By all accounts of the final weeks of the season, and by observation of their last bewildered performance, another schooling by UVa on that school’s Senior Night, it can be said of the members of this U of L squad — young and inexperienced, blindsided by issues not of their making — they were Hollow Men.
Louisville missed its first 11 shots in the 22 point 68-46 defeat in Charlottesville. The team fell behind 13-1, before its first score from the field nine minutes and 18 seconds after tip off.
Seconds after play resumed following intermission, the Cards scored on a Chinanu Onuaku layup. Then didn’t score from the field for another five minutes and 22 seconds.
Virginia is unarguably a much better team than U of L. They have schooled Louisville twice this season, and would have done so last night, even were this particular future-less Cardinal edition prepping for post season success.
This was a most sad, but eerily fitting finale of this strange Louisville Cardinal campaign.
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On my way home from my pal’s house where I watched the game, the song “Pain In My Heart” came on the radio.
A little pain in my heart just won’t let me be/ Wake up at restless nights/ Lord and I can’t even sleep
Prophetically it wasn’t even Otis Redding’s heartrending version, but the Rolling Stone’s thin cover, which is but a ghost of the original.
That is analogous to how the Cardinals performed in John Paul Jones Arena. They were game, especially on defense where they never stopped competing, but more apparition than a team that might have made a tournament run of consequence.
This was a squad ready for the season to cease.
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I didn’t need Dick Vitale — whom we muted most of the game for our own personal health and safety — to tell me Rick Pitino shall return as U of L’s coach . . . if the decision be his.
That’s been my feeling all along, as well as that of other local scribes with more access to the U of L coach than me.
Tom Jurich, a bottom line guy whose basketball program is by large measure the most profitable in college hoops, isn’t going to pull the plug. James Ramsey, likely to be gone by Derby, is not going to do so. The head of the Board of Trustees has given Pitino his endorsement. Even Emily Bingham, it is reported, apologized to the coach for denigrating comments she made earlier in the week.
As I’ve written, I am torn.
Pitino is not the nicest of fellows, though he generally is deft at the PR game. He is a drama queen, and the ongoing soap opera has been taxing.
Though his game plan last night certainly didn’t show it — Run something besides the high ball screen pick and roll, coach, the Cavaliers have it covered — he is a marvelous mentor, a cut above most. And, should he stick around, the Cards will be a legit contenda for the next several seasons.
So, not that it matters at all, I’m ok if he stays, I’m ok if he’s let go.
But, I don’t for a second believe he’ll leave on his own.
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More intriguing is the Chinanu Onuaku situation.
The evidence is clear. He improved by leaps and bounds this season.
He is going to dip his toes into the NBA waters, to gauge if and where he would be drafted this off season, should he jump. He could be gone. He could return.
One guy’s opinion, either way is a crap shoot.
If he leaves, U of L will certainly be thinner in the frontcourt, less savvy, less talented. But not without hope. Few are the schools who wouldn’t trade their contingent of bigs for Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman. Not to mention Deng Adel and V.J. King.
I also have trepidation, should Nanu come back for his junior season. More than a bit of his body language reminds me too much of Montrezl Harrell his last season in red & black. Too much me, not enough team. Hopefully, should Onuaku return, I’ll be proved wrong.
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Given my propensity to have a historical perspective, I feel compelled to note that other Cardinal seasons have ended in as dour a manner as this one.
And, I’m not even talking about those back to back Pitino Era debacles to Morehead State and California.
In ’85, in the campaign before Louisville’s second national title, the team ended a 19-18 season with two losses in the NIT.
In ’79, the year before the Cards first crown, they finished the regular season with two losses in its final 3, were bested by Virginia Tech in their lone Metro Tourney game, then were dismantled by double digits by Arkansas in the Midwest Regional semis, while Denny Crum sat underperforming Darrell Griffith on the bench.
I could go on, but shan’t.
The point is that, if the players returning work as hard as their ancestors this summer, stay as tight a team as they’ve been through this pot-holed season, last night’s disappointment could be springboard for great success.
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It is Sunday Morning.
The sun is shining.
Aurora Nealand’s on the box.
We shall survive.
— Seedy K