When I reflect on this 2007-2008 Louisville basketball season, I have a feeling that it will be Saturday's game against St. John's that stands out as the least memorable Big East tilt, a distinction made possible only thanks to a 10-point victory. Still, the game happened and therefore I am bound by blogging law (it's strict...and not cool) to recapitulate it in some form.
Since the vast majority of fan focus at this point is on tonight's enormous game against Connecticut, I figure it's only right to make this brief so as to limit your recollections and permit your main focus to remain where it needs to be in order for the Cards to capture number 16 in Hartford this evening. So it's time for the always entertaining, never dull, and minimally thought-provoking: Five Positive, Five Negative.
My first job: Creating catchy name titles for The Price is Right games. "It's in the bag?" All me.
1. Derrick Caracter puts up 18 and hits 7-of-8 from the line
Derrick really needed a game where he could see prolonged court time and not feel like he had to force the issue on offense, and both of those things happened on Saturday. DC played 18 minutes, hit 5-of-7 field goals and 7-of-8 free-throws, and finished the game with a team-high 18 points.
The game was also good in that it highlighted the fact that he sprints to the bench when he's taken out of games, high fives every player on the team once he gets there, and continues to stay into the game and cheer on his teammates until he's sent back in. These are things that he's done for the last month or so, but maybe things that people haven't noticed or talked about because of a perceived drop in production.
Derrick did pick up his usual pair of Caracter fouls (fouls that didn't happen), but he wasn't whistled when he blatantly threw his man down with his off hand and then laid the ball in, so maybe we'll call it even.
Caracter continues to walk around with a turquoise letter (it's the 21st century scarlet) in the eyes of the national media, but you still can't find a person who he's played with in high school or college who doesn't rave about the kid's personality. He's a good kid who has had stretches in the past where he's forgotten that he's not 15-years-old anymore, and it's a vice that he's continually working hard to subdue. But it's not like he's any different than any number of other college sophomores, and hell I still act like I'm 15 for about half the day (42 for the other half...it's a rough combination), but nobody knows or cares when we screw up.
The point is that Derrick's trying, and his vast improvement in free-throw shooting from last season to this one, and even from October to now, is proof of that. If we make any sort of run in March he will have undoubtedly played an integral role.
2. Jerry Smith
Dude's a bad ass. I know it, you know it, let's move on.
3. Scoring right before halftime
That's two straight. One more and you can call it a streak my friends.
4. Andre McGee's overall game
McGee continues to exceed every expectation I had for him before the season. His energy and toughness on defense are so valuable not just because they often result in turnovers and subsequent points, but because they wear down opposing guards and make them largely ineffective at the end of games or the tail ends of long stretches of uninterrupted play.
His unexpected touch from the outside has certainly been a blessing, but it's been his always positive attitude and never dwindling effort level that have benefited this team the most over the past two and-a-half months.
5. Ari Wolfe back on the call
We've taken some light-hearted shots at Ari over the last couple of months, but it's always a pleasant surprise to see a familiar face when you were anticipating someone else. It's like when Don Russell used to show up for some late-February game when you least expected it. But it's NOTHING like when Jock Sutherland used to show up at my house when I least expected it.
1. Continuing to take the foot off the gas
I thought that this team had learned its lesson after the BYU and Dayton games, but apparently that isn't the case. For those of you who appear to have forgotten, the lesson is this: You aren't that good. Walking around with an undeserved sense of accomplishment is what got dropped you out of the top 25, and it's what will keep you out if this continues.
This team does everything right for about five minutes at a time, and then once the lead gets big enough they figure that it's safe to relax and play they want to play. Inevitably, the other team starts to come back, and - if they're good enough - goes on and pulls ahead before the Cards can figure out what it was that got them the lead in the first place. Relaxing and getting away from the offense or not working as hard to box out on defense shows a lack of focus, and that lack of focus could very easily result in a crushing loss some time over the next two months.
2. Preston Knowles's lack of playing time
There's no reason to pile on Will Scott, so I'll just say that I both wish, and think the team would be best suited, if Preston Knowles played a few more minutes a game than he has in recent weeks.
3. U of L's continues inability to locate shooters
Anthony Mason Jr. hit some tough shots throughout the course of the game, but far too many times he had more than enough space to get shots off comfortably. These guys have to learn that when one guy - and really only one guy - is lighting you up from the outside, you simply have to know where he is at all times and can't give any space to get off a clean shot.
4. Earl Clark forcing the outside shot
Clark seems to be going through the same thing that T-Will went through last season when it comes to recognizing what is and isn't an outside shot worth taking. Like Williams, Earl isn't a bad shooter, and when he gets a clean, in rhythm look from the outside, we're best suited if he takes it. He buried his first triple when he was wide open and got a pass that allowed him to get his feet set and step into the shot. This gave him the confidence to take three more, only none of the next three were taken under the same circumstances as the first. It's a process.
5. Three turnovers in 42 seconds
I realize the game was over, but that's just bad for business T-Will. I loved after the second one when Rick turned to McGee and said: "Tell him to run the offense!"
While this was a negative, I have to say that my favorite part of the game came after T-Will got nostalgic and faded away on a three which predictably clanged unattractively off the back iron. The ball was batted out-of-bounds by a Johnnie and Williams immediately pointed to the bench and made a fadeaway shot motion. When he makes mistakes he almost always recognizes them now, and that's something I'm not sure any of us could say 12 months ago.
All right so I cheated, but you can't end a win recap with a negative.
Or can you?
I did not care for Walter McCarty's tie.