1. I'm seeing and hearing a lot of people comparing this team to the recent Pitino teams (2014-15 specifically) that were so good defensively but would struggle to score 100 points if they were left alone in the gym by themselves. While this group isn't quite where I thought they'd be on the offensive end in the season's first month, I think there are a number of reasons not to push the panic button just yet, and not to relate this directly to what we've seen from Louisville teams of the not so distant past.
First, this team has players with room for offensive improvement. So many times in the last three years, guys have just sort of been who they are from day one through the end of the season. Ray Spalding showed Wednesday night how much he could potentially help on the offensive end, V.J. King is going to see both his minutes and his production climb as the season goes on (don't roll your eyes, this isn't a Shaqquan Aaaron situation), you have to assume you're going to get something from Tony Hicks once/if he fully straightens up and flies right, and then who knows where this Ryan McMahon thing goes.
You also have to expect that at least one of the starters who is off to a slow start is going to be better for the bulk of the season. Q has proven over the past two years that his shooting through the season's first three weeks is probably an anomaly, and that it will steadily climb as the weeks go on. Deng Adel is less of a known commodity, but I struggle to believe that all the scouts and media members who raved about him in Los Angeles this summer were simply 100 percent wrong. He might not be a 20 point per game scorer, but it's more likely than not that he winds up being better than he's been.
The third, and maybe the most important thing, is the depth that hasn't been there in two of the last three seasons. Louisville's bench went 12-of-15 from the floor on Wednesday and nine different guys on the team scored at least six points.
The most frustrating thing about two years ago when the team was going through especially anemic stretches was that you'd get mad and say "why don't we put in .... " and then just blank because there was nobody sitting on the bench who could do any better. That's not the case in 2016-17. There's not an elite scorer on this team (although Mitchell could put up Rozier-esque numbers if there were as few people to share the ball with as there were in Terry's sophomore season), but there are a bunch of guys who can score 8-10 points above their season average on any given night.
Also, we're really good at defense.
2. We're calling Ryan "The McMahonimal." I was going to put it to a vote, but if we're being honest, I would have just dismissed the results of the vote and gone with McMahonimal anyway. It's happening.
Also, this GIF will be used liberally for the next four months.
THAT'S RYAN McMAHONS MUSIC! pic.twitter.com/bL6RtSRx7Z— Jaime Mendoza (@J_Mendoza8) December 1, 2016
McMahon is without question going to be a fan favorite this season, but not just because he's a guy that announcers are going to mistakenly identify as a walk-on sideshow (cough Dakich cough) all season long. The combination of his crazy backstory -- shoutout to Dicky V -- and the fact that he is a knockdown shooter on a team that doesn't have another one of those is going to elicit some added attention. The fact that he bears a closer resemblance in size to a lot of the people in the crowd than most of his teammates also helps.
Regardless of the reasons, I love the kid. I had my doubts when the scholarship was thrown his way two years ago, but now I'm really excited to see how he develops between now and 2020.
3. Color me surprised by how many Purdue fans made it inside the Yum Center Wednesday night. I don't think I can ever remember a non-Kentucky opposing fan base having a greater presence inside the arena.
It was the best home environment of the season so far (as it should have been), but I'll still never understand what motivates 15-20 percent of the lower bowl to bounce in the final 10 minutes of a tight game against a top 15 opponent. Why even go?
4. I don't think anyone explained the "Go Cards, Beat Purdue" story to the cheerleaders before the game. They had the cards necessary to make the cheer happen, but when they took the court with them they looked like they had zero idea what to do. Thus, there was no "Go Cards, Beat Purdue" cheer, which is a crying shame considering how rarely we get the opportunity to play the Boilermakers at home.
I'm going to go ahead and need one of you to GIF the Jordan fist pump that Levitch gave after his first half buzzer-beater so that I can play it on a loop forever. It was a tremendous reaction, and the play itself produced some high-quality work on Twitter.
Ok David at the buzzer #L1C4— Montrezl Harrell (@MONSTATREZZ) December 1, 2016
I see no difference @CardChronicle pic.twitter.com/d1jsLKmY6n— Q (@QuineTime) December 1, 2016
5. If we learned one important thing from this game that we didn't know before it, I think it's that this quartet of frontcourt players can hold its own defensively against a pair of large and talented bigs like Isaac Haas and Caleb Swanigan.
When Chinanu Onuaku left, I think the thought of guys like Mangok Mathiang, Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spalding being bullied in the paint by more bruising centers and forwards was a major concern for all of us. Now, that concern should be diminished.
This isn't the last time that U of L will see a one/two combination at the four and the five that at least looks like Swanigan and Haas, so the way they played Wednesday night should be a huge confidence boost for the frontcourt when it goes up against teams like Indiana, North Carolina, NC State, Georgia Tech and others in the ACC with some hosses in the middle.
6. It would appear as though this was a "message received" appearance from Tony Hicks, who gave the Cards quality minutes for the first time since the first week of the season.
The situation reminds me a little bit of two years ago when Chris Jones was publicly admonished for playing "hero ball" and not involving his teammates enough. His response was to go out and not even look at the basket the next game, which infuriated Rick Pitino even more. While Hicks isn't going to be relied upon to score nearly as much as Jones was, he has to find the same happy medium that Jones did where he's not constantly looking to score -- Hicks took 1 out of every 3 shots when he was on the court during the season's first two weeks, which isn't great when you're 3-of-17 -- but he's also not passing wide-open shots.
It's easy to forget that Hicks is still a rookie when it comes to adjusting to life under Pitino. In a weird way, it's almost tougher to adjust to this culture when you're a guy who's been "the man" for the last three years at the college level than it is when you've been "the man" for four years in high school.
I still think that Louisville is going to need Hicks to be a primary contributor if it wants to navigate through life in the ACC as comfortably as possible, so it's good to see him showing some "fight" in what seems like the proverbial fight or flight stretch.