That was one of the biggest question marks going into the season for the Louisville basketball team. When the shot-clock is winding down and the squad is in desperate need of a bucket, who do they get the ball to? With two patented "go-to" guys going in the first 14 picks in the draft, that was a gaping hole coming in and the product of a few sleepless nights for Rick Pitino, I'm sure.
Is it Edgar Sosa? Despite popular opinion, No. He's too reckless and unpredictable. Jerry Smith? Has a tough time creating his own shot from inside 25 feet. Preston Knowles? Maybe... hell, he might not even be in the game though. Jared Swopshire? See: Final shot at Pitt. Chris Brickley? Sorry Bricks but it ain't happening. It can't be Samardo Samuels can it?
It can and it should. After the first part of the season, nearly every Card fan would have said that's crazy talk. He's too passive. He doesn't demand the ball. He can't get it done against a quality big-man. Definitely not vocal enough. Although that rang true in many early season contests, it couldn't be further from the truth after the last few contests.
In Big East play, Samardo is shooting a robust 57% from the field and playing worlds tougher than he has before. His previously suspect foul shooting has risen to 87%. Instead of looking apathetic and unconcerned about getting the ball, he is now actively demanding the post pass. Two premier teams in the country - Pitt and Villanova - could not handle Samuels in the low-block. He averaged 23 points in the last two games by making quicker decisions with the ball, using both hands, and going up to the basket with authority. Unfortunately, both games were heartbreaking Louisville losses.
In both games Louisville had the game won and somehow snatched defeat from the jaws of
victory after playing very well. One of the main reasons was not riding home on the horse that brought them. In both late stretches, the Cardinals' perimeter players went away from getting the ball inside to Samardo for an unknown, strange reason. Similar to the time of David Padgett, good things happen when the offense runs through Samuels. If he gets double-teamed, someone has an open shot. If not, he can take his man, score, or get to the line. Seems simple. However, Samuels didn't even touch the ball once in the final minute and overtime at Pitt and was forgotten about in crucial times against Nova. It seems as though he has to earn his team's trust just like he has the fans.
The team must look for him in the post more often for the Cards to overcome their demons. I was very impressed with the inside-outside game Samardo had with Knowles in the Pitt game and Peyton Siva is always looking to get the big guy involved. It is up to the two senior guards to swallow their pride and look to him more often. Sosa and Smith have hit big shots over the course of their careers, but this offense runs best when the Jamaican sophomore touches the ball. It will only get everyone else on the team better shots. Samuels will never play above-the-rim, but if this new-found tenacity and resilience continues it won't matter.
Some thought it would happen sooner, but it looks like Samardo Samuels is starting to become the player everyone and their mother thought he could be. To me, it seems he is the answer to the question of who the Cards' go-to guy really is.