Louisville Card File: North Carolina

joaniecardRepeat after me, University of Louisville Cardinal Fans, that’s right all of you, repeat after me.

The sky is not falling.

You can do better. Again.

The. Sky. Is. Not. Falling.

Okay, then. Yes, U of L could have beaten, should have beaten the Tar Heels. If Mango just hadn’t dribbled it off his foot out of bounds, if Wayne had “finally made a big shot” and canned that three, it they’d have cut off Paige’s lane to the hoop on the winning basket, if they’d have given up just one or two less offensive boards, if they’d gotten any points whatsoever off the bench, if they could have held on to a 13 point lead for 8:43, if, if . . .

All conceivable. But, trying to move beyond my default fatalism, I provide some perspective.

In only its third ACC game ever, second on the road, against a legit Top 25 team (#10 in Ken Pomeroy’s respected computer rankings), against a storied program with a Hall of Fame coach on its home court, giving up 17 offensive rebounds and 17 second chance points, being outscored in bench points 0-20, the Cards fell by but a single digit after a legit All-American candidate made a wonder shot high off the glass.

Perspective. The Cardinals have won 14 games, including Ws over Top 20 Ohio State, and oncoming Indiana. Their losses have been to unanimous #1 Kentucky, and #10 Carolina on the road.

Perspective. Last season, one savored by the Red & Black Faithful, a 31 victory campaign, Louisville lost six times, five to Top 25 teams1 and once to UK, unranked, in the tourney when they were playing Top 5 caliber basketball. In the ’12-’13 national championship campaign, the Cards lost three straight in January, to Syracuse at home, Villanova and Georgetown on the road. And a few weeks later, in five OTs, to Notre Dame in South Bend.


The. Sky. Is. Not. Falling.

* * * * *

All that said, of course I was bummed.

Winning is always more fun than losing.

But, I keep coming back to the reality that this Cardinal team is more flawed, i.e. not as good as the last three editions, which won more games in that era than any other school in the land. That the Cards have had a mighty run, and there’s a yin and yang to this whole thing.

Here’s the Cards so far this campaign: Not a lot of offense from the middle. Almost no offense . . . yet . . . off the bench. An offense that, compared to that of other well regarded teams, seems stagnant, somewhat simplistic and under developed.

A solid defense still ranked third best in the land that compensates for the deficiencies mentioned in the previous paragraph. The best starting guard combination in the country, two guys capable of taking over a game.

And . . . upside.

* * * * *

I’ve got a theory about the newcomers, a rookie class I believe is a great foundation for the future.

I believe they’re still cowed by The Rick’s Drill Sargent method of assimilation to the “Cardinal Way.” So, playing tentative, playing to avoid mistakes instead of to conquer, when they get in the game at all, they make mistakes, get pulled and their fears are reinforced. You can call Rick Pitino many things, a nurturer is not one.

Once the freshman realize the coach’s methods, their contributions shall be manifest.

Example. Chinanu Onuaku had an awful start to yesterday’s game. He gave up a jumper from the key on Carolina’s first possession. Then threw the ball away. Then allowed a Tar Hell tally from the paint. Then was beaten for a back door slam. All in the first few minutes.

The Rick, as is his wont, pulled him. The kid didn’t pout and got after it when he returned.

And, even with all the offensive boards he and his mates gave up, Nanu played his best game in weeks, or perhaps, ever. Eight points. Eight rebounds. Two blocks. Two steals.

The next guy to make a leap should be Shaqquan Aaron. As spindly as he is — and will remain until Ray Ganong and the Cards’ nutritionist get a hold of him before his sophomore season — it appears he has the capability to become a 5-10 ppg guy the remainder of this year.

* * * * *

Rick Pitino has talked about how the upperclassmen know how to win on the big stage, and that the newcomers don’t.

The Truth: Only Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell were part of the championship season. Trez, then a freshman, was essentially there for the dunking highlights, playing but 16 minutes a game, averaging 5.7 ppg and 3.6 rpg.

This is only the second year at the Yum! for Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, the centerpieces of this Cardinal squad.


* * * * *

I haven’t the slightest inclination to go over key moments in the game.

Too painful.

I’ll repeat. The Cards could have won, perhaps should have won, but didn’t. Next.

Okay, I’ll say this one thing. The Cardinals’ late meltdown could have been fatigue, and a resulting slight loss of edge. The starters were on the court for 170 of possible 200 minutes. Superb conditioning only goes so far, when the teams you’re playing are also in great shape.

Seems to me, the subs need to be given a chance to perform. Maybe The Rick needs to loosen his leash just a bit, giving up a defensive lapse here and there for more  PT and the possibility for quantum improvement. One guy’s opinion.

One interesting aspect of the game, to me anyway, was that only 25 fouls were called. Each team was 9/11 at the line, remarkably small numbers, given the fast pace of the contest.

* * * * *

Next up: Hokey Pokey. Buzz Williams and rebuilding Virginia Tech.

— Seedy K

11 thoughts on “Louisville Card File: North Carolina

  1. This isn’t a criticism, just an observation, because, in the end, his style seems to pay dividends, but it seems to me that Pitino has always been prone to over coaching, and that with the young guys he might do well to let them play through the rough spots.

  2. I think teams lose big leads because they start playing not to lose instead of playing to win. They stop attacking. And that’s what happened yesterday. That said, it’s tough to win on the road. No, the sky isn;t falling and they played a lot better than the Clemson game. We are just really lacking at the 5 and it hurts the whole team. Teams are going to zone us. If we don’t have a five to take the pass and find the open man or go to the basket, we will continue to struggle. David Padgett is not walking through that door. Nor is Georgui, nor is SVT.. Problem is once we develop a replacement for those guys, Trez will be gone and I don’t see anyone whose going to replace him. And so it goes. In 2013, we had just about the perfect team in terms of complimenting talents and chemistry. We don’t have that right now.

  3. I agree with Chuck that the sky is not falling. Before the game I would have said a one point loss would be more than a moral victory. But, let’s be honest. As I am sure my former son in law, a Cardinal fan to rival Seedy and CBCard, said, the Cards “shit the bed.” At the Crescent Hill Golf Club where I spent most of my first twenty years we would have said that a guy who was four up with five to go and lost five straight “spit the bit.” The Cards did both. There is no way they should have lost that game after the second half start. Unfortunately Blackshear simply spits it out every chance he has to do what we thought he would do when recruited and how a Hall of Fame Coach winds up with a bench that scores no points is hard to fathom. Also, where was Gill. Why didn’t he play. Every now and then he makes a shot.

  4. The sky is not falling here, it’s falling in Lexington. 🙂

    Just kidding, but I’m sure that’s what the Go Big Blues think when they don’t blow a team out by 25.

    I wasn’t as frustrated by the offensive misses but the needless turnovers. I thought the guards were superb, there were just mental and defensive lapses in those last 9 minutes.

    They do need a consistent 6th man. Is David Padgett working with the freshman bigs?

  5. I am, frankly, appalled when it is said that “Blackshear spit the bit,” because he missed a last second deep corner three. That is not choking. He simply isn’t as good as Cardinal fans hoped and expected him to be. He’s a contributor to the team, if not the star we wanted.

    David Padgett does work with the bigs. Unfortunately, they don’t get enough time on the court to play through their inexperience.

    Gill = Blackshear – – . He plays the three and it appears The Rick is going to give Aaron those minutes.

    It will be interesting to see what happens with Trez. I assume there’s 99% chance he jumps after this season. Then again, as his flaws are revealed, his draft stock will go down, and maybe he realizes he needs another year of seasoning. Doubt it, but it’s possible. His play against North Carolina disappointed me more than any other player.

    Beyond the disappointment, Louisville didn’t play poorly yesterday. Just couldn’t close.

  6. the last thing I want to do is appall you! The team collectively spit the bit and Blackshear is included. Meanwhile if you guys want to root for a team that does not spit the bit, go to the girls games. They were 12 down at Wake at the half today and won by 11. That is called grabbing the bit and running with it.

  7. Anybody still want to trade Chris J for another Wayne B? Didn’t think so….

    CJ and TR are the foundation of this team. Trez can join them if he decides to play inside out instead of outside in….and developes his left hand, at least a little…

    Good news was that Nanu finally showed something. First time in over a month. Get a little something from him and QQ…watch out.

  8. Methinks Hoya Destroya misunderstood me. A 5 Seed translates to being one of the Top 20 teams in the country. The top 20 teams are all good teams. Elite is a little trickier, but, given that there are, what, 200-300 DI schools, calling the top 20 or 25 teams elite is legit. Just because the Cards aren’t as good as I would like, just because they have flaws, doesn’t mean I think they aren’t a good team. Or, even, elite.

  9. A consistant 6th man would be nice but first we need a consistant five. Not only do we never know who will contribute, we never know who’s going to play. And don’t blame Blackshear. He missed a shot. He didn’t lose the game.

  10. This was a delightful game to watch. ACC conference play will be brutal and fabulous to watch.

    Two comments on color: 1.] I love the shade of Carolina blue, it’s definitely easy on the eyes; and 2.] that was an exceptionally white crowd [I’m a white guy, can I say that?], reminded me of a Republican national convention.

    It seems to me that the Cards need to finish 3rd or better in the ACC. I think it’s possible. Third place behind Virginia and Duke seems about right. If the Cards can stay healthy, finagle a No. 3 seed in the NCAA tourney and avoid Kentucky’s part of the bracket, all will be fine. I think a four or five seed in the tourney could be a problem for this team.

    You don’t have to be “elite” to win a national championship. See Connecticut, 2014. Just good enough and lucky. The Cards are beginning to look good enough to me.

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