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December 6, 2011Since the game itself is likely to be a blowout, all eyes will be focused on Rakeem Buckles when Louisville's basketball team hosts lowly IUPUI (2-7) of the Summit Conference Wednesday night in the KFC Yum Center.
Buckles will be making his first appearance since suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee against Pittsburgh last Feb. 27, an injury that required surgery and a long recovery period.
But now the 6-foot-7 sophomore is 100 percent healthy, according to coach Rick Pitino, and will probably see 10 to 14 minutes of action against the Jaguars, who are coached by former Cardinal Todd Howard (1989-91). Pitino said Buckles will play more Saturday against Fairleigh Dickinson, then go full tilt against No. 21/20 Memphis on Dec. 17.
"The main thing is I don't want to play him more than three-minute spans," Pitino said. "He'll be nervous, a little tight, he'll probably travel a few times. He wanted to play in the Vanderbilt game, he felt he was ready to play and he was very disappointed we didn't play him. He's very anxious to go."
Pitino says Buckles will make an immediate impact for the Cards, whose offense needs a boost since they're averaging only 67.7 points per game, the lowest for a Louisville team in at least 62 years. Buckles will initially back up starting center Gorgui Dieng, but may also sub at power forward.
"Rak is just a very good, sound player that's used to pressure," Pitino said. "He's not going to go into any place America and be nervous. His first game back he'll be a little nervous, but Rak has been through the mill, so to speak. He's a good rebounder, a good scorer. The one thing these injuries have done for Rak is made him a good shooter from outside because when you're injured the only thing you can do is shoot and he's really worked hard on his shooting."
What does Pitino expect from Buckles?
"A double-double," he said, tongue-in-cheek.
Besides Todd Howard -- the son of former Card Terry Howard (1972-75) -- the game will also be a homecoming of sorts for one of his assistant coaches, David Padgett, who played for Pitino and worked on his staff for a year before going to IUPUI.
"They are going to know us very well, and that's why we are changing most of our offenses and defenses," Pitino said, joking again.
PITINO PRAISES MARINATTO
Pitino weighed in on the latest Big East news, with the conference expected to announce Wednesday that it is adding Boise State and San Diego State as football-only members and Houston, Central Florida and SMU in all sports. Pittsburgh and Syracuse are moving to the ACC and West Virginia is headed to the Big 12.
"John (Big East Commissioner John Marinatto) should get a substantial raise because that's as good a job by a commissioner with his back against the wall as I've seen since I've been in athletics," Pitino said. "It's nothing short of spectacular. I didn't think he could do it. DO you know how difficult that is with five different agendas, different needs and wants.
"The teams we lost aren't as good in football as the ones we're bringing in. Now basketball is another matter. Have you made basketball stronger? No. So my hope is they'll go out and get Memphis or Temple."
Pitino added that, with member schools stretching from coast to coast, the Big East should now be called Big Country.