Heading into ACC play I limited my goals for the 10 weeks ahead to two things: 1) Make the NCAA tournament. 2) Give us a handful of feel-good nights along the way. The second thing has already happened, and those occurrences seem likely to make the first goal a reality as well.
I mean, when’s the last time we had a 10-day span of Louisville basketball that was this enjoyable? Sure there have been similar undefeated stretches against equally tough competition, but for this team to do it under these circumstances and for it to be so seemingly out of the blue ... man, I don’t even know what to say. This has been an absolute blast, and perhaps the best part of it all is that the stretch has laid the foundation for even more fun to go down in the months ahead. I can’t stop smiling.
Anyway, here are some scattered thoughts on the night that was in South Bend:
—I think the coolest thing about the season might be watching David Padgett grow as a head coach right before our eyes. It’s usually a really difficult thing to distinguish since we’re talking about the man on the sidelines being a hardened veteran with decades of experience, but with David being a first year head coach, the change is more readily apparent.
If you want evidence, watch a replay of last night’s game and then afterward watch a replay of the Purdue or Seton Hall game. It’s a snow day, you have the time.
Over the course of two months, Padgett has become exponentially better with his substitution patterns, with his late-game management, and with his (/his staff’s) pregame scouts. Some of that is stuff that naturally occurs throughout the course of a year as you get to know your team and start playing more familiar opponents. A lot of it this season, though, is a reflection of the fact that this coaching staff — championed by a 32-year-old first-year head coach — was thrown together right before the start of the season. They didn’t know how to work with one another and some of them didn’t even really know the guys they were coaching or the program they were representing. That’s not any of their faults, obviously, it’s merely a reflection of the insane situation everyone was thrown into.
This could have gone really, really wrong, and it would have been hard to blame any of the adults involved. That it hasn’t is a fact which demands significant praise for everyone involved, most notably the man at the very top.
Reading and hearing stuff like this is just further evidence of the point here:
Deng Adel, who lost his voice, described the last play in regulation: "It was just the scouting report ... Once the ball screen came, Anas (Mahmoud) yelled 'down it!' & I knew, once he said that, (Farrell) would reject the ball screen. ... I just moved my feet & contested it."— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_cj) January 17, 2018
From early October through right now, David Padgett has done an unbelievable job. Seeing that work and that improvement in real time has been a joy.
—I really, really like Notre Dame basketball, but then I see stuff like this kid and remember that I was there when their students chanted “USA” at Gorgui Dieng and it makes me feel not so bad about the Irish losing heartbreaking games.
Legitimately the weakest in-game sign work I’ve ever seen. And against the team that should provide an in-game sign artist with more low hanging fruit than any other. We basically gave this kid his choice of any automated weapon to carry with him into a fight, and he chose a twig. Not even a sharp twig. It’s noble, I suppose, but it predictably didn’t do a whole lot of damage.
—It’s rare you can pinpoint an exact moment when a game changed, but I think you can do that with last night’s tilt.
The first half in South Bend flipped on a dime when Darius Perry entered the game to guard Matt Farrell. Farrell, the senior point guard who had missed the last three games with an ankle injury, had already scored 15 points on 5 of 8 shooting in the game’s first 12 minutes. He made just one shot the rest of the first half, and perhaps more importantly, he was worn down by Louisville’s freshman guard. Having a guy up on you for every single dribble takes a toll. It’s why U of L’s best teams under Rick Pitino were the ones that were able to bring constant defensive pressure.
Farrell had no legs by the time the end of the second half and the two overtimes arrived. After Perry’s first appearance in the game with eight minutes to go in the first half, Farrell scored only eight points and shot 3 of 17 from the field. He also turned the ball over five times. Perry doesn’t deserve all the credit for those numbers, but he deserves the lion’s share of it. He was tremendous.
—As much fun as it was last night watching a two overtime game and knowing that the resulting stress was going to cut my life at least a few months shorter than it was set to be, Louisville wins that game in regulation or the first overtime if it simply does one thing (defensive rebounding) a tiny bit better.
I’m sure it’s before where a team has lost a game in which it pulled down 26 offensive rebounds, but I’m guessing those instances are difficult to track down. Even if they’re not, I’m not going to try.
The most frustrating thing about Louisville’s defensive rebounding woes is that they take place even when the Cards have great position. I’ve never seen a team that struggles so mightily with both catching balls that are coming down from the sky and picking up balls that are loose on the ground. There are worse deficiencies for a team to have, but I’m not sure there are any more frustrating.
“Grab The Effing Ball” might be the most popular name in the city of Louisville for 2018. Laugh all you want, going with more than three names is trendy right now.
—When you make a promise ...
If Louisville beats Notre Dame tonight I’ll post a video of me diving into the snow in my boxers @CardChronicle— Andrew Skaggs (@andrewskaggs18) January 17, 2018
You need to keep it ...
Shouts to Andrew for being a man of his word.
—Let’s spend a minute talking about snow globe magic.
A few years ago, I was given this snow globe that has two cardinals sitting on a branch. If you shake it, “snow” falls over them. Pretty standard snow globe framework. Anyway, I enjoy the snow globe and like to bust it out once Christmas is over as a winter/Cards in conference play decoration. I typically don’t have much say in things that happen outside of the basement at CC Headquarters, but sometimes when the Mrs. is away I bring things upstairs with the hope that maybe she won’t notice. She always notices.
A couple weeks ago there was a back and forth over whether or not we “had a place” for the snow globe. I lost, and hours later, Louisville lost to Clemson.
In an early 2018 miracle, Mrs. CC had a sudden and extreme change of heart, and opted to, on her own, display the snow globe prominently in our living room. Since said miracle, the following has taken place:
-Louisville men upset Florida State
-Louisville women stay unbeaten and thrash Notre Dame
-Louisville men take care of Virginia Tech
-Jonathan Greenard and Jaylen Smith both announce they’re returning to Louisville
-Kentucky loses to South Carolina in South Carolina’s first game with Brian Bowen on the bench
-Kentucky fans get hammered for threatening the lives of the Music City Bowl referees
-Jo-Willy Tsonga wins a five-set thriller at the Aussie Open (that’s a personal one, Jo-Willy is my favorite player)
-Louisville upsets Notre Dame on the road for the first time in 24 years (I set a new record by shaking it six times during the game)
-Earl Clark celebrates his 30th birthday
Tell me with a straight face that you don’t believe in snow globe magic. You can’t.
—I wasn’t sure whether or not Jordan Nwora was going to play another meaningful minute this season, but major props to him for being ready when his number was called Tuesday night. He showed a lot of maturity after appearing to be noticeably less than enthusiastic about his minutes dropping in recent weeks. Here’s hoping he can use this performance as a spark for a strong finish to his freshman season.
Also, shoutout to Tim, who called the radio show yesterday and predicted that Nwora was going to come in the game and totally change it either for good or bad. You nailed it, and I was way off.
—I’m just happy that Darius is ok.
Darius Perry will take this first big win celebration and he’ll learn from it. pic.twitter.com/C3CckRzgid— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 17, 2018
He’ll be better because of this lesson.
—Rece Davis dropped “House of Horrors” in the opening seconds of last night’s broadcast. Cease and desist, Rece.
—For two years, Louisville fans have been frustrated by the fact that one game Ray Spalding would look like a lottery pick and the next he’d look like a guy who didn’t especially care about having a career in basketball. We’ve all been clamoring for the Ray Spalding light switch to stay in the “on” position permanently, as if the issue were that simple.
Maybe it was.
I can’t think of another explanation for how Ray has gone from the same likable but enigmatic figure we’d seen since the start of his freshman year to a guy who is playing like one of the most capable and well-rounded power forwards we’ve ever seen put on a Louisville uniform. Spalding has been fantastic over the last three weeks, and his brilliance hasn’t been limited to spurts. He’s been great when the team has been in an offensive slump, he’s been active on defense when his teammates seem tired, and he’s become a consistently clutch performer on key possessions late in close games.
If this keeps up for another two months then not only is Louisville going to exceed everyone’s expectations, but Ray is going to play his way into first round pick territory.
—I didn’t know how much I needed a picture of sad Digger Phelps leaving Purcell Pavilion until Eric Crawford provided me with one.
Digger’s out, and so is Louisville, with its first win in South Bend since 1994, 82-78. pic.twitter.com/3NHJOSjkJx— Eric Crawford (@ericcrawford) January 17, 2018
Thank you, Eric.
—Even as an opposing fan, I loved seeing Bonzie Colson’s energy and enthusiasm on full display throughout the game. He’s an impossible kid to dislike, and I hope he gets back on the court by the end of this season and gets to finish his college career with one last trip to the NCAA tournament.
—After the Kentucky game, I stated aloud that I thought this season was going to go in one of two extreme directions. Either this team was going to band together and commit themselves to making the most out of the three months ahead, or they were going to start feeling sorry for themselves, start getting resentful of the situation they didn’t ask for, and spend the three months making plans for their individual futures.
2OT win on the road = Locker room ⬆️ and David Padgett gets a gatorade shower from the team‼️ pic.twitter.com/6c4JzYhfWQ— Greg Paulus (@Greg_Paulus) January 17, 2018
The first thing has happened, and it’s pretty awesome.