Sometimes the analogies are apt, germane to the topic at hand. Sometimes, I’m just trying to reiterate that I’ve been a U of L fan for six decades, and I’m showing off that my mind remains cluttered with minutiae from past seasons.
Whatever. I’m stepping into the Not So Way Back Machine again, as the topic du jour is the ’14-’15 University of Louisville Cardinals’ moribund offense.
Let’s talk Taquan Dean for a sec.
I stand by my belief that the sharpshooting guard hit more important shots at critical junctures than any Cardinal ever. More than Grif. More than DeJuan Wheat. More than the Cards’ ace prime time FT shooters, Milt Wagner and Jerry King. More than any of ’em.
During the ’04-’05 Final Four season, I sat next to NY Knicks’ scout Dick McGuire, during a Cardinal home game. I kept extolling the virtues of Dean, a junior, who averaged 14.4 that campaign, his average a smidge behind his runnin’ podner Francisco Garcia and Larry O’Bannon. “Dean’s the one to watch,” I’d extol. McGuire would nod gratuitously, but he was obviously seeing flaws in Dean’s game that I, not nearly as astute an observer as he was, or as I, delusional, would consider myself, didn’t notice.
Those holes in Dean’s game became manifest his senior year, though he led that underwhelming NIT team in scoring at 17+ ppg. Taquan was an adequate ball handler at best. He couldn’t take it to the hole, couldn’t tally off the dribble. He wasn’t much of a facilitator. When forced to take on those roles his final year, he was less stellar than in previous years.
During those first three seasons though, he was magnificent, his flaws kept under wraps. Because . . . he . . . got . . . the . . . rock . . . in . . . spots . . . where . . . he . . . could . . . just . . . catch . . . and . . . shoot. In spots off a curl, or double curl, or pick, or skip pass, where and when he’d be open. Pitino’s offense that season, and in many others, set up his shooters for success.
So, as I’ve asked in previous posts, I’m still wondering: What happened to that offense? Where is it now that we really need it?
I watch other teams and games, like the snippets I saw of UVa/ Davidson yesterday, and wonder why U of L doesn’t move and cut and screen like those clubs, why U of L seems so dreadfully stagnant on the offensive end? Too much dribbling. No crisp passing. Guys without the ball just standing in a spot.
Louisville, incredible really at the defensive end, has successfully masked those offensive woes so far. So much that the Cards remain highly regarded, a “legit” Final Four contender, despite having only the 66th most efficient O in the land. That’s right, 65 teams are better on offense than the Top 10 Cardinals.
After yesterday’s game, Rick Pitino said, “For 30 minutes, that is the best basketball we have played all year.”
Hmmm. U of L did can 21/41 from the field (51%), 6/15 from beyond the arc. They had 12 assists on those 21 made FGs.1
I’m trying to move beyond simply naysaying, but the offense still seemed to flounder about. Other than Terry Rozier going all Dwayne Wade, at will when he wanted against the “Beach.”
It wasn’t just that Chris Jones flopped his way to a seat on the bench for most of the action either. There was a little more flow. But, if the Cards want to be successful in the ACC and later in the Dance, there shall need be more movement, better picks, crisper passing and more shooters . . . getting . . . the . . . rock . . . at . . . their . . . sweet . . . spot.
* * * * *
After busting his butt for half the minutes in the post against Kentucky’s massive front line, Chinanu Onuaku didn’t take off his warmups against Long Beach State.
Guess Chris Jones isn’t the only guy in the dog house.
* * * * *
Montrezl Harrell is the paradigm of a power forward.
His engine revs at the red line.
He apparently works daily to improve his game.
I’m really, really, really glad he plays for the Louisville Cardinals.2
Yet I believe this Wooden Award POY talk is farfetched. Like, oh, say, Taquan Dean, there are some things he does as good as any player, but his game has flaws.
He is not but an average to less than average jump shooter. He should never fire a three. And he tends to make lazy passes, especially at the beginning of an offensive set, a flaw which will be exposed against ACC competition, if not corrected.
Against Long Beach State, Silent L padded his numbers by scoring the Cards last six points. Mop up points, A jumper, which wasn’t ill advised because he had the ball in his hands outside when the shot clock was about to expire. A drive and jam, followed by a driving layup.
But, in the possessions just proceeding those, he fired an ill advised jump shot and lazily turned the ball over.3
He turned the ball over three other times. Which matched his rebound total. 3 boards. 4 giveaways.
And, one guy’s opinion, he still handles the ball way too much at the top of the key. But that’s the way this year’s offense is playing out, at least so far.
These flaws need to be corrected, if the Cards are to meet expectations.
* * * * *
I know it’s puffery, a boast, but I must quote myself here.
These are words I wrote on October 20, after the first Red/ White scrimmage:
Remember this name: Anas Mahmoud.
For me, he was far and away the most impressive of the new Cardinals.
Yes he’s underweight for a seven footer. Spindly would be an apt description.
But he runs the court. He’s most coordinated. More important, his game is instinctual. He knows where he needs to be, where the ball needs to go, and he gets it there without it lingering in his paws. He’s got serious hops. Great timing around the hoop. And plays with an eery presence. He’s impassive, like those McCray brothers.
Though I might have to chew these words at a later date, I’ll take a stand.
He reminds me of young Pervis Ellison.
Which is to say, Mahmoud’s upside is H.U.G.E.
Yesterday, Mahmoud tallied the Cards’ first four points, made any number of great passes, and generally fueled the ardor of Cardinal fans. His court presence and contributions aren’t reflected in his paltry stats.
Okay, I can’t help myself. Let’s rock.
* * * * *
Wayne Blackshear continues to be a consistent positive force on the court for the Cards, whether his shot is falling or not, whether he meets fans’ expectations or not.
Yesterday he scored 16 on 7/11 shooting, and grabbed 7 caroms.
In a game, before which, he was throwing up in the locker room, according to Pitino.
Quentin Snider was steady for 26 minutes. As usual.
* * * * *
Opening Sunday, what U of L fans have been awaiting for a long time, the ACC.
Playing league games in empty arenas against such as East Carolina and Houston is no more.
Getting in touch with my inner bracketologist, I predict #4 seed. Okay, maybe a #3, if some new, fresh, dynamic O shows up.
— Seedy K