What you see is what you get with this year's University of Louisville Cardinals.
Last late night's two point victory over Albany is this '17-'18 season in microcosm.
And, on this the morning after on the darkest day of the year, taking all factors into consideration, despite how the escape appears on its face, I, for one, am not as disheartened as expected to be, or as much as maybe I should be.
It was a night when the defending national champion North Carolina Tar Heels fell in the DeanDome to Wofford, ranked #196 by Ken Pomeroy coming in.
It was a night when the Great Danes, whose coach joked that VJ King is taller than his center, were +14 on the offensive glass, and +10 in the paint.
It was a night when Louisville was outscored in second chance points, 13-0.
It was a night when the Cards, who previously were hitting an almost record setting 78% of their free throws on the season, netted only 13 of 21, missing 5 of 6 in the last three and a half minutes.
It was a night when Deng Adel, yet again out of position defensively, with Cards up a deuce, got away with fouling a three point shooter at the buzzer.
It was a night when the Cards played steadily and with focus, building a double digit advantage, until it went on a 7:33, 1/13 FG drought to fall behind 62-65 with 3:55 to play.
It was a night when the Grinch was poised to steal Christmas.
Yet. The. Cardinals. Still. Won.
And that is not to be discounted.
For, unlike the Salukis of Southern Illinois, Will Brown's well-coached and disciplined Albany Great Danes, the Dance-worthy favorites to win the sturdier than you think America East, are not dogs. Metaphorically speaking, that is.
U of L steadied, dug deep, survived.
* * * * *
There are several reasons why.
Ray Spalding, for one.
He had one of those games where he tried to do too much and acted foolishly on the defensive end. He committed his 3d foul on the Cards' fourth possession after intermission, and had to sit. He returned to the hardwood at 10:12, and was whistled for his 4th foul only :47 seconds later, and returned to the pine forthwith.
He reentered at 5:24, just after the Cardinals had relinquished the lead.
Then he grabbed the affair by the short and curlies.
RS ended that almost fatal U of L drought with a deuce at 2:17 to cut the disadvantage to 64-65.
With just two ticks of the clock under 2:00 -- Thank you, Flavoflavious, Greek God of Timekeeping -- Spalding executed the play of the game, what has been dubbed through the years as a Turning Point.
He aggressively deflected a pass near mid court which went out of bounds. After review, the Cards were granted possession.
Spalding's jump hook seconds later gave the Cards a 66-65 lead. Which they would not lose, despite the sphincter-tightening 1:40 left to play.
Because Ryan McMahon, whose game is turning out to be way more complete than the faithful might have ever hoped for, nailed a contested trey after U of L gained possession on a jump ball situation. 69-65.
And, because Louisville survived Darius Perry's Terry Howard moment with :10 till the buzzer, when the rookie converted the front end, but then missed his only FT of the season.
And, because, earlier in the second half, when disgusted David Padgett called a timeout at 14:21 after U of L had given up four straight and Deng Adel had just thrown it away, the maturing coach coached.
He inserted McMahon, who splashed a bomb on a called and well-executed set. The Cards stole the rock and Q drained a threeball. (The official box gives that steal to Mahmoud, my notes read "RM.") Next trip, Snider spun to the hoop for a +1 and an 11 point lead.
* * * * *
Despite the Cards' woes on the boards -- Get used to it, kids, this is simply not a very good rebounding team -- Anas Mahmoud went to the glass. In addition to his 9 blocks, he snared 7 boards, 6 in the 2d.
Other notable numbers:
Dwayne Sutton busted his hump for 9 rebounds.
McMahon was 5/8 beyond the arc.
Malik Williams grabbed four caroms in only 6 minutes of action before he tweaked his ankle.
Q led scoring with 19 on 5/7, 6/7 marksmanship, and delivered 4 assists. And no turnovers.
The Cardinals only gave it away 7 times as a team.
Next, from the WAC, Dan Majerle's Grand Canyon Antelopes.
-- Seedy K