On the fourteenth of February in 1929, a half dozen business associates of George Clarence “Bugs” Moran, along with an innocent mechanic who, much to his misfortune, happened to be repairing the wrong vehicle in the wrong garage at the wrong time that St. Valentine’s Day in the Windy City, never made it home with roses and heart shaped boxes of chocolates for their sweeties.
Nor did Joe and Jerry, a couple of musicians, played in Billy Wilder’s “Some Like It Hot” by Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon. They happened to be carrying their instruments through that garage at that inopportune moment, witnessing the territory clearing carnage known as the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre. During which the minions of one Alphonse Gabriel Capone, aided by several former associates of a brotherhood known as Egan’s Rats, chose to circumvent the chances for success of their rival through the use of machine guns, rather than threeballs.
Joe and Jerry, along with their instruments, which may or may not have been crafted in Paris, France and adorned with Louisville Cardinal logos, and donated by Mark and Cindy Lynn, were more fortunate. They skedaddled to Miami Beach in the cloak of night as transvestist members of an all-girl band, which featured one Sugar Cane Kowalczyk (Marilyn Monroe).
While what happened to the Louisville Cardinals yesterday at the Yum!, a steady and stealth-bereft beatdown at the hands of Anthony “Cat” Barber and those of his fellow North Carolina State Wolfpack, wasn’t a massacre, it was also not even a reasonable facsimile to a Kiss Cam-worthy bed of roses.
The victorious visitors slipped out of town, ahead of the first bread and milk shelf clearing storm of the season, while the Cardinal’s swagger and confidence was spotted, bloodied and crumpled by the curb under the gaze of the Washington Street troll.
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The sky is not falling.1 But the reality of this 2014-15 edition is now more in focus than ever.
The uptick in hope fostered by the midweek W over Pitt, whose own fortunes took a turn for the better when the Panthers eviscerated the Tar Heels, has now fully ebbed.
The Rick is frustrated. Which we know by observing how he throws individual players under the bus in his press conferences, and makes sure members of both the Fourth and Fifth Estate understand that, had the Cardinals done exactly what he’d told them to do, we’d be smiling this morning, savoring one more chocolate covered caramel almond with our valentine.2
And the fans — that would be you and me — are shaking our heads, realizing that a Final Four run is essentially but a pipe dream. Unless Chris Jones were to undergo an immediate game-transforming character transplant and morphed into a combination of Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier. Which, at this juncture, appears far from likely.
So, to invoke one of my least favorite aphorisms currently favored in the vernacular, “It is what it is.”
The Cardinals have proven yet again to be a better than average, perhaps much better than average, college basketball team. But one, whose flaws, like an especially nasty bacterial infection, are going to need several courses of antibiotics to be thwarted. By which time, ladies shall be wearing hats the size of beach umbrellas, while escorted to the Downs by fellows in bowlers, lime green blazers and mauve bow ties.
Which is to say, by that time, “One Shining Moment” will be a faint memory, trumped by the trumpeted call to the post.
Of course, Louisville can steady up and make a post season run.
But, uh, well . . . I dunno.
* * * * *
At the game’s second media timeout, the one during which local icon Russ Smith advised the adoring assembled he was late because he’d been “caught in traffic,” U of L led 19-14, and had connected on 8 of its first 13 FG attempts.
Wayne Blackshear, back from his hip pointer injury and playing with extra padding, not to mention serious panache, already had 11 points on 4/5 shooting. Two long balls. An old fashion +1. Plus an innervating drive and slam.
Blackshear only had to opportunity for five more field goal attempts the rest of the afternoon. Being en fuego, he hit three of them, to end up 7/10, with 19 points.
I’m going to name names here.
The fault for that can be laid at the feet of 1) Rick Pitino, who had his players continually run sets to free up Chris Jones and Terry Rozier on the strong side, with picks, double picks, reverse picks, while Blackshear was positioned, usually open, on the weak side, where he looked like the only kid in the fourth grade class who didn’t get a Valentine from his peers; and 2) the aforementioned Jones and Rozier, who apparently aren’t aware of the adage, “Get the ball to the guy with the hot hand.”
The Cards attempted 61 shots. Twenty seven of those, 44%, were taken by, yes, CJ and TR.
After that 8/13 start, Louisville hit only 12 of its last 48 attempts. Uh, 25%. During one first half interlude, the Cards missed 13 field goals in a row.
Obviously, Pitino, Jones and Rozier weren’t the only culprits. But it is their responsibility to get the offense in motion. Yesterday, that triumvirate failed. Miserably.
* * * * *
Six minutes and 48 seconds into the game, Mark Gottfried was forced to call a timeout to save a possession. His ballhandler was trapped by two Cardinals, the sideline and the midcourt stripe.
After the break, State converted, on a Ralston Turner jumper.
Louisville’s defense rarely bothered the Wolfpack the rest of the day. The Cards forced but 3 turnovers before the intermission, and only 5 afterward. State easily beat the Cards down court for easy hoops, doubling up the home team on points in the paint. State 32, U of L 16.
State also made Louisville’s weakside D look like a sham. Which wasn’t difficult, because it was only on the rarest of occasions that the Cardinals displayed any semblance of a weakside defense.
The Wolfpack guards drove the lane as if holes were being opened by the Patriots offensive line. And there was always a State big ready to take the dish and, unencumbered by any nettlesome defense, lay the ball in the hoop.
State dominated the boards, 47-37.
* * * * *
Ken Pomeroy’s computers say the Cards are still the 12th best team in the land. But the slippage is increasing by the week.
This was the proverbial Bad Loss.
Not so much that it was an L at home to a squad that, even after its win yesterday, stands 15-11 with a losing ACC record.
More so, because Louisville’s weaknesses are becoming ever more apparent. And don’t seem to be abating.
At the end of that movie mentioned above, when Jerry (Jack Lemmon) revealed to his admirer, Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), that he was a man, the latter, an accepting sort, declared, “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Cards fans don’t expect perfect. They would like improvement.
* * * * *
Next: A trip to Syracuse, where it’s balmier than here, to play an Orange team, coming off a loss to Duke, and thirsting for Ws, with nowhere to go after the regular season.
If the Cards don’t get with it, they’re going to receive a very late, and unwanted, Christmas gift.
— Seedy K