Twenty-four hours of marination isn't going to be enough time for us to be able to accurately categorize what we saw inside the Yum Center Saturday afternoon. That might be the most frustrating thing about right now.
Was it a "loss we all should have seen coming?" Was it the "wake-up call this team desperately needed?" Was it an "outlier" for a team that hadn't had a bad loss all season before Saturday?
Maybe, maybe, and maybe. It also might have been something else. Maybe.
People want immediate answers after every game that's played, and the result is everyone giving their best guess for a few days, lots of disagreement and bickering, and then everyone wiping the slate clean the moment the ball is tossed in the air at center-court the next time .... and then we do it all again.
The fact of the matter is that time is perspective's only true friend. In two months, we might be able to look back at the loss to NC State as the start of something great, the moment everyone truly "bought in" and came together for one of the more memorable late season runs any of us have ever experienced. We might look back it as the moment we should have known that nothing great was going to come out of this season, the first of many true cracks that led to a disappointing unraveling in March.
For right now, however, Saturday is nothing more than a very disappointing 40-minute performance against a visiting team that deserved to win more than Louisville did. We can revisit it in seven or eight weeks if we're that serious about wanting to discover more truths, but my guess is that's not going to happen.
The strangest thing about Saturday, in my eyes at least, was that you kept looking up at the scoreboard thinking: "Ok, Wayne and Chris are both scoring, the bench is playing better than it has in some recent wins, Trez is rebounding and not scoring, but that's happened before .... so what's the issue here?"
It seems foolish to just assume that a player is going to chip in somewhere around 20 points every time he steps on the court, but that's kind of the place Terry Rozier's recent play led us. I mean, he hadn't scored fewer than 15 points in a game since Dec. 5, and had dropped 22 or more in five of U of L's last six games.
To me, Rozier's lack of production was what made Saturday, especially the second half, feel so weird, and that's a credit to him. Terry has been so good on such a consistent basis that when he actually has a below average game it takes everyone a while to figure out what the hell is going on.
No one "deserves" to have an off-night, but if there was a player on the team who did, it was certainly Rozier.
This was always going to be a dangerous three week stretch for Louisville, simply because half of the teams they were going to face -- Pitt, NC State and Miami -- were going to be playing for their at-large bid lives. There are only five teams in the ACC right now with the potential to surrender a "resume win," and this was the second-to-last shot NC State was going to get against one of them. It's the same situation that resulted in Pitt wearing their alternate black uniforms against the Cards on Wednesday, and giving their best performance of the season in a blowout win over UNC three days later.
Louisville had to play their best in order to make it to the final week of the regular season unscathed, simply because these teams the Cards were/are supposed to beat were going to be throwing the best punches they have in their arsenal. U of L played far from its best on Saturday, and it got handled. A similar game will likely play out if Louisville does the same thing next weekend when Miami comes to town in essentially the exact same scenario.
Case in point:
Montrezl Harrell averages 10.7 field goal attempts per game. He's averaged 8.4 FGA in Louisville's five losses. Took 5 shots in NCSU loss.— Myron Medcalf (@MedcalfByESPN) February 14, 2015
Trez can't just be taking shots to take them, but it's also pretty clear that Louisville's not going to have a whole lot of success when he's only getting 5 looks from the field.
I will fully admit to be blown away by the success the Pack had against U of L in the post. I thought the post was where Louisville was going to have a solid advantage and assumed that if NC State was going to win it was going to be because of guys like Lacey and Turner going berserk from the outside. Instead, the Cards got outrebounded by 10, and got just 12 total points from their four post players.
Credit to Gottfried and company for having the right game plan, and their big men for executing it to perfection.
There are people who have been clamoring for this for weeks now, but until Saturday I've been unwilling to step fully into their corner. Now, I'm there, and believe that we need to be giving Mangok's minutes to Anas ... or we need to at least be giving Anas more of a chance on the court. I thought he was effective enough during his 5-minute stint near the end of the first half, and I was surprised that we didn't see his number called at all during the second 20 minutes.
He plays really hard, and he had 5 blocks yesterday, but I continue to be blown away by Mangok's lack of progression from the end of last season to this one. He consistently appears to be out of place, he's not making anything around the rim, and the poor hands and the passing have been discussed at length pretty much anywhere where Louisville sports are a topic of conversation.
Anas' limitations are well-known and easily apparent at this point, but he knows where to be on the court, he knows what he's supposed to be doing in virtually every situation, he's got hands and he's a good passer, and I'm pretty sure he can shoot at least a decent percentage around the rim. It might not always work out well, but I'd like to see him get a bit more run over the course of these next two weeks.
Louisville has had 7 steals in their past 3 games, the lowest 3-game total since January 1985 vs. Cincinnati, NC State, and Virginia Tech.— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) February 15, 2015
When you make Louisville a halfcourt team, you make them much easier to beat. It's not exactly re-inventing the wheel, but it's important, and it works. This team isn't going to do anything unless the trend is broken quickly, a fact everyone associated with the program knows. At this point it's all on the players to make it happen.
I've mentioned this before, but I still don't think we've seen Louisville score this season on that play where one of the bigs has the ball in hands at the top of the key and a guard runs behind them so that when they pivot around they set a screen that is dubious in legality. The issue, as it has been for most of the season in both this and other halfcourt sets, is that the guards aren't getting close enough to the screener. This is the first Cardinal team I can remember that hasn't been able to get any cheap points off that play, which is a shame since it's also a team that needs those types of points more than others have.
Cut harder, cut closer, look look for the cut, get some lay-ups.
Wayne and Chris both look good in the box score, but I don't think either one is especially deserving of praise on the day after. Blackshear was not great on the defensive end, and being out of position or a step slow defensively resulted in multiple clear looks from the outside for the opposition.
Chris also played more like he did against Pitt than he had the preceding three weeks; looking to stop the other team's run with a tough challenged shot, showing a great deal of negative emotion on the court, and finishing with just 3 assists in 39 minutes. In Louisville's four losses this season, Jones has a total of 11 assists and 11 turnovers. Part of that is because the team as a whole hasn't shot the ball well in defeat, but not all of it.
Saturday sucked, there's no other way around it. It was a disappointing performance in a game where Louisville had to have known it was going to get a big-time fight out of the visitors. Whether it's indicative of this team's inability to be "great" or some massive flaws that starting 20-4 had been able to conceal, I don't know.
If the tournament began today, I'd say the same thing many others have and make the case that the Cards could lose in the round of 64 or make a run to the Final Four. It's all about matchups. Whether or not that outlook changes for the better between now and exactly a month from today when the brackets are released, again, I don't know. No one knows.
For now, all we can do is wallow in the suck for a couple more days until the ball is tossed inside the Carrier Dome and the 2014-15 education continues.