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Cardinal Basketball 2014-2015: We Good? It's a Mystery

And a puzzle.

Andy Lyons

I'm not sure if I'm a Malcolm Gladwell Hipster or not: I liked him before liking him was cool, but apparently now liking him is not cool?  Regardless, in this 2007 article he delves into an interesting distinction between puzzles and mysteries.

I remembered this article as I was trying to parse all of the information slowly leaking out over the last few weeks about Louisville basketball in the 2014-2015 season and apply it to what we learned Sunday and Monday from the first open scrimmage and Rick Pitino's hatin' ass (h/t @doctorofdunk) speech today to the Tip Off Luncheon, respectively.  Before Sunday, all we had was snippets from interviews like Jeff Greer's with Trez.  From that (and the previous Wayne and Trez interview) those who have followed Louisville basketball under Rick Pitino for awhile could grab a few puzzle pieces and place them near each other, or at least in (Kyle's) corner:

1) The young guys are not learning the defense;

2) Some of the young guys are picking up Pitino's practice style well and some aren't;

3) Terry and Wayne look good, Chris looks good, Mangok is stronger;

4)  Q and Chinanu look good;

5)  Lil B is terrible (long time readers of the blog will remember the heated Kendrick Lamar v. Lil B. debates of the 2007 open threads.  Brutal.);

6) I'm going to start cutting my Gatorade with Mountain Dew before court appearances;

7) Greer, for lack of a better phrase, Went There and asked about the money thing which must have been awkward.

Looking at those puzzle pieces, along with Pitino's press conferences about the 7 footers not being ready, Shaq and Jaylen being behind and Snider and Nanu being ready, here's what grew clearer to the CardChronicle Screwball Division:

1) We are going to rely heavily on the starting 5, which means less pressing and more reliance on halfcourt defense than normal, but our starting 5 has 4 experienced, talented pieces and an improved Mango, so that's good.

2) We are going to see Gill, Q and Nanu in November and December and the combination of hometown hero and skill would mean a Gardner v. Reggie situation might develop with Jones and Q.

3) Either Shaq or Jaylen will play more as the season goes on but the other will be the Angel Nunez Cure For Offensive Woes After A Dumb Early Season Loss student athlete.  Based on everything, I'd say Aaron will be like Francisco Garcia's freshman year but pretending the entire team was made out of Reece Gaines (h/tish @doctorofdunk) and we didn't need him as much.  In other words, not a ton of playing time and fans calling for more.

4) The rest of the newcomers are mostly for entertainment purposes for opposing fans and hard core locker room post-game video watchers from the guys over at Crunch Zone.

5) "Montrezl has added a reliable 16-foot jumper "

So based on all of the above, it seemed like the Red-White Scrimmage was a solved puzzle.  Trez would dunk on some fools, Terry would be the best guard on the floor, Snider would surprise most people (not dedicated CardChronicle Screwballers though) and the rest of the new guys would disappoint.

But Louisville basketball is and always will be a mystery: Montrezl came out and shot 3-5 from 3 point range (!) and Anas stole the show with some breakaway dunks and blocks,  and Chris Jones looked just as good if not better than Rozier and each hit clutch 3s and wanted the ball in their hands at the end of the game.  Now Louisville's second most popular local blogger is questioning our Hall of Fame Coach's personnel decisions.

Granted, we were right about some things: other than an early corner 3 by Shaq that looked EXACTLY like Garcia in winter 2003, he and Jaylen are behind the others.  Mangok is stronger but still no Gorgui.  DJ Matz is a project.  Wayne looked good but not dominant and not just a spot up 3 point shooter. Anton Gill has improved and will play.  Having a bunch of length meant more challenged shots inside.

So now that we have that information, is the rest of the season a puzzle or a mystery?  Obviously the more we play the more information we will have about how good we are, and the schedule we have lets us test ourselves against the best teams in the country from November through March.  So it's a puzzle, and the more information we get, the better sense of our ceiling.  Maybe it's early: like in 2012-2013 how the team felt Different and we just knew it was our year.  Like how last year's team definitely was good and would win a ton of games, but just didn't have that same feeling of a championship run for whatever reason.  Maybe we get enough information in December to put the puzzle together.

But there are two seperate issues: while "how the season is going to go" is more of a puzzle, whether we win or lose the last game of the season (and if we lose, what round) is more of a mystery.  By the time March rolls around, we have not only every one of our games but every one of our opponent's games, and every one of their opponents' games and every possible matchup and factor ranging from the material (3 point defense) to the immaterial (ZOMG brutal losses in Lucas Oil!). And then 40 minutes of complete and utter randomness that bears no resemblance to the basketball in the months preceding it.

At this point we have a lot of puzzle pieces, and enough information to know we are going to be good this season.  Our best 3 players are as good or better than the best 3 players for of every team we will play.  The rest depends on a couple of things: consistent 3 point shooting/3 point defense, free throw shooting, development of depth and how the "he just doesn't know the defense well enough v. he's good at basketball and the starters need to rest so...." balance shifts as the season progresses. We don't need a 10 man rotation to win the NCAA tournament, but a 10 man rotation would help get us a good seed to help us win the tournament.  We won a national championship with a bench of Luke (!), SVT, Hendo and a freshman Trez whose only basket in the championship game was in the first half.  And Hendo didn't even hit a 3 in the championship game.  I mean, come on guys, contribute!

With all the missing information and talk of mystery, one thing is certain: the team we see in October is always way different than what we see in March and April so the added information of "losses"or even "too close wins" in December doesn't change the trajectory and ceiling for the season.

In sum, based on everything we know now, my recommendation, in boldfaced typed: "Buy."