Big East Player to Watch: Gorgui Dieng (Louisville)

Jamie Rhodes-US PRESSWIRE

In the 2012 Sweet 16, Michigan State shot 9-0f-28 from two-point range, scoring just 44 points in a loss to Louisville.

The Cardinals, as a team, locked down the Spartans and forced 15 turnovers. Even Draymond Green lost the ball six times.

But without Gorgui Dieng, such a defensive effort would not have been possible.

Though the record books say Fab Melo earned Big East Defensive Player of the Year honors, one could make a strong case that Dieng, who swatted seven shots against Michigan State, was the conference’s best defender in 2011-12. Melo averaged 2.9 blocks, 5.8 boards and 0.5 steals in 25.4 minutes per game while Dieng stayed on the floor for 32.8 minutes per game to post 3.2 blocks, 1.2 steals and 9.1 rebounds. Yes, Melo’s per 40 block rate (4.6) is superior to Dieng’s (3.9), but what does block rate matter if you can’t stay on the floor?

Anyway, Melo bolted for the NBA, leaving Dieng as the clear favorite to earn defensive player of the year honors in 2012-13. In fact, Dieng could very possibly be the nation’s top defender.

But for a team that reached the Final Four and returned most key players, there are high expectations. Louisville will be a top five team come the preseason poll, rendering anything short of another deep tournament run a disappointment.

In order to sustain another run, Dieng will have to stay on the floor like he did as a sophomore. He fouled out just five times last year, but the Cardinals went 2-3 in those games — one of the wins came in overtime against DePaul.

But foul trouble really is the only way for opponents to get Dieng off the floor and sometimes even that method proves to be futile. Dieng played all 40 minutes of a game six times last year. There are three times where he finished with at least four fouls.

Dieng’s early foul trouble against Davidson in the second round of last year’s tournament was nearly the Cardinals’ downfall as their big man spent half the game on the bench. But in the rest of the tournament, Dieng averaged 9.3 rebounds and 3.8 blocks in 39 minutes per game.

That’s enough about Dieng’s defense. Offensively, his game doesn’t include much more than dunks and putbacks. But Louisville doesn’t need much more from him in the scoring department — 9.1 points per game is really just gravy.

Follow Ari Kramer on Twitter to talk Big East and college basketball.

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