I realize that Louisville is taking the court for its ACC home opener in a matter of hours, but there are still a few things I'd like to address from what we witnessed Sunday night in Winston-Salem.
1. This was fun. It shouldn't have been, but it was. I think most people can agree with that now.
If you talk to just about anyone who follows the league with any degree of closeness, they'll tell you that at the moment Wake Forest is probably the worst or next-to-worst team in the ACC. And yet, I didn't feel that bad, nor was I particularly surprised that the Cards found themselves in a dogfight with the Demon Deacons Sunday night.
This was Wake Forest, not South Florida or UCF. This is a program with traditions everyone knows about; Tim Duncan, the tie-dyed shirts in the student section, the mascot riding a motorcycle out before the game. This was a bottom of the conference team, and it still felt like big-time basketball. I mean there were 11,000 people at that game. How many times did Louisville go on the road in the AAC last season and play in front of 11,000 people? For that matter, how many times did the Cards play in front of 11,000 people when they squared off against a bottom-tier team from the Big East?
The Big East was wonderful, but Rick Pitino was spot-on when he noted that the ACC venues are tougher to play at, by and large, because they're on campus and usually packed. The days of being heckled by 25 students in a 4/5 empty NBA arena are done, and honestly I'm happy about that.
2. A lot of people have made the point that Chris Jones was taking many of the same challenged shots that he did against Kentucky, but the only difference was that they went in, and I understand that. I think the more important thing, and the thing that a lot of these people are missing, is that Jones didn't approach the game with that mentality. He attempted just two shots in the first half (both good looks) and had eight assists (on his way to a career-high 10). It wasn't until Terry Rozier was forced to the bench and Wake had made it apparent that they were going to force anyone besides Montrezl Harrell to beat them that Jones began to look to create his own shot.
Chris Jones took over the game late with his offense because that's what Louisville needed him to do in order to win. Had Rozier been on the floor or had Trez been continuing to get whatever he wanted around the rim, that wouldn't have been the case. Whether or not he's conscious of all that is the bigger issue.
Via Blogger So Dear
This was an extremely large step forward in Jones' evolution ... so long as he remembers that he scored 10 points in the game's final 5 minutes because it was a last resort situation. U of L was much better in the first half when its point guard was acting as an effective distributor, which is hopefully the mindset that he brings into the Clemson game.
I also don't think it's a coincidence (and perhaps a troubling one) that Jones' 80 best minutes this season have come in two of the three games Louisville has played outside the Yum Center.
It's no secret that Jones reads and listens to too many of the things being written and said about him. That being the case, it's logical to assume that he allows the groans that have been impossible to ignore when he's missed a string of consecutive outside shots during home games to affect him far more than they should. Against Indiana and, to a lesser extent Wake Forest, Jones looked like he was just playing. Too often at home this season he's appeared to be at either extreme end of his own playing spectrum: either second guessing every move he makes or trying to counteract that by reverting to his old "I'm the only player on the floor" scoring mentality.
The time has arrived for non-Yum Center CJ (NYCCJ) to come home.
3. Sunday night felt exactly like every early January game that Louisville played against talented, but unranked teams in the Big East. Yes, it was closer than the rest of the country thought it was going to be, but the whole time you just felt like someone was going to go off or something cool was going to happen and everything was going to be okay.
Rick Pitino knows the importance of coming away with wins in games like this, I don't doubt that for a second. But I also think that during January he feels like there are still so many things he needs to learn about his team, and the only way to accomplish that is to try out certain things in actual games that he probably wouldn't in late February or March. Shaqquan Aaron playing 23 minutes is a prime example. Ultimately, I believe that Aaron is going to have a large impact on whatever happens to U of L in March, but there'd be no way to know that if he wasn't tossed straight into the fire at this point in the season.
As always, the Cardinals will be the best team they can possibly be come tournament time in large part because of these New Year experiments.
4. If you were still wondering why Anas didn't play against Kentucky, I think you got your answer on Sunday.
Is there any doubt that one of the biggest topics in the city over the course of the next few weeks is going to become whether or not Pitino should "put his best 5 on the floor" and play Trez at center? I'm not willing to say just yet that I think that's Louisville's best option for the long-term, but if one of those three centers doesn't step up considerably in the next four weeks or so, that could change.
Mangok: I'm not sure what's been going on far this season, but the time is now, man.
5. I think I may be the only person who watched this game and didn't have a significant thought one way or the other on Brad Daugherty's performance.
I'm not sure if watching so much basketball over the years has made my mind do it unconsciously, but I feel like I really don't even hear much of the announcing performance during Louisville games anymore. Or maybe I'm just old, I don't know.
Adam Amin, on the other hand, gets my seal of approval for handling this like a champ.
@CardChronicle FACTUAL— Adam Amin (@adamamin) January 5, 2015
You're welcome here anytime, Amin.
For the love of God, can we stop leaving poor Dillon Avare hanging?
Dillon left hangin again.. https://t.co/VlGyuo5xGe— Ryan Keeling (@keelindemtweets) January 5, 2015
Dillon Avare...still hanging https://t.co/rHa8s9AkuC— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) October 19, 2014
Dillon. Dillon....look at me. It's not your fault....it's not your fault, man.
It's not your fault.