Louisville basketball has broken it's M.O. this season.
No, not in the sense that the Cards occasionally take a bad loss that feels like it came out of nowhere. It's something a little more specific.
At the beginning of the month, Louisville's Jan. 31 victory over North Carolina looked like a launching point into another successful February. It was a fair possibility, since February has been kind to the Cardinals in recent seasons.
This one hasn't been as nice, and there are plenty of reasons why, the most obvious one being that Louisville hasn't had to play Virginia in February recently. The loss to the Cavaliers shouldn't have surprised anyone, but Louisville's most recent slip up at home against NC State was more bothersome.
The Cardinals were out-rebounded and generally out-played by the Wolfpack over the weekend, and a creeping feeling of "Louisville is just not going to win this game, are they?" set in fairly early.
Of course, a February loss isn't anywhere near the end of the world, no matter what team it comes against. But it is a good opportunity to take a look back at Louisville's losses this year and figure out what has been consistent in all of them. There's more than one singular thing, but one in particular jumps out.
Montrezl Harrell hasn't been himself.
Sure, this hasn't always been his fault. The defensive ability of teams like Kentucky and Virginia have had adverse effects on more players than just Harrell.
With that said, it's still interesting to look at his performances in losses compared to those in wins. Harrell is averaging 9.4 points per game in Louisville's five losses this season, almost seven points less than the 16.2 points he's averaging in wins. For the season, that all shakes out to a scoring average of just over 15 points per game.
For what it's worth (not much), an additional six points would have equaled wins at North Carolina and Virginia.
It's not as simple as just saying that Montrezl Harrell needs to score more points or else, but it goes without saying that his play and persona have an effect on the rest of the team. So while scoring isn't the cure for all ailments, it couldn't hurt.
As far as the persona part, Harrell is one of the most passionate players in the college game today. There's never any secret as to how he's feeling when he's on the court. It's all out there.
That energy is what Louisville fans and his teammates love about 'Trez. He can quite literally light up an entire arena. It would make sense, then, that when Harrell isn't a force in a game, Louisville can't play to its full potential. And when that happens against tough teams, losses happen.
Basically, it would probably help if Harrell got more involved offensively than the 13 combined shot attempts he had against Virginia and NC State in 72 total minutes. Everything else notwithstanding, that would be positive.
Since sports don't occur in a vacuum, however, Harrell becoming more involved could help in all kinds of other areas.
This is because an effective Harrell is a dominant rebounder and a force around the basket both offensively and defensively. When Harrell can be those things (and is able to dunk all over the place), Louisville scores, feeds off of his energy and can do more of what they want to do defensively. That last one is most important, because after all, defense has always been what has made Rick Pitino's Cardinal teams special.
When Louisville has lost this season, it hasn't all been Montrezl Harrell's fault. On the other hand, there's a reason he was named a preseason All-American, and it started with his ability to singlehandedly impact a game with his explosive ability.
And while Louisville is capable of winning without a double-double from Harrell every night, they've proven to be far better off when he at least comes close.
It's safe to say that the past couple of results haven't been indicative of how good Harrell or Louisville can be. Luckily, it's still February, and the schedule for the remainder of the month is relatively favorable.
February is short, though. March isn't far away.