- Eamonn Brennan, ESPN Staff Writer
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Other than that whole UCLA thing -- I've watched that Norman Powell foul like 10 times already; it is sublime -- the biggest news of Sunday night came from Louisville. Forward Gorgui Dieng will miss an indefinite amount of time with a broken scaphoid bone in his left wrist, an injury he suffered while taking a charge in Louisville's win over Missouri on Friday.
There's really no getting around it: It's obviously a major blow to Louisville in the very near term. Dieng is the team's best shot-blocker and one of its best rebounders, an intimidating interior force who anchored the middle of Louisville's No. 1-ranked efficiency defense throughout last season's improbable Final Four run. That defense is ranked No. 1 in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency again this season -- this is probably the least surprising thing about the college basketball season so far -- and Dieng's role in that calculus hasn't changed.
Nor does the injury sound particularly forgiving. According to a variety of medical information I have accessed via the World Wide Web, scaphoid fractures are awkward things. They take longer than most wrist injuries to heal -- anywhere from six weeks to six months, depending on the location of the injury and the blood flow around it -- and can leave soreness and lack of motion behind. (Dieng will be seen by a hand specialist Monday, and here's hoping his injury doesn't cost him too much of his season. He's one of the more interesting and more likable college basketball players in the country.)
But, assuming Dieng is on the shorter end of that recovery timeline, there's reason to think the Cardinals will be OK without him. The first is, as Rick Pitino noted Sunday, the solid performances Louisville got from backup centers Stephan Van Treese and Zach Price against Duke on Saturday. Even without Dieng, Louisville played a very good Duke team to the wire, and Van Treese and Price rebounded the ball effectively. Sophomore forward Chane Behanan is only going to play better, and the frontcourt hole will give super-bouncy forward Montrezl Harrell a much bigger opportunity to prove what he can do.
The other reason is Louisville's offense. So far, while playing that top-ranked defense, the Cardinals have improved last season's anemic offensive efficiency. After their Final Four run, they still finished the season ranked outside the top 100; currently, they rank No. 42. Peyton Siva and especially Russ Smith are shooting the ball better from the perimeter. Wayne Blackshear and Kevin Ware provide a new dynamic in transition. The Cardinals are playing a bit faster, with more perimeter depth, and it shows.
To be sure, the sample size is small. The offense is not exactly lighting the world ablaze (the Cardinals are still shooting just 31.2 percent from 3-point range). And Dieng does a lot of things well. But if the backup bigs can step up, and Dieng can get back in time for the bulk of the Big East season, there's little reason to revise this team's prospectus. It'll be OK.