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Cardinal Basketball Preview: Life in the Woods, Which, By The Way, Are On Fire

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Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

1. Sports Are Supposed To Be An Escape From Real Life, But Real Life Is Making That Unpossible

Sports are supposed to be an escape.  But real life keeps creeping into life as a sports fan in 2015, and not just at UofL.  College football games have become almost unwatchable at times this season. On the macro level, the creeping worries about not paying players, concussions, the media/conference realignment bubble and billions of dollars flooding schools.  Every coach in the SEC West makes >4M a year, and math may not be my strong suit, but some of them will have losing records in their division this year right?  And then you watch and plays like this happen:

And it's like, should we really be doing this?  Those are kids! Life altering injuries possible on every play, and sometimes two! I was watching this play in real time - and felt awful about it.  But I kept watching, and I'll be watching this weekend too I guess.

On a micro level, college games are getting tough to watch as well - long injury delays, over reliance on replay, too many dumb flags, TV timeouts, and if you are watching on TV, mostly dumb announcers.  I don't watch the NFL, but apparently "watchability" is becoming an issue there as well. And real life barging into the NFL has been an issue that has become much more prominent the last couple of seasons.

College basketball is supposed to be our safe space - sure there's billions made off of unpaid kids, but at least they only have to work for free for a year or two if they are good enough to get paid by someone, and the injury/destruction/life-altering harm is a lot less than football.  So, this is okay to watch.  And for almost every other fanbase this season, college basketball can be a much less guilty pleasure.

Not for UofL fans.

2. Meet The New Things To Worry About, Same As The Old Ones

I've not watched the team super closely through August basketball, Red-White games (saw literally no minutes of either game), or the first couple exhibition games.  Monday night was the first time I've watched them uninterrupted and I missed the last few minutes. And season previews for our team is mostly worthless, and always have been.

It's obviously impossible to know how this team is going to end up based on a couple early season games.  This is entirely a new team with the vast majority of minutes belonging to lightly-used sophomores, freshman, and two 5th year graduate transfers.  Snider, Nanu, Mangok and Levitch are the four most experienced players.  Here are the things that we worry about with every Louisville team throughout the season, and this season is no different:

1) the new players are having trouble learning the defense, and the offense looks like garbage for long stretches of time

2) the highly touted freshman aren't playing enough

3) we can't shoot my god just make open 3s why do other teams seem to make them so much???

4) make the layups please

5) we are going to lose early season games to better teams (like UK) and dumb teams we should beat

6) we can't shoot my god just make open 3s why do other teams seem to make them so much???

7) we can't shoot

8) make open 3s!!!1!11!

But I think there's a really, really, really good team lurking here.  Like every year, Pitino is going to try to peak in March/April, and this team's ceiling is extremely high.  Here are the things that I think need to happen for us to get there:

1) Lee has to shoot 3s and make them.  Any space you got, take it - teams are going to focus on him and his "open" is going to have to be different than other guys "open". You have 1 year, you are the scorer on this team, just shoot man.  We're all on board.

2) One of Snider/Lewis is going to have to learn how to be an actual 2 guard and shoot 3s extremely soon.  Both of them are point guards, but Snider looks like the better pure PG of the two.  Them playing together hurt my brain the other night and I don't know if we have enough time to let them figure it out.  Biggest issue with this team long-term is this dynamic.

3) In a related issue, Mitchell is going to have to force himself into the lineup.  I think a 4-guard rotation along the lines of 2008-2009 with Snider/Lee starting and Lewis/Mitchell coming in, allowing us to play uptempo, press full court, push the ball, etc. is our best chance to reach our ceiling.

4) Playing Lee at the 2 more means Deng Adel plays the 3 more, and Snider-Lee-Adel playing together seems like our best 3 guys on the court at the same time which seems like a good thing?

5) Nanu/Mangok and Jaylen/Spalding rotations at the 4-5, with Anas filling in as well.  High pick and roll by Snider,  Nanu/Mangok hitting elbow jumpers, Jaylen/Ray standing on the baseline catching passes and dunking.  Lee and Adel spotting up open for 3s.  That offense can work. That's the perfect Pitino offense with a guy at every spot who can do what they are supposed to do.

6) They run that offense, and then make their open 3s and dunks/layups!  And then press like crazy because we are really 2-deep without dropoff at every spot!  This could work!  We're all on board!

3. Until We Are Out Of the Woods On The Whole .... Thing We Will Not Be Able To Enjoy This Season

We are deep in the woods on the scandal, and it is awful.  Oh, and we were 1 Mangok layup or free throw away from a Final Four (again!) and oh God are they going to take away our 2013 National Championship and are we going to get in a lot of trouble here and, honestly, do we deserve it, oh and we STILL can't land any big recruits I thought Kenny was supposed to change that and Kyle Kuric I mean seriously that's awful but like way more awful than anything else going on, and the Dolphins aren't playing DeVante Parker and the Vikings didn't draft him and Teddy got knocked the f out last week I hope he's okay and UK is still the worst and we have to play there twice in three weeks and this is all supposed to be fun or what's the point and oh, hey, the woods are on fire.

I have no idea what attendance or game atmosphere are going to be like this year.  If there's a new development before every game, good or bad or neither or just a development, it's going to float over the Yum! Center crowd like that weird Thornton's drone/blimp thing, spreading angst instead of coupons for a free large drink.

4. Life Is In The Woods

Sports are supposed to be fun, and life is supposed to be fun, but it doesn't always work out that way.  You can say that things will be better when you are out of the woods and try to keep your head down until you get there, or you can look around and realize that there's life here in the woods and you better make the best of it while you can.  This season is no different.  Whatever happens - both on the court and in the courtroom(s) - this season is out of our control.  We didn't set these woods on fire, and we can't put the fire out.  So just grab some marshmallows and make s'mores.

For a few moments in Monday's game, in the second half, we saw a glimpse of what we could be: playing fast, making 3s, making dunks, pressing, causing turnovers.  We Boomed them.  You know those games we have in the NCAA tournament sometime where we just destroy teams because it all comes together and flows perfectly and boom.  This team can absolutely, no question do that, and every time they do that before March is going to be a chance to forget everything else and be in the moment and enjoy the hell out of whatever you can, while you can.

S'mores are the best.