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Thinking Probabilistically About Louisville Basketball In 2017-18

As If The Last 16 Years Actually Happened

Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I try not to follow basketball recruiting because for the last 7 years or so, there seems to be an inverse relationship between how much we hear about a prospect's recruitment and the likelihood that player shows up here.  Let's call this the Teague Ratio, named after the most hyped and intense recruiting battle between UofL and UK since the I-64 Miles Ahead billboard bidding war.  The night before his commitment was one of the most intense pre-Trump Twitter nights I can remember, with people repeating all sorts of rumors about LEBRON HIMSELF flying to Indiana to recruit him for UK.  I think people pointed out Teague on recruiting visits to games at Freedom Hall featuring T-Will and Bryan Harvey!

After that, there became a pattern in recruiting.  Starting in the summer, you see "UofL offers ______" then a few weeks later, if that person you'd never heard of before hadn't committed, you'd start seeing tweets like "Cal, Williams, Coach K, Self and Pitino all here to watch _____" and then if they didn't commit after that you'd start seeing "_____ blows up, talks Duke, UK offers" and then you knew the guy was never coming here.  The point is, of our best players over the Era of Goode Feelings, how many had high stakes, long recruiting processes?  Wayne Blackshear committed on Christmas out of no where like a year early.  Chane committed almost right away.  Siva was pretty quiet for a McD's AA.  Q committed as a Sophomore, then decommitted because of FULLLLLLER,  and then on signing day showed up again without warning (I will brag that I did get a text about it like an hour before it was publicly known).  Mitchell had the "blows up" stuff but immediately committed.  Adel was quick.  Ray, Nanu, Terry - all were guys who wanted to come here and made it known early and easily.

Here is a picture of Mitchell, Adel and Ray's signing ceremony where they chose a UofL hat:

All of that is to say, for Rick Pitino to have technically his second highest rated recruit (after Samardo) enroll in school and announce for us 3 days after what would have been a secret visit is a highly unlikely event.  But that's the benefit of thinking probabilistically.  It's not an IMPOSSIBLE scenario, it's just improbable.  But improbable things happen all the time.  Like Louisville being the first school ever to have players win the Heisman and Golden Spikes in the same season.  Just getting one of each is a huge thing for us, but in the same year?


The interesting thing has been reading the reaction from the college sports media about how it moves us up from a completely arbitrary 7-12 range to an even more arbitrary 5-7 range in rankings, and how now that our 3 best players are wings, we are going to start seeing more "positionless basketball" and small lineups with Adel at the 4 and with so many good shooters things will start opening up and everything else.  Seriously, has no one watched Louisville basketball as closely as our dear Chron readers the last 16 years?  Well, right, probably not.

But since both you and I dear reader have watched Louisville basketball EXTREMELY closely and remember to always view a range of possible outcomes and assign probabilities instead of jumping to conclusions about how things are going to go, here is how I think next year might shape up:

1. A Platoon (Cardtoon?) System (15% Chance)

Since the Platoon system has forever been ruined by Cal vowing to never, ever use it again after he went 38-0 with it, we need a new name for this. If we were to truly platoon it would have to be 2 lineups with mix of vets and new guys.

But that's not really what I mean.  Really, the idea is from one of Rick's old random musings that I swear I remember reading but can't find now about how if he were to go back to the NBA, he would get a second string of guys to come in and press full court and go all crazy like his 90s UK teams a couple times a game in order to try to wear out the other team.  Since he said this I've always wanted him to try something similar with our teams, especially in years when there is a good solid core of backup guys.  They don't need to know the defense or the offense, just put in 5 fresh guys at the 15 minute mark of the first half and let them go completely nuts until the under 12, then repeat at the 9 minute mark or so, maybe even do it once in the second half.  You are telling me that wouldn't completely mess with the other team and payoff in the long run?  During the 2013 title run, it was pretty funny to watch every game a lineup of SivaorRuss-Ware-Luke-Trez-SVT during the first half and be like, ya that's 4 of our "backups" and they are extending the lead, that's cool.

How much fun would it be this season to see Perry (who I think will be a fan fucking favorite, like a Preston!), Nwora, Bowen, Thomas and Williams just playing frenetic full court press defense and run and gun offense for awhile each half?

I don't think Pitino would ever go Full Platoon because, frankly, it was ridiculous when Cal did it and it would be ridiculous now.  But I think there is at least a10% chance that in the first half of most pre-conference games we see him tinker with this all-freshman lineup to see what it can do.

And by the way there's a 100% chance that Pitino says "the 5 freshman team keep beating the starters when they scrimmage at practice" during the pre-season.  100% lock.

2. Positionless Basketball! (20% Chance)

The Warriors and the NBA have shown us the future of positionless basketball!  Just put 5 insanely talented guys out there, all of whom but 1 are 6'8" or taller and can dribble like point guards and shoot 3s, and the guys under 6'8" are once-in-a-generation talents who can bomb threes from halfcourt and make crazy layups in traffic!  See, that's what EVERYONE should be doing!

I think you get my point: sure, when you have 5 guys who are the size of centers but shoot like the best shooting guards and handle like the best point guards, you don't really need "positions" per se.  But college basketball doesn't have that, and you need to design your system for tall guys who can't shoot 3s and guys who can shoot 3s no matter how tall or strong they are, because that's what you've got laying around.

Also, the NBA allows a more free flowing, offensive game, and college basketball for the most part is unwatchable, so trying to force the up-tempo game against a 35+ teams who, with few a few exceptions, want to play the opposite way and the rules/structure helps them do it would be very frustrating.  Unwatchable!

THAT SAID, if our 3 best scorers are Deng, King, and Bowen, those 3 guys need to be on the court as much as possible.  But that doesn't mean they need to be on the court together.  Arguably, having the ability to have 2 of those 3 on the court at all times with no real drop off would be more valuable than having all 3 play together.  But I don't see how Bowen or King provide the defense and rebounding of Adel.  So there's for sure a chance we move Deng from shooting guard (2) to the power forward (4) depending on the matchup and how Bowen/King are doing.  I mean, Kuric played the 4 for significant minutes in 2012, so I think Deng would be just fine there.  Plus, imagine a zone defense of Q and then 4 really tall guys who can move freely and cover end to end?  That would be, as they say, very nice.

So while I think frequent VJ-Bowen-Adel lineups are possible, I don't think that's what we'll see the most of.  That would be:

3. Chance Things Go Like They Always Go (55-60% Chance)

Which do yo think is a more likely thing you'll say next year sometime around January 15?  "Wow, Bowen, King and Adel really have meshed and our offense is clicking like crazy!" or "Our offense looks rough, really think Nwora, Bowen and Williams should be playing more to try to hit some 3s and open things up."

I would love the freshman and Sutton to all come in and start playing huge roles from day 1, and I think that since there's a 100% chance we hear the "freshman 5 beating starters in practice" thing at some point, fan expectations are going to be at an all time high.  But we just have to remember that we've all seen this movie before and we can read our team.  Last season February came around and it really looked liked we Had It, but over the last few weeks we all could tell something was off.  Losing, especially after blowing big leads, should have told us what we needed to know, but part of me was rationalizing things: UNC on the road was the eventual national champion, Wake was Senior Night / tournament resume must-have for them, Duke was getting ALLLLL THE CALLS and is really good and a possible #1 or #2 seed, Michigan was hotter than anyone, etc.

Hilarious.  So anyway, in January if we are saying "play the freshman more!" because the offense sucks, well, just remember that's how it is SUPPOSED to look, and always has looked, and it all works out in the end.  How? Pitino.

4.  We Set The Roof On Fire (5-10% Chance)

I mean, maybe this should be higher?  We return 5 starters, and have 6 new, really talented guys to come in and push them and play right away, including 2 possible 1-and-done talents in Williams and Bowen.  Pitino can press like crazy, shoot 3s like crazy, play a really long and pestering zone, platoon with fresh legs or always have a mix of new/experienced players on the floor.

Sure we'd need some things to happen, like: the NCAA wraps up the mess with a couple more token penalties but nothing major, taking a huge emotional burden off the program. Sutton brings toughness, Ray makes the leap most Pitino players make between the Freshman/Sophomore seasons, Ryan McM gets a little stronger and doesn't give up as much on defense as he used to so that his offensive talents make him a net positive, Perry and Nwora are picking up the defense, VJ makes the leap, Adel picks up where he left off....I mean, these are all plausible and not-improbable things.  And it's not improbable for them all to happen in the same season.  If all of these things happen, other than UK I really would be fine to play anyone in the country next season.  And it's not that I think we'd lose to UK, but I just hate playing them, especially in the tournament and especially especially at Rupp.

Anyway, if even most of these things happen, I think we'd have a real shot at another banner, but we'd have to get hot at the right time, get real contributions from freshman and just plan get lucky in the tournament, like everyone.

I differentiate this section from the one above only because under this scenario, we just completely dominate the regular season, look good and have fun doing it, win the ACC regular season and tournament, make a deep run and nab Romeo and like 2 other 5*s for 2018 in the process.

Wait, doesn't Romeo have the highest Teague Ratio in the history of Cardinal athletics?  It's impossible that he will really end up here right?

Well as the universe reminds us every day, including Saturday, improbable things happen all the time.