Louisville and Indiana provided viewers one of the most entertaining early games of the 2014/2015 season. The pace was blistering, the shooting percentages were impressive, the athletic ability on display was first class, and no one complains about constant play above the rim. Lost in the shuffle of Indiana's three point barrage, Terry Rozier's calm career high, and Harrell's insistent need to scare the bejesus out of everyone on planet earth, Chris Jones had arguably his best game as a Cardinal. Mighty Mouse has been, and will continue to be, one of the best defenders in college basketball, but Chris Jones's ability to become a true point guard is the key to making Louisville a championship team.
If one were to look back at the past champions of the NCAA Tournament, one fact would remain consistent and apparent. Rarely does a team cut down the nets in April if they are not led by or possess a premier point guard. As a sample, observe the previous five champions: Duke, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisville, and Connecticut. Now, name their point guards: Nolan Smith, Kemba Walker, Marquis Teague, Peyton Siva, and Shabazz Napier. Each of these players were elite point guards or national player of the year contenders, and certainly intricate to their team's success. Teaque may be the weakest of the bunch, but without his play in the tournament and against Louisville in the final four, Kentucky would not have been the 2012 National Champions.
Chris Jones has consistently given Louisville his heart, his relentlessness, and his defense, but on offense Jones's focus on contested shots and sporadic distribution has hindered the Cardinal offense. Last night against the Hoosiers was the one of the first times where Jones delivered in all facets of the game and became a true point guard. Chris made plays when opportunities presented themselves, he consistently found the open man, rebounded exceptionally well, and as always was the best defender on the floor. Jones doesn't always have to be that good for Louisville to succeed, but if he plays that consistent and unselfishly on the offensive side of the floor there is only one team that could stand a chance against our Cardinals.
The rest of Louisville's roster has been relatively consistent and Coach Pitino and the fans are content with what each player offers each and every night. Harrell, Rozier, and Blackshear are the leaders and most reliable contributors. The big men have all had their moments, and the potential of Onuaku, Mangok, Johnson, and Anas is indescribable. It has become fairly obvious that at least one of these young bigs, if not all of them, will have an impactful role on each game moving forward. The front court for Louisville is as deep as I have ever seen, and this unit is only scratching the surface. The importance of Harrell returning for his junior year cannot be discussed enough because without his leadership and attitude the development of these youngsters would be light years behind where it is today.
Jones is the key because no one else on the team has his ability to be the best defender in college basketball while evolving into a premier point guard. Jones and his defense are paramount to Louisville's success, but his ability to embrace the distributor role is what makes the Cardinals a potential national champion. It appeared to me, and I do not believe it is just wishful thinking, that the light finally went on for Mighty Mouse against Indiana. The decision making and shot selection were beautiful Tuesday night, and if he continues to couple that kind of offensive play with his defensive superiority, not only will Louisville make the final four, but Jones can potentially play himself into a professional basketball career.
An undefeated showdown against Kentucky is beginning to loom over the Commonwealth of Kentucky, but before the heated contest arrives, Louisville will continue to improve and develop players. It is rare to see a Cardinal team playing so well and cohesive this early in the season, but the leadership on this roster is second to none. The Cardinals are merely scratching the surface of their potential, and if Chris Jones continues his evolution into a true point guard Louisville will be in Indianapolis celebrating their fourth national championship. The old is mixing well with the new, and Mighty Mouse is finally here to save the day.
All Hail UofL !!