In the wake of U of L’s loss, 66-71, to the Fighting Irish in South Bend, it becomes even more fascinating that the ’86 national champions shall be feted next Saturday, when villainous Grayson Allen and his fellow Blue Lucifers come to the Yum!.
There is way more than a peripheral symmetry to the whole situation.
That title was won against the azure Princes of Darkness from Durham. This year’s squad, as we all too well know, won’t be competing for a crown at all.
Louisville’s second title winners started that quest with a 20 point W over Drexel. That Philly school whose mascot is Mario the Magnificent was famously referred to as “one of them academic schools” by star guard Milt Wagner. Who should know, since he was from Camden, just 11 miles across the state line in Jersey.
And, the Cards’ leading scorer this season is Damion Lee, a done&one from, yes, that “academic school,” which apparently doesn’t have a graduate program in Lee’s specific discipline, requiring him to transfer to U of L for his post-grad work.
Plus, as trivia-obsessed hoopaholics should recall, that ’86 tourney featured one of the great upsets in the history of the Dance. In the opening round, Bobby Knight’s IU Hoosiers were upended 83-79 by unheralded Cleveland State, which was coached by a fellow named Kevin Mackey, later busted while exiting a crack house with his mistress.
The coach-designated “leader” of this year’s Cardinal squad from his first day on campus, Trey Lewis, is another done&one from — all together now — Cleveland State.
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It is impossible to discuss yesterday’s defeat, the second consecutive one in a now unraveling season, without going to the post game first.
There is an obvious crack in the foundation. The stress fissures are showing.
While he has been exceptionally magnanimous and complimentary about this inexperienced band of Cardinals, The Rick has too often been prone in previous seasons to ingratiously criticize players in the press. Thus it would be disingenuous not to call out Trey Lewis for his not so veiled barbs in the aftermath of yesterday’s defeat.
“It’s hard to play with a leash. That’s tough. You’re constantly looking over your shoulder, wondering if you’re going to be taken out.”
He mentioned ” . . . playing under shackles” and “not being able to play my full game.”
Lewis did not own, or even mention, how, with the Cards up 63-62, he dribbled way too long, as his his wont, then, as is his wont, drove without purpose into the paint, where his shot was blocked. Notre Dame got a runout after that botched possession, hit a three and never looked back.
Nor did Lee own, or even mention, how, moments later, he threw an awful pass on a breakaway at midcourt to Donovan Mitchell, which errant toss ND secured.1
So, what I guess I’m saying, is that it might have been nice if Lewis, who had a +/- of negative 5 for the game, who had the worst rating of Pitino’s MVP stats at -13, had displayed leadership, and not vented about his PT in the aftermath.
Lee, to his credit, took the loss like a man.
Even though he, yet again, failed to perform in a big game. After going 3/5 in the first half, 3/4 from long range, he was 1/8 after intermission. Five of those attempts were treys, most ill-advised too early in the shot clock, when, instead of stopping and popping and going for the Sportscenter highlight spectacular, he should have driven to the hoop, trying to force an old school three.
Let me be clear. I am NOT blaming the loss on Lewis and Lee. It was a team defeat.
What I am saying is this. They are both good to slightly better than average players. Mid major players. Nothing more. While their presence was a necessity, and they have contributed to the success of this year’s team, such as it is, they would not have led the Cards to a national crown.
They are chronologically mature. But their games have flaws, which have become more manifest, once the schedule got serious.
Fifth year senior transfers are a logical way to fill in a tangential need for a team. But you should not expect them to come in and lead a school on a deep NCAA run. Especially toiling for a coach like Rick Pitino, who feels kids need several seasons under his tutelage to play the game the way he desires.
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As for yesterday game, it was one of those Charles Dickens deals.
There was the best of halves, the first, which was, literally, all things considered — ACC road game, in South Bend where the greatest of teams have gone down in defeat — U of L’s finest 20 minutes of the year.
Louisville started fast, scoring on four of its first five possessions. They kept the Irish measured. The performance was punctuated by a Matz Stockman block and runout slam at the buzzer for a seven point lead.
The Cards started fast again after the break, with a Quentin Snider trey on a nifty inside/out feed from Chinanu Onuaku, then two Q’ FTs.
U of L’s lead blossomed to 11 at 53-42 . . . then slowly but inexorably it was whittled away by the home team.
Louisville gave up the left baseline time and again. The Irish, especially baby-faced Steve Vasturia, said thank you very much and took advantage, scoring 20 second half points in the paint, double their first half total.
After committing just a single turnover in the opening stanza, against 8 assists, the Cards coughed it up 6 times after the break, garnering only three assists.
From the best of halves to the least.
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Before you start calling me Seedy Sourpuss, allow me to mention the positives.
While they were far from perfect, Mitchell, Q, Ray Spalding and, yes, Matz Stockman all showed flashes of a bright future.
Q’s hand is most always going to be steady at the helm. Mitchell, though he still makes mistakes and needs to improve his ball handling, proved again he’s not afraid of the big stage. He goes for it. Spalding played meaner than he has before, leading U of L in rebounding. Stockman in easily the steadiest and most confident outing of his career tallied six and grabbed three rebounds in 8 minutes of action.
Louisville was 12/14 at the line, blocked 8 shots and had 7 steals.
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Blowing that 11 point advantage certainly tops the list. Until Lee netted a 2d chance trey with seconds to play and the game out of reach, the Cards had gone 6:36 without scoring.
The significantly taller Cardinals were outboarded by 11, 29-40.
Nanu was yet again in foul trouble.
Jaylen Johnson yet again missed several point blank shots, going up unfathomably soft.
Deng Adel’s lack of PT.
Trey Lewis’s postgame petulance.
— Seedy K