Louisville CardFile: North Carolina

Now that’s a setback.

As gritty as this Cardinal team has been playing in recent weeks, it is difficult nigh impossible to beat legitimate national contenders on their home court in the last week of February.

The Tar Heels, many of whom were significant contributors on last year’s NCAA runner up, are nothing if not a legit contenda for the crown.

So a victory last night would have indeed been an upset of consequence.

But, after savoring Syracuse’s delicious victory over Duke on last night’s undercard, I became oddly hopeful. The only ACC team to beat the Orange at home is Louisville. Not only did the Blue Devils fall in the Dome, but so too Florida State, Miami, Virginia along with a few other league wannabes.

So, even though U of L has been winning more with grit and determination lately than excellent play, there were reasons to believe the Cardinals would perform well in Chapel Hill.

But, they didn’t.

And now have lost 10 in a row to ranked foes on the road. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: North Carolina

Louisville CardFile: Virginia Tech

After a quick five zero Cardinal run to push U of L’s advantage to a unusually precarious 77-70, college hoops shivztingest coach Buzz Williams called timeout with 7:41 of destined to be harrowing time left.

During the stoppage, local weathercaster Kevin Harned came on the video board to announce tomorrow’s Fahrenheit. On the the 19th day of what is traditionally Mother Nature’s coldest, nastiest time of the year — February, the cruelest month — it’s forecasted to be 70 degrees in Derby City.

Which, since there’s no such thing as global warming, is plenty damn dumbfounding.

But not as wacky as this berserk reality. At that juncture of the who wants it more battle, the visitors were exceeding that 70 standard with their shooting behind the arc.

They had hit 15/21 long balls. 71%. Gimme a break.

The Hokies ended up 17/26 from beyond the arc. Still an absurd 65%. Of those, 11 were wide open, uncontested attempts. But only two of those came after intermission, meaning the Cards started sticking closer. VT still made 8/12 while being mostly closely guarded in the second.

This marksmanship was produced against the homestanding University of Louisville Cardinals, which coming into the game were 3d in the land in Three Point FG % D. No more. (U of L also was #1 before the game in D efficiency, according to hoops guru Ken Pomeroy. By sundown, after giving up all those long balls, 59% shooting overall and 90 points, Louisville’s rank fell to #5.)

Yet, the Cards prevailed, posting 94, their third largest output of the campaign.

 * * * * *

And how did that victory happen, you might ask? Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Virginia Tech

Louisville CardFile: Syracuse

It is mid February. There are but a handful of conference games left before league tourneys, then the Big Dance.

It is time when legit contenders start to show their steel, when those with true mettle reveal themselves.

Like, for instance, Kansas, which put its grapefruits on display last evening, with an amazing last minutes comeback against West Virginia.

So too, arguably, the Louisville Cardinals, who overcame some serious gaffes, who overcame some most often fatal lapses of fortitude, to survive, summoning a huge league W on the road against Jim Boeheim’s Syracuse Orange.

The Cards prevailed despite the disqualification of their best baller Donovan Mitchell, with the game still in the balance.

The Cards prevailed despite woeful 16/30 inaccuracy at the free throw line.

The Cards prevailed despite committing more turnovers (15) than assists harvested (13).

The Cards prevailed despite blowing a 14 point lead (28-14) in the first half, giving up a 1-11 run before intermission.

The Cards prevailed despite blowing a 7 point lead (55-48) with 2:02 to play in regulation.

The Cards prevailed despite falling behind twice early in OT, then forging ahead by 7 (73-66) with :34 to play in extra time, then giving away all but two points of that advantage with an Orange player at the line for two shots with :02.7 on the clock.

The Cards prevailed despite an absolutely ridiculous foul by the team’s most mature player on a ‘Cuse trey attempt with :13.4 to go in OT.

The Cards prevailed despite what could have been a fatal turnover by its normally rock steady PG with a few ticks more than a minute to go in regulation.

The Cards prevailed despite some gagging late at the FT line, and despite some seriously misguided shot attempts at crunch time.

The Cards prevailed despite the Syracuse zone which pushed U of L’s offense toward mid court the whole evening, and prevented passes to any Cardinals who might be cutting to the hoop when there was penetration.

The Cards prevailed despite the no quit effort by a Syracuse team that really really really needed the W to hope to be handed a Dance card.

The Cards prevailed.

76-72. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Syracuse

Louisville CardFile: Miami

Sometimes one Boom! isn’t enough.

Sometimes it takes a second one, or at least an aftershock or two to overcome more than a bit bumblin’ and stumblin’.

And, Oh My! (Homage to Dick Enberg), did the Cards need some Sly Stone Boom shaka-laka-laka Boom shaka-laka-laka to overcome Jim Larranga’s well-coached Hurricanes by 5 Saturday afternoon, 71-66.

Once down by 14 midway through the opening stanza, the Cards had clawed back to within a digit at 43-44, but wasted two opportunities to take the lead.

Two Anthony Lane FTs out of the media timeout with 7:24 to play pushed the visitors lead back up to 5 at 48-53.

Cue the Heavy Metal Thunder. (A “Seven Nation Army” wouldn’t have been enough.) Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Miami

Louisville CardFile: Virginia

Hall of Fame coach that he legitimately is, Rick Pitino still has smudges on his basketball resumé.

Not the least of which is that but for an improbable, what’s-he-doing-taking-the-shot, dying seconds jumper in the final regular season tilt of ’15 by Mangok Mathiang of all people, RP would be ofer UVa.

After last night’s second half fade away, The Rick and the Cardinals are 1-5 against the Cavaliers since joining the ACC. So, it’s fair to say that even if the Cards had been at full strength, a victory in Charlottesville last evening would have been worthy of inclusion at the Guinness House of Curiosities.

Heck, simply scoring in the 50s against the Wahoos is an accomplishment.

Last night, the Cardinals did that. But, after eerily forging ahead 32-25 on a V.J. King J with 3:04 to go in the first, U of L was doubled up by Virginia the rest of the way, 23-46.

The Cards were similarly unimpressive on the boards, losing that battle by a 1-2 margin, 19-38. The Cards grabbed but six rebounds after intermission.

It wasn’t a pretty sight. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Virginia

Louisville CardFile: Boston College

Panache (puh-nash): a grand or flamboyant manner; verve; style; flair.

It is a noun rarely used in the sports vernacular, more usually found when some fashion guru with a purple pen is describing the John Varvatos spring men’s clothing collection.

But, ever the rebel, with a mind still a bit hazy from overdoing it in the 70s, I won’t back down. Since it’s the word that came to mind as Mangok Mathiang displayed any number of moves around the hoop in a cruise control 90-67 U of L W on Saturday afternoon in Chestnut Hill.

Jump hook. Up and under. Fake right, go left. Vice versa.

Mangok Mathiang, Silent K, a guy a pundit recently called “a solid third string pivot” — OK, it was me. A center of which it was stated, “he’ll never be a force of consequence on offense.” Yeah, that was also c’est moi.

So, excuse me a second while I take another drink of water to wash down my words and some gristle of crow.

Like a butterfly from a coccoon, Silent K is morphing into Special K.

Which is probably a bit too much hyperbole. But, really now, who saw this offensive, uh, panache coming? Certainly not me.

In 24 minutes of action off the pine, MM canned 7 of 11 shots from the field and both of his FTs for 16 points. Yes it came against Boston College, an eminently mediocre squad with little inside presence . . . but still.

Those shots that he’s short-armed throughout his career are now caressing the board and netting.

And he’s still windexing that glass and playing steady D.

It’s February kids, in the wackiest college hoops season in memory, and another piece of the Cardinal puzzle has apparently found its spot. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Boston College

Louisville CardFile: NC State

There are ever so many things that Rick Pitino does as a mentor that are as good or better than any other member of the coaching fraternity. There are valid reasons other than his sartorial splendor that he’s in the Hall of Fame.

Arguably his best attribute is what he’s been able to do through the years when he’s got enough time to prepare, and the foe has one player who is clearly the team’s star and go to guy and needs to be disenfranchised.

The Rick can fashion a game plan that takes that baller out of his game, out of the ballgame and turns him into a non-factor.

The latest example is State’s Dennis Smith Jr., the best frosh point guard in the land not named Lonzo Ball, Markelle Fultz, or De’Aaron Fox. “A sure first rounder” is what the NBA Draft wags say.

Well, thanks to another boffo game plan and execution, Jr. never got untracked against the Cardinals Sunday afternoon. Hell, he hardly had room to breathe. At the half, his team already down a dozen on its way to a 25 point shellacking, he had but four points on 2/8 shooting.

He had only 6 when the Cards were up 30 at 76-46.

He finished with 8, 11 under his average, on 3/12 shooting. His 6 assists were wiped out by 5 turnovers.

The Cards’ game plan was perfecto. Jr. needed an extra long shower after the loss just to wash off all the Cardinals’ defense.  Continue reading Louisville CardFile: NC State

Louisville CardFile: Pittsburgh

Well alrighty then, riddle me that one, Batman?

I mean, really, what is there to say?

Yes, Pitt is a broken team, despite — or because of — the fact that it starts four seniors, one of which is the league’s leading scorer who lit up the Cards for 43 last time out. Yes, the Panthers have a new coach and, given his post game comments, are bristling under his command. (Wonder if Kevin Stallings was muttering under his breath after he got the Double T Ejection, “Now I know why Jamie Dixon skipped Dodge for TCU.”

And, yes, U of L, as any legit squad would be, was ready, after having blown a big lead to hold on in the schools’ first encounter a few weeks back.

But . . . but . . . but still, how do you explain 106-51 in an ACC game on the road? Without your spark plug starting PG? Especially after the Haz Mat Squad has sifted through the carnage at the Peterson Events Center, you can interject a cliché that is absolutely appropriate:

The game wasn’t that close.

U of L tallied more points in the paint (52) than Pitt scored in toto. The Cards were up 50 with 12:42 left on the clock.

Geesh, a 55 point W on the road.

It doesn’t get more elegant than that.

Smooth. Bottle it up and call it Pappy Van Cardinal.  Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Pittsburgh

Louisville CardFile: Florida State

Again, as they did midweek against Clemson, the Cardinals fell into a sinkhole at tipoff, this time in Tallahassee against a legit Top Ten team that wasn’t going to fold in front of a rabid Florida State crowd getting itself in shape for Spring Football fervor.

Errant trey. Air ball. Missed layup. Turnover. Turnover.

Meanwhile the Seminoles, ready to carpe diem (“seize the day” for those of you who didn’t take Latin in high school), scored on each of its first six possessions, and did so by any means necessary.

2d chance follow shot. Free Throws. Threes. Deuces.

The Cards, playing a second game in a row without PG leader Quentin Snider, were down two TDs after two and a half minutes of action.

To its credit, the Louisville Cardinals, scrappy and resilient, never gave in.

Though their play was rickety at both ends of the court — inexplicable defensive lapses, rushed shots, a couple players MIA  — the Cards never wavered and kept coming.

But . . . they . . . could . . . never . . . get . . . over . . . the . . . hump. Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Florida State

Louisville CardFile: Clemson

Ever the contrarian, I must disagree with Rick Pitino, who was with one exception generous in his praise for the Cardinals after they broke Clemson just before halftime and continued the slaughter the final twenty, prevailing 92-60.

“The guys did a great job tonight in every phase of the game.”

“They were great on offense tonight. This is a very good defensive team. We shot 63 percent in the first half, 51 percent in the second. It was a great performance by our guys.”

When talking of Jaylen Johnson (12 points, 10 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 assists, one of which was U of L’s best skip pass of the year to Deng Adel in the weakside corner for a three), RP called the Cards huskiest big “relentless in his work ethic.”

But, then, referring to the double technical that sent JJ to the showers along with his Tiger adversary Elijah Thomas, Pitino offered that the Kid from Ypsilanti “sort of spoiled a really good night by stooping to a different level.”

And that’s where I must disagree with the Cardinal coach, while acknowledging as I must that he has two national crowns and hundreds and hundreds more Ws than I. I shall not allow that resumé disparity get in the way of offering a contrary take.  Continue reading Louisville CardFile: Clemson