And just like that we're right back where we were a year ago.
Playing against a quality opponent - a quality opponent that beat you the year before nonetheless - it simply blows my mind that you can come out as flat as U of L did yesterday. Time is supposed to enable your ability to grow as a player, but at the moment it appears we have five starters riddled with a severe case of Peter Pan Syndrome.
Dayton is good, there's no doubt about it, and they should be commended for answering several times when they could have folded, but they don't have the players that should be able to pull of a nearly wire-to-wire victory over this team at home.
The tone of the game was set on the first possession when Jerry Smith came wide open off of an Earl Clark screen, and Edgar Sosa - looking directly at his backcourt mate - didn't pass him the ball. Smith threw the ball out-of-bounds about 15 seconds later.
Everyone in white came out flat, they stayed flat when they fell behind early, and they stayed flat even as they made a little run at the end of the half. There was zero life displayed by the home team until Preston Knowles entered the game early in the second half with his team trailing 39-30. Knowles starts bouncing around, deflects a few balls, actually beats Dayton down the floor after a great defensive possession, and all of the sudden the score is 39-39 and the four other guys on the floor are bouncing around too.
Doug Gottlieb kept saying that Pitino was sending a message to his starting guards by keeping them on the bench in the game's waning minutes. Bullshit. Pitino was keeping his starting guards on the bench in the game's waning minutes because it gave his team the best chance to win.
I know I'm starting to sound redundant, but Louisville's season last year turned around when Edgar Sosa started to play like a true point guard. When the Cards looked like a team on the NIT bubble in November, December and early January, Sosa was taking bad shots, making bad passes, not putting the ball in the hands of the guy with the best chance to score, and consistently picking up his dribble 5-10 feet outside the three-point line.
It's a year later and the floor general has Card fans double-checking the date on their calendars. Louisville has played eight games and Sosa has accounted for 12 assists and ten turnovers. Through eight games last year he had dished out 22 assists and turned the ball over 21 times. In his eighth game last year (a home loss to Massachusetts), he had just one assist. In his eighth game this year (a home loss to Dayton), he had one less.
Jerry Smith still isn't pulling the trigger when he should, Derrick Caracter is still pouting when he doesn't get the ball enough, and Earl Clark still isn't working hard enough on defense when his man doesn't have the ball.
But it's not just the sophomores.
When others have bashed him after seemingly horrendous games, I've consistently defended Terrence Williams because of all the not-so-obvious intangibles he ordinarily brings to the table. That said, yesterday may have been the worst game I've ever seen T-Will play.
The silly turnovers were still there, the unnecessary, out-of-rhythm shots from the outside were still there, but it was the lack of effort on the defensive end from him that shocked me. He looked like he was on Mars the entire game. Standing straight up when we were in the zone, not getting a hand in the face of the shooter coming off of a screen, not getting his hands on balls that were well within his reach. The defensive play of everyone not named Andre McGee or Preston Knowles was abysmal, but given this team's dependence on Williams' ability to step up as a leader, it was especially disappointing to see him play that way.
I understand that a lot of the guys on the team are still learning how to play defense, but that doesn't excuse apathy. Brian Roberts was the best player on the floor again yesterday, but he didn't have to be. Louisville's inability to locate him or get a hand in his face even after he had hit six or seven jump shots meant that all he had to be was an above average shooter.
Now there's no reason to get carried away with the state of things just yet. You'd think that anyone who was highly critical of Rick Pitino 12 months ago would have learned their lesson.
The good thing is that these players still have the talent to become a very good team, and the better thing is that I think it will eventually happen. The disappointing thing is that they haven't matured to the point where we as fans don't have to keep waiting.