any means; however Harrell appeared to be very raw. He had the athletic ability and size to play with anyone, but it was obvious that his offensive game in the post and his defensive IQ needed to improve. In a matter of four months, Harrell has polished his game and it’s been a key factor in Louisville’s 13-3 conference record.
The fact that Harrell has become an effective offensive weapon for the Cards has been a game changer. Russ Smith isn’t the only guy you can depend on for a bucket when you desperately need it. Unfortunately, Harrell’s teammates stopped looking his way in the second half against Memphis.
Let’s hope that was a mistake that this team will learn from. Harrell still isn’t a player that you can throw the ball inside to each and every possession, but he’s become too effective around the basket to not be an integral part of the offense.
This is still Russ Smith’s team and he’s the most important player for the Cards, but at this point, Montrezl Harrell is a close second.