Can I get a witness?
So, what you’ve happened upon here is the first edition of what I intend to be regular looks throughout the season at the world of college basketball.
The focus: My beloved University of Louisville Cardinals. Along with observations on those squads representing institutions in this vicinity, which is the epicenter of the sport. I’ll also provide take a gander at the national scene, as I see fit.
My intention: This will be a prediction free zone. No projected NCAA seedings or Final Four participants. It will be totally subjective, generally devoid of analytics, self indulgent, obsessive, and full of all the abundant expertise that can be provided by the last man cut from the J.M. Atherton High School Rebels jayvee team back in the days of yesteryore.
Let’s have some fun.
You got questions about hoops, or important life issues, you’d like for me to address, I’m at your service, maybe. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I might answer them. I might not.
Ted Valentine, the guy with the big whistle whom the Cards get right from the start in Coral Gables, toss up that rock, let’s get hoopin’.
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I guess the Cardinals is the place to start.
How am I feeling about Chris Mack S2 before the opener against Jim Larrañaga’s Hurricanes?
Because my view is somewhat of a contrarian nature, and might rankle some of my fellow Cardinal faithful, let me start with an anecdote I’ve shared before, but will provide where I’m coming from on a scale of Cardinal fandom.
I’m standing in line at French Truck Coffee in New Orleans during JazzFest. I’d just finished jogging as they were hosing down the Quarter in the morning. I still had on a Cardinal shirt.
A brother in line behind me asks, “You a Cardinal fan?”
I nod. He advises how he loved U of L back during the glory days, and starts peppering me with questions, asking about Denny, this player and that. Grif? Pervis? Derek? Everick Sullivan, if memory serves.
So I’m engaging the fellow about my favorite subject matter. But he keeps pestering me, as if to gauge whether I’m a real fan or just a guy from Louisville with a shirt?
“Tell me about Milt Wagner?” It seems like a challenge of sorts.
“Well, what do you need to know? How he played in gloves against Georgetown here in New Orleans in the national semis. How he broke his foot at the beginning of what was supposed to be his senior year, and had to sit out, but was on the team that won it all the next season in ’86.
“You testin’ me?” I finally asked. “If so, bring it.”
When he sensed that I wasn’t just some guy with a Louisville shirt, his coffee came and he split.
About half a minute later, he walks back in the door, points at me from across the room, and declares, “I LOVED the McCray brothers.”
I smile, nod, “Me too.”
Here’s my point. Cardinal basketball is the great love of my life. I’ve been smitten for decades since attending my first game in 1952.
That loyalty notwithstanding, I intend to report on the season with an eye some might call critical, but I’d describe as discerning. I’ll share all the joys what hopefully will be many victories and a long run.
But if I sense issues, words shall not be minced.
Maybe you’ll agree. Maybe you won’t.
As for my initial take before the season commences: I hope I’m wrong but I think U of L is overrated. AP Preseason Top 5. Joey Brackets has the Cards projected as a 1 seed. Jordan Nwora, Preseason A-A, Preseason ACC POY.
It just seems a bit much at this juncture.
ESPN has something called the Basketball Power Index (BPI). I have no idea what analytics they use. Besides my slide rule is in a box in storage. Anyway, that metric has Louisville slotted at #16 before play begins.
Which seems more reasonable to me at this juncture.
As for Nwora, let’s see if the improvements on display against Bellarmine are truly and consistently manifest. And how he deals with it when it becomes obvious that Samuell Williamson, neophyte that he is, proves to be the best baller on the squad.
Let’s see how the injured heal and merge back into the game plans? Let’s see what other rookies evolve sooner rather than later into relevant roles?
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Louisville’s opener on the road against Miami is the first against a league foe since ’81, a 55-54 escape against Metro rival Tulane, and the Cards’ earliest start ever.
Though the Canes aren’t among the ACC favorites, it will be a test.
Especially how U of L deals with 5-7 jitterbug-quick Chris Lykes, Miami’s best player who has Russ Smith-ish ability to drive to the hoop. Guys driving the lane proved to be Louisville’s major defensive flaw against Bellarmine.
Plus the Cards are still short underneath, and Miami starts a couple experienced bigs, 6-10 Sam Waardenburg and 7-0 Rodney Miller Jr..
This is not your usual directional school walkover for the opener.
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I have a favorite non-Cardinal baller.
He’s Tyrese Haliburton, a 6-5 sophomore at Iowa State.
Just love how this kid plays. Sees the court. Gets the ball to his mates.
In his rookie season, when he performed with disarming maturity, he was second in the country in assist/ turnover ratio at 4.5.
Check him out.
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I had a couple of b-ball-loving pals who live in NYC during the heralded formative years of the Big East.
It’s all they talked about. So, of course, I developed a hatred for the league. At least, in its original ideation. Big John. Little Louie. Yada yada yada. Then the Cards ran smack dab into Hoya Paranoia in the ’82 Final Four.
But I love the current Big East and its lineup of non-football schools, several of which were “mid-major” not so long ago, before the conference’s reconfiguration and second life.
My guess is it will be the most competitive conglomeration in the country this year. Seton Hall’s good. And, according to cbssports.com, play the nation’s toughest slate of battles.
Also to be watched are rising from the ashes Georgetown, coached by the Patrick Ewing fellow and featuring entertaining Mac McClung. There’s ever under the radar, underrated Ed Cooley’s Providence, plus Xavier, and Marquette, though Warrior’s coach Steve Wojciechowski remains insufferable.
(I know they’re now the Golden Eagles, save your breath.)
My favorite Stevie W moment, came when he was an assistant at Duke, during the Blue Devils game against Michigan State in the ’13 Regional semis, when I was blessed with sitting on press row right behind the team’s bench. The game was tight and Wojo was frothing at the mouth intense more than usual.
At one point, fellow assistant Chris Collins turned to him, grabbed him by the shoulders and emphatically warned him, “You Need To Calm Down!!!!!!”
The other issue unfolding in the Big East is whether Jay Wright, with two titles in three seasons, is indeed next in the lineage of Best in His Era that runs from the Baron of the Bluegrass to the Wizard of Westwood to Coach K? Unless it’s Tony Bennett.
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Memphis State’s Penny Hardaway has brazenly advised that his very young Tigers will win the national championship.
Won’t it be fun to watch that torpedoed.
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— Seedy K