Rick Pitino was honored for 400 wins on the Belknap Campus.
And the Cardinals, dressed sharp in clean white t-shirt top unis, overcame turnoveritis on their first three possessions, looked flaccid while falling behind 11-14, then outscored EKU 31-2 and held the visitors scoreless for 9:18 to take charge at 42-16, blocked 14 Colonels’ shot attempts (not a record) and cruised to a 87-56 romp in the last scrimmage before . . .
. . . The Mother of All Gauntlets.
When midnight strikes on January 4, U of L fans and hoopaholics nationwide will have a good idea of how good or not this edition of the Cards are/ could/ might be.
Between now and then this gang of Louisville hoopsters will venture where none of their predecessors have gone. It shall be an adventure like no other.
Never before in the storied history of University of Louisville basketball has a Cardinal contingent in the regular season played four Top 25 teams in a row.
Dead ahead for the #7 (KenPom) Cards are Kentucky (10-1, #4), Virginia (9-1, #3), Indiana (8-2, #16) and Notre Dame (9-2, #23).
While the Cardinals were prepping for this Murderers’ Row with a couple walkovers, the Cats beat Carolina in an instant CBS Classic, IU lost a toughie to Butler (with Delaware State, Austin Peay and Nebraska yet to come before the Cards on NY Eve) and Notre Dame fell to Purdue (with Colgate, St. Peters and Pitt on the schedule before Louisville visits South Bend).
The last time (only time?) U of L played four such highly ranked schools in a row was the 2012 Dance, when they bested #21 New Mexico, #5 Michigan State and #25 Florida before falling to #1 UK in the national semis. The Cardinals played three Top 25 squads in succession during the 2013-14 regular campaign, falling to #21 Memphis State, then besting #18 SMU and #19 UConn.
Which is to say that this year’s version of the Cardinals — with answers to oh so many questions still blowing in the wind –is facing the most daunting task of any U of L team ever in the regular season.
I’m not sure if anybody — including The Rick — knows if these Cards are up to the task?
Passengers, please make sure your bags are secure in the overhead bins and fasten your seat belts. Cardinal fans, there’s seriously stormy weather dead ahead.
* * * * *
I for one am frankly not sure what to expect?
If U of L beats arch rival Kentucky, I’ll be gobsmacked. But very very very very happy.
UVa, IU and Notre Dame are all winnable encounters. But strange things happen in South Bend, the Hoosiers game is in Indy, and UVa’s D makes it really hard to score, a problem already for U of L, which is offensively bereft in the frontcourt.
I’d take 2-2 right now, then dive off the high board with eyes closed into the dangerous waters that are the ACC schedule.
* * * * *
Did we learn anything in the 31 point W over EKU?
Uh, not much. A bit, maybe.
Donovan Mitchell, who started to go for it in the last ten minutes of the Texas Southern game (Thanks to my man, Doc, for that observation) continued to do so in the Minardi.
Tony Hicks continues to steady, and now appears to be the first guard off the bench. Especially important with the Cats coming up, since TH is the only backcourt guy who might be quick enough to try to stay with Fox and Monk.
Quentin Snider shot it well (5/7 FGs, 3/5 3s), dished 6 assists and only turned it over once.
The Cards FT shooting continues to improve. They hit 17of 21 Saturday afternoon, and are now approaching the 70% mark for the season at .689.
Louisville has shown the facility to block shots. Fourteen were smacked away against Eastern. It’s a double edged sword though, for it indicates a lot of penetration by Cardinal foes.
Louisville did seem to move the ball with more fluidity. Mangok Mathiang actually tossed an inside out to for Q for a trey. Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud display an affinity for feeding each other.
Then again, we’re talking Salukis, Texas Southern and Eastern Kentucky, not the Wildcats, Cavaliers, Hoosiers or Fighting Irish.
Louisville remains vulnerable to the corner three. If Malik Monk strokes it Wednesday like he did against the Tar Heels (47 points, 8/12 from Treyville), it’ll be all those blue clad Yum! interlopers vamping during Dance Cam.
Against Eastern Kentucky, 63 of U of L’s 87 points were tallied by the 1, 2 and 3 spots. Consistent scoring by the Bigs has yet to show up.
Mango grabbed 13 rebounds (10 in the first 16 minutes) but scored nary a point.
* * * * *
So, choose your aphorism for the next few weeks.
It’s fish or cut bait time.
This is where the rubber meets the road.
It’s time to Git ‘Er Done.
What I do know is this. The pastry dish of early season patsies has been consumed.
Those Cats are comin’ to town this week, fresh off an impressive scintillating win over the Tar Heels.
And that’s only Act I.
— Seedy K