Although injuries have forced Rick Pitino to shuffle his starting lineup and leave him with a thin bench, Louisville is still in the thick of the Big East race.
Pitino isn't going to have to worry about playing with a depleted frontcourt much longer.Starters Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng are expected to play Saturday for the 16th-ranked Cardinals, who look to continue their dominance over 12th-ranked Syracuse.Louisville (18-6, 7-4) has been without Buckles since he broke his left index finger in practice days before a New Year's Eve game against rival Kentucky, and Dieng has sat out the last four contests after suffering a concussion in a win over West Virginia on Jan. 26.Buckles, a sophomore power forward, is the team's leading rebounder at 7.5 per game, while Dieng, a freshman center, was averaging 8.2 points on 65.5 percent shooting and 2.8 blocks in the first six Big East games before his injury."With Rock (Rakeem) and Gorgui, we will certainly be a better defensive team with their presence," Pitino said.They will be tested quickly, as the Orange (20-5, 7-5) are strong in the post.Junior forward Kris Joseph averages a team-best 15.0 points and senior forward Rick Jackson scores 13.1 with a Big East-high 11.4 rebounds."Syracuse is a powerful basketball team upfront," Pitino said.The return of Rakeem and Gorgui couldn't have come at a better time for the Cardinals, who are tied for fourth in the Big East, three games behind first-place Pittsburgh. The Orange are one-half game in back of Louisville.The injury-ravaged Cardinals quickly tired in overtime in Wednesday's 89-79 loss to No. 8 Notre Dame. Louisville had a chance to win at the end of regulation but missed a pair of 3-pointers in the final 30 seconds, and then allowed the Irish to reel off the first 14 points of the extra session.Kyle Kuric scored a career-high 28 points for Louisville, while Preston Knowles added 13. Knowles, who averages a team-best 14.8 points, returned to the starting lineup after missing last Saturday's four-point win over DePaul with a hamstring injury.The Cardinals now open a stretch of playing four of their next six games at the new KFC Yum! Center, where they're 15-2.Louisville played its final game at Freedom Hall last March against Syracuse, and handed the top-ranked Orange a 78-68 loss. The Cardinals also beat then-No. 2 Syracuse 66-60 last February at the Carrier DomeLouisville, which was unranked in both meetings last season, has won six straight over the Orange since a 79-66 loss at Syracuse on Feb. 18, 2006, and leads the all-time series 12-4.The Orange, losers of five of seven after opening 18-0, hope to bounce back from Wednesday's disappointing 64-56 home loss to No. 11 Georgetown. Syracuse led by four points with 6 1/2 minutes remaining, but was outscored 15-3 the rest of the way."We have to pick our heads up and move forward," said Scoop Jardine, who is averaging 6.3 points on 24.0 percent shooting in three games this month. "We have a tough Louisville team coming up. We just have to play basketball."Jackson got into foul trouble against the Hoyas, and was unable to get into rhythm offensively, finishing with a season-low four points on 1 of 6 shooting from the floor. Four days earlier, he had a season-best 21 points in a 72-56 win over South Florida."We just came off a very, very good offensive game. We had a bad one tonight," Jim Boeheim said. "That doesn't mean we're going to have a bad one tomorrow."