Sugar coat and silver line it all you want, that one hurt. I've only been disappointed, crushed, angry, and in denial once after losing to Kentucky and I do my best to never remember March 28, 2014. I wasn't overwhelmed with those feelings Saturday afternoon when Lee's Hail Mary came up well short, but I did feel something I didn't think was possible. Reality settled in and there can be no denial: Calipari's Kentucky Basketball empire is the only bully in the neighborhood that will always take UofL's lunch money. Thankfully for Louisville Basketball and its supporters the season's biggest aspirations and goals are achievable in April, not December or June. As the Cardinals move forward into conference play it is time for some New Year's resolutions.
Resolution number one is for Coach Pitino and the Louisville Athletic Department. The most disappointing result Saturday wasn't the loss, it was the postgame avalanche that buried the University and its head coach in a pile of relentlessly negative press. Some people say that any press coverage is a good thing, but after making it through a few of the nasty articles that were posted Saturday night, Sunday, and Monday, I beg to differ. Ever since news of the scandal was so pleasantly reported by Pat Forde, Coach Pitino and the University have chosen to allow the local press and national media to control the narrative and storyline. This decision has emboldened every keyboard All-American to consistently throw haymakers at Coach Pitino, the University of Louisville, and each and every one of its supporters.
I am an attorney by trade and yes, the value of keeping quiet in certain situations is certainly vital, but Coach Pitino and the University could really benefit by hiring a public relations firm to guide and advise them through the rest of this season. Success can keep the negative Nancy's and those seeking a vendetta at bay, but every loss will be met by scrutiny and a resurfacing of the allegations. It is time for Coach Pitino and the athletic department to land a few counter punches and influence the way this story is told. The 2015/16 Cardinals are too good, too special, and too loaded with lovable characters to be treated this way and I am hoping 2016 offers a wave of positivity that will swiftly wash away the likes of Tim Sullivan, Kyle Tucker, Pat Forde, Rick Bozich, the Courier Journal, and anyone else that enjoys typing before thinking.
Resolution number two is also for Coach Pitino. Offering advice to a Hall of Famer is usually a situation I try to avoid, but it doesn't take John Wooden to observe that Pitino's teams consistently struggle at the end of the first half and in late game situations. Coach Pitino is one of the greatest coaches of all time, period, but even the best aren't perfect and Coach needs to improve in these areas. The Cardinals were in the double bonus with 13 seconds on the clock Saturday afternoon and out of a timeout the ball never got inside the paint or even inside the three point line. Attempting a three was the right thing to do, but not a forced fade away. I would've subbed out Spalding for Adel to give the team four scoring threats and had Lewis actually drive the basketball. The Cardinals are going to be in that situation again this season, probably multiple times, and let us hope our Coach and this team learns all they need to from December 26th.
Resolution number three revolves around the defensive acumen of these Cardinals. January for Louisville Basketball is usually a roller coaster. The team improves and notches some key victories, but it usually experiences a slump before peaking in mid to late February. Louisville needs to devote every waking hour to learning Pitino's matchup zone. When working correctly it is a stifling defense that leaves some of the best offenses desperate for points. Coach Pitino has never had this much length and athleticism while at Louisville and if this roster can learn to play the zone the way Pitino intends it to be played, then the Cardinals would be my favorite to hang banner number four.
Next up on my list of resolutions is an obvious. The Cardinals need to get healthy and stay healthy. Mangok isn't the most skilled player, but he is in his fourth season under Coach Pitino. Louisville needs a healthy Mangok because of his energy, leadership, and experience. Adel needs to continue to recover as well. The team needs his scoring ability and versatility, and as we saw Saturday in Lexington, fouling is always going to be an issue for these Cardinals.
Lastly, 2016 will need more Donovan Mitchell. Lee and Lewis aside, the only Cardinal that has been fearless, aggressive, and not intimidated in two heavyweight matchups has been Mitchell. He may measure 6'3, but he plays like he's 6'10 and 250 pounds. The true freshman sparked the comeback in Lexington and his shooting touch inside the arc is beyond impressive for an 18 year old. He rebounds like a McCray brother and it is clear the "moment" won't ever be too big for him. Pitino has said it several times and I concur that this was his best recruiting class, and Donovan Mitchell will be the next cherished Cardinal.
Calipari and Rupp Arena bested Pitino and his Cardinals yet again, and 1-8 is undeniably embarrassing. Losing to Kentucky is well past getting old, but in the grand scheme of things it means nothing come March. Louisville Basketball is very good and as conference play begins every goal is still attainable. 2016 brings us a new year, a new season, but the same destiny. It is championship season in Louisville, let's roll.
All Hail UofL !!