Louisville CardFile: Michigan State

joaniecardThere are any number of reasons why last night’s frustrating but far from devastating 67-71 loss at Michigan State should be gratifying for Louisville fans.

And a harbinger of better moments to come.

As U of L had its way with five featherweights to open the campaign, there were signs that this edition of the Cardinals would be significantly better than the pundits predicted pre-season. But, since those tilts were in essence scrimmages, it was hard to tell how this still being assembled contingent would fare when the lights were brighter, when the opponents were legit.

How good can this promising Cardinal team be?

We now know.

Damn good.

Trading punches while giving no quarter to an acknowledged national contender with the leading national POY candidate on its home court reveals a lot. Flaws. Gaffes. Systemic failures. Heart. Guile. Potential.

Louisville fans now see how these guys can fare when it matters. Except in the case of Deng Adel, who is still hurt, and Ray Spalding, who was only given six minutes of opportunity on the court.

 * * * * *

I hate to lose. But a close, hard fought, winnable L to Sparty in East Lansing on the 2d of December is probably better than a win.

Historical perspective (You knew I was going to get there sooner or later): Early in the ’85-’86 season, a Cardinal team with similar question marks opened with a couple of easy wins in Freedom Hall, then headed to NYC for battles with #5 Kansas and #18 St. John’s. Both of which they lost.

After that team upended #1 Duke in Dallas for the national crown, coach Denny Crum was asked when he knew he had a possible national contender. He mentioned those early Cardinal losses to the Jayhawks and Johnnies.1

Which means, to skew a lyric, you don’t learn a thing if your foe ain’t got swing.

 * * * * *

The Cards were led, in scoring and minutes, by the two senior one and dones.

Damion Lee was on the court for a team leading 38 minutes, and tallied a team leading 23 points.

Trey Lewis was a smidge behind in both categories, with 36 minutes of hardwood time and 21 points.

But now Rick Pitino has legit evidence and game footage to show them where they need to improve.

Lee still forced several shots, a couple way too early in the possession, from way too far out on the court. Early after the break, he tallied a fastbreak two, then stole the ball, and drained 2 FTs. But, on the next possession, when the Cards had a runout with numbers, he stopped and fired a selfish, ill advised trey from West Lansing.

He turned it over four times and only grabbed 3 rebounds. During that flurry of treys Sparty successfully launched during the segment when State grabbed the game by the short and curlies, Lee was the main guy who didn’t get out to the corner as Denzel Valentine and (former Cleveland State teammate of Trey Lewis) Bryn Forbes staked their claim as Treyville’s leading citizens.

Lewis learned that at this level of competition, you can’t just dribble into the forest around the hoop, and make something happen like you could in the Horizon League. As the game got tighter and closer to conclusion, he fell prey to that habitual character trait.

The Rick now has suitable evidence to show this duo how the Cards system works best when the ball is moving among players, and they allow the game to come to them, instead of attempting to force their will.

 * * * * *

Chinanu Onuaku hopefully, finally has learned, what he should have already learned.

He needs to be on the floor. He needs to stop his stupid fouling. Duh.

U of L’s starting center only played ten minutes. Of his six boards on the night, he snared four in the game’s opening 3:33. A minute later, he was on the bench for the rest of the stanza in foul trouble.

Onuaku’s +/- was +10. The only Cardinal with a double figure positive. Again, in just ten minutes of play.

To repeat, he needs to play smarter, and stay on the court.

 * * * * *

There were so many coulda woulda shoulda moments that, had they gone the other way, U of L might have prevailed.

The four point turnaround right at the end of the first half. Lewis, running the Sosa play, fed Anas Mahmoud, who missed a point blank layup. State scurried down court, and Valentine dipsy dooed in a bank shot. Instead of a 34-27 Cardinal lead, the score at the break was 32-29.

Mahmoud, who saw far and away the most significant action of his career, grabbed 6 rebounds, swatted away 3 Spartan attempts and had a steal. He also missed a couple of other FG attempts from right in close.

Not good, and hopefully something we shan’t see again from a rookie: Donovan Mitchell’s foul of Valentine at midcourt in the the final minute, after Lewis’s three FTs pulled U of L within a deuce at 63-65.

 * * * * *

Despite my nitpicking — Sorry, it’s just who I am — I was not despondent after the loss. It was a positive experience all in all. Especially since the Card got only ten minutes of action from Onuaku and Deng Adel.

Anas Mahmoud is playing more aggressively.

Mangok Mathiang is displaying some heretofore hidden offensive panache.

Donovan Mitchell is a baller.

The Cards were 9/11 at the line after intermission.

U of L led for 31 and a half minutes in one of college hoopdom’s toughest places to play. Unfortunately, Sparty led at home for the final 5:58, though U of L never quit.

But there’s also work to be done.

U of L had only 7 assists on 26 made FGs. Sparty won the battle on the glass, 40-30.

 * * * * *

Yet again, Rick Pitino did not address the press after the game.

Yet again, I repeat: Rick Pitino is being paid $5 million/ year. Among his contractual duties for that inarguably obscene salary is that he keep the fans paying that freight informed.

Not meeting the press is NOT ACCEPTABLE.

 * * * * *

The Cards, if not their fans who are paying big $$$ for the privilege of viewing such lollypop affairs, get to enjoy six stocking stuffers in a row, before the 12/26 visit to Lexington, where we’ll find out if the Cards learn any lessons playing a half dozen lesser thans in a row.

Grand Canyon, Eastern Michigan, Kennesaw State, WKU, UMKC and Utah Valley, come on down and collect your Yummy! appearance checks.

— Seedy K

11 thoughts on “Louisville CardFile: Michigan State

  1. OK, so Mathiang did show some offensive prowess, but his Roberto Duranitos (hands of pebbles, not stones) continue to make passing and snaring rebounds a challenge for him even with his effort, and Anas obviously needs to continue to work with Ray G. I disagree with your assessment of Lewis’ game. I think his miscues as the game wound down had to do with him being fatigued. Q did not provide respite from ball handling responsibilities (maybe Trey didn’t give him a chance) and Mitchell isn’t ready to lighten that burden yet. I assume Pitino didn’t think Levitch would athletically match up vs Sparty. I also was disappointed to see that JJ just seemed unable to contribute more than 1 defensive rebound and not much more. All said, it was a very respectable showing and in fact encouraging to see the potential the youngsters showed. If Nanu can remember he can not screen/set a pick this season as he has done all his prior playing years the seat of his shorts won’t spend as much time being chaired.

  2. My thoughts…

    …the better team did not win….wouldn’t you like to match up with State again on a neutral floor to go to the FF this year, with a healthy DA to dog DValentine?

    If Anas can get 5% stronger, those missed layups will be and ones……..(but he will probably still miss the FT…)

    They were lucky; the last 6 seconds of the first half turned the tide;

    Izzo showed his ass; the first 5 minutes of the game, all he did was yell at the refs. The “F” word, even for those not accustomed to reading lips, was used liberally and with great gusto. Still, no T’s for mal-behavior. Instead, the desired result was reached—his star played the rest of the game with immunity from fouls and they were shooting double bonus with 11+ to play in the second half.

    The last is the reason that college hoops is losing popularity with the masses. The ref’s have an inordinate role into who wins the game. Wait ’til we get to Rupp if you don’t believe me. If we get out to a lead like we usually do against the Jr. Pros, our 2 L’s and Nanu will be riding pine well before the intermission draws near. It’s Bull Sh*t, but it is college bball.

    1. I totally agree with about the refs. It’s obscene the amount of talking and listening they do with head coaches. Correct me if I’m wrong but I believe in the nba the refs walk to the other side of the court away from the coaches in order to avoid any interactions. I really wish that would be a rule in the college game. Entirely too much influence is given by the coaches over the officials. Izzo bitched from the word go. He’s already came out in the media complaining about the new rules. I would complain as well if my team were known for mugging people for rebounds….

  3. I enjoyed watching the game with my sweet dog last night. I scared her just once after a steal and dunk (by Lee?). It was a pleasure seeing a Cardinal team that can score and play some D so early in the year. A strong effort. (And I still don’t miss Chris Jones.) To my eyes, the difference in the game was our outside shooting. If only a couple of those missed threes had gone in… with Lee, Lewis and Mitchell, I think they will as the season progresses.

    I was looking at the schedule this morning: U of L should easily dispatch their next six opponents. I just can’t understand why Pitino didn’t schedule one or two quality opponents during this stretch. A slate of weak opponents just before it faces UK in Lexington is a lot to ask of any team. I think, however, the Cards can win at Rupp.

    Pitino’s post-game disappearing act (again) is proof enough to me that this is his final season.

    Speaking of being finished: Tom Crean is done at Indiana. I thought he was a perfect fit when he was hired. I really wonder if any coach can win big in Bloomington, IN, this day and age in college basketball.

  4. Ken, assists on but 26% of made FGs tells me there’s lots of one on one goin’ on. Too reminiscent of last season. But Lewis and Lee get a pass, at least for awhile longer, because that’s what they did at former stops, and it takes a long time to break such habits. Plus it’s an acceptable downside for now, given how important they are to this team’s success. Good point about Lewis being fatigued at end. He still dribbled too much.

  5. As for Izzo, well, he’s one of my favorite coaches. Fans always carp about coach/ zebra communication, when it’s the other team’s coach doing the talking. Didn’t hear any of you guys complaining about the whole timeout during which Pitino was ragging to Gene Steratore. They all do it. FT disparity was only six. That’s not why U of L lost the game.

    JT Jones, Pitino’s teams have traditionally been renown for taking advantage of leniency in calling physical contact. Like I said, they all get away with what they can.

  6. BlindLuck, why does Pitino not schedule mo’ betta’ foes in December? Three reasons: 1. $ 2. $$ 3. $$$. Plus he has a different philosophy about developing a team than Crum, Krzyzewski, Izzo. Calipari, Self, Williams and those other coaches who seem to be winning most of the titles these days. They believe in getting tested tough early. The Rick, for whatever reasons, does not.

    Last night would have been a perfect time to give Spalding and Johnson more minutes, no matter how ineffective they might have been. Give them a feel for big time competition.

    Then again, RP has two more national titles than I do coaching. So, he must know something.

  7. A couple of observations: 1 there are probably twenty-five or so top 15 teams in the country and we are one of them. I was pleasantly surprised at our performance; and 2) Why do UofL and UK play their football game on Rivalry Weekend. Uof L-UK is not a rivalry. A rivalry is when both teams have a decent chance to win. UK cannot beat U of L in football, and U of Ll cannot beat UK in basketball. In my book that makes it not a rivalry.

  8. I think scheduling is a little weak this year on purpose…coach wants the kids to meld together out of the limelight…the heavy stuff is coming with the ACC-we play Duke twice??so lets get the kids heads on straight…get them knowing their roles and then let em loose….Q needs to shoot better and he will-he’s such a key player and Mahmoud will get better for sure……then its all a matter of hitting shots–can these guys do it??

  9. Lee and Lewis will probably provide 70% of the team’s scoring this season and then they’re GONE! We had better be scouting the nation for two more one and done’s like them. Jaylon Johnson will be no help and if Nanu is NBA material I’m Kobe Bryant.

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