Exasperation has replaced expectation.
After a national title, two journeys to the Final Four, the best W/L % in the land over a three season span, such success becomes a birthright. Or so many Cardinal loyalists have come to believe.
Every loss brings furrowed brow, hand wringing, acid reflux consternation. A fender bender turns into a 90 care pileup at Spaghetti Junction.
After Louisville’s loss to Duke Saturday, and its attendant continuation of woeful shooting, the naysaying has ratcheted up. The gym’s on fire. Every fan, the perceptive ones as well as those who haven’t a clue, but love the Cards, has a suggestion how to “turn things around.”
I, a long time acolyte, am not immune. But, before I get in touch with my own inner Coach Cal Tweak Mode, weighing in with my $3000 annual “voluntary donation” to the U of L Athletic fund’s worth, and come up with some suggestions for improvement and greater success, a look at where the Cards are now.
Which is, looking at it with as much objectivity as possible, not so awfully bad.
15 wins. 3 losses.
The Ls have been to Kentucky, North Carolina in Chapel Hill and Duke. All of which are Top 10 in the three polls I trust. Which are Jeff Sagarin’s and Ken Pomeroy’s computer modules and the astute eyeball rankings of cbssports.com’s Gary Parrish, which he updates daily.
Louisville also has three Top 50 Ws. Ohio State. Indiana. Minnesota.1
Pomeroy has Louisville ranked 11th overall, with the 4th most efficient defense and — yeah, here it comes — the #77 offense. As if you needed to hear the actual rank to know how hard it’s been for Louisville to find the twine lately.
The Cards hold down the #10 spot overall in Sagarin’s ratings. Parrish dropped them only to #14 after Saturday’s setback.
So, before I join the fray of dialog, offering suggestions for changes The Rick could care less to hear, let me reiterate what I’ve pontificated previously.
The. Sky. Is. Not. Falling. Neither the world, nor the season, is coming to an end. (Though be sure to check your bank account daily to make sure the North Koreans haven’t confiscated your net worth.)
Still ahead during Louisville’s ongoing inaugural foray through the ACC are two games with Virginia, a visit from the Tar Heels, the Wolfpack and the Fighting Irish, and a home & home with Miami’s feisty Hurricanes. Meaning there are three Top 10 games left, plus four more against current Top 50 foes.
Plus formidable road tests at Syracuse, BC, Pitt, etc, etc.
The. Season. Is. Far. From. Over.
Which is to say, put away that indelible Sharpie, it’s way too early to label this squad, assign it to the trash bin or plan a trip to Branson during March.
There are 520 minutes of hoops left to be played in the regular season. Plus added time, depending on how many OTs are required against Notre Dame.
* * * * *
I ran into Lancaster Gordon yesterday at Paul’s Market.
The former Cardinal is always willing, anxious even, to talk about U of L b-ball.
When the subject of Montrezl Harrell came up, and how he’s tried to expand his game, I offered that his goal should be to become Dennis Rodman or Kenneth Faried.
Caster rebutted, “Faried lite, maybe. Rodman, yes.”
I am concerned not only that Not So Silent L has been trying to make his game something it isn’t, and cannot be, but that his attitude might hurt the team, despite his obvious will to win.
Because of the absolutely ridiculous Player of Year talk, a sense of entitlement seems to have settled in, his delusion that he deserves the ball as the centerpiece of the offense.
Harrell’s best game is one peripheral to the flow of the offense. Hitting the boards. Follow shots. Running the baseline for feeds when they are there. Setting screens for the pick and roll. Moving the ball to others cutting to an open space.
He may eventually become a legit jump shooting threat, but that’s years down the road.
Doc, a loyal reader, suggests moving Trez to the 5, which could have a couple benefits. It would force him to stay low most of the time. And it would provide another spot on the court for a potential offensive threat, most likely Anton Gill or Shaqquan Aaron.
Rebounding might suffer a bit with a shorter lineup, but, my guess is that Terry Rozier could rotate underneath when a shot goes up, and the others could protect against a run out.
* * * * *
Passing and placement.
Even against zones, which U of L is going to face from here on out, more movement is required. And crisper passing. And a certainty that guys will be in certain spots.
Take for example, Virginia, which plays a beautiful game. Tony Bennett’s guys are always where they’re supposed to be. If a player gets trapped, he can throw a no look pass to a spot, knowing there will be a Cavalier there to catch it.
The Wahoos get the ball where they can score.
Loyal reader, long time fan, and a fellow ever willing to opine, cbcard, sent me a printout this morning, which shows that Louisville has shot less than 25% from beyond the arc eight times already this year.
True. But U of L won 6 of those games.
Which is to offer that a team can succeed, even in today’s game, without relying on the threeball. But it must get the ball to players in spots where they can be successful, either within their range or where they can get fouled and get to the line.
I’d also suggest allowing Gill or Aaron or even Levitch more PT, on the possibility that, if they don’t have to look over their shoulder at being pulled for every single miscue, they might settle in and become long ball threats.
He’s never going to be Peyton Siva. Or Russ Smith, for that matter.
But, he’s on his way to becoming an effective PG. I’m willing to consider the less than stellar effort against Duke as a throwaway. He seems willing to learn now from his mistakes.
* * * * *
The aforementioned Gary Parrish made an interesting observation about the genius of Mike Krzyewski, after watching Duke win in the Yum!.2
Duke really hardly ever plays zone, and works on it only minimally for spot situations at practice, pre-season or in-season.
Yet, two days before the Louisville game, K realized the Blue Devils needed to play it, in order to have the best chance to win. So, he adapted to the situation.
Question: In this week between the Duke L and next Sunday’s trip to Pitt, is The Rick willing to take a look at his whole scheme? To make significant changes, essentially on offense and with substitutions, if he and his staff think it will give the Cards their best chance to succeed? Or, to take that critical self examination, and decide to stay the course?
Frankly, I can’t wait to see how this Cardinal campaign plays out.
What I know for certain is this. Despite three losses, and woeful shooting, U of L remains a legit Top 20 squad, one that’s not come close to reaching its potential.
— Seedy K