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Expanded thoughts: Louisville 104, Southern 54

Let’s talk about it.

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Southern v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Southern is likely to be the worst team Louisville faces this season. Out of 353 teams in Division-I, the Jaguars currently sit at No. 346 in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.

Between that and the fact that there were 65 fouls called in the game, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that U of L took a sizable step forward Tuesday night. After a somewhat lackluster opening performance against Nicholls, the Cards appeared noticeably more enthusiastic, confident and, much to the delight of their new head coach, tough in their 50-point romp over Southern.

Let’s talk about what went down.

—The whistles tied records last Thursday. They broke them Tuesday night.

I don’t know if officials are once again trying to “set a tone” by blowing the whistle a billion times in these early season buy games so they can “let them play” once we get into January, but my God I hope so.

Everything was a foul Tuesday night. The crew even went above and beyond by spending 10 minutes to determine that there was a flagrant 1 “hook and hold” foul on Malik Williams (there wasn’t), which is supposed to be one of the dreaded “points of emphasis” this season.

At least the crew was self-aware of how miserable they made last night’s viewing experience.

This is like when ESPN made “Requiem for the Big East” or when OJ wrote “If I Did It.” Don’t act like this isn’t your fault.

—Jordan Nwora is Louisville’s most talented offensive player, and he’s likely going to be Louisville’s leading scorer this season. We knew that and we thought that already.

With that out of the way, it’s also apparent why Mack has chosen to bring his best offensive player off the bench in each of the first two games. Nwora’s defense seemed to frustrate David Padgett to no end last season, and now it appears to be having the same effect on his successor.

In his postgame press conference, Mack pointed out that every time Nwora was on the floor, the opposing bench would instruct its players to isolate and go 1-on-1 on him. That’s a fact Mack hopes Nwora takes personally.

Steal & scores are great, but better teams aren’t going to put those on a platter the way Southern did. What they will do is attack Nwora the same way the Jaguars did; with straight line drives that more times than not ended up in easy buckets for the visitors.

The good news for Nwora is that he’s in a system which should play to his strengths more on both ends of the court than the last one did. In Mack’s version of the pack line defense, you don’t have to be the greatest on-ball defender in the world, you just need to know (this is oversimplifying it, but whatever) when to help and where the help is. If Jordan can just get the hang of the system, then he should be fine.

Bringing him off the bench has worked out well so far, but count me among those who hopes Nwora works his way back into the starting lineup before too much longer.

—I was also happy to see Nwora drill a three late in the game. Louisville is going to need his outside shot this season, and it had been a slow start for Jordan from beyond the arc.

—Speaking of offensive players who can sometimes frustrate you on the other end, Ryan McMahon had a team-high six assists. He was also better on defense, which is a step in the right direction because Ryan’s offensive game and ability to spread the floor is going to demand at least 15-20 minutes of floor time against quality opponents this season.

—Shoutout to Akoy Agau on notching a new Louisville career-high with seven points. The last time he scored in a game for the Cards? March 14, 2014 — 1,705 days ago in the AAC tournament semifinals against Houston. That’s unreal.

Shoutout to Frank Epley as well.

—It was nice to see Malik Williams score 17 points and have the bulk of them come in the paint, but let’s not overreact here. Southern doesn’t start anyone taller than 6’7, and once the Jaguars realized they were going to be called for a foul if they got caught breathing on someone, they started giving U of L’s bigs way too much space in the post.

All that said, this is a nice confidence boost for Williams, who is liable to be used more inside this season than floating around the perimeter. There’s a logjam for Louisville at the three and the four spots, which means the biggest opening for Williams to see the court is in spelling Steven Enoch at the five. As we’ve talked about before, Mack’s offensive style is four out, one in, and it leaves no wiggle room for where the “one in” is supposed to be at all times.

Vermont is a much more talented team than Southern, but the Catamounts will be at a similar size disadvantage in the post, where their best players are both 6’6. Friday night should be a game where Williams can make a world of difference in what should be a much more competitive tilt.

—Speaking of that, if any of you all caught part or all of the Kansas-Vermont game on Tuesday, you saw that the Jayhawks only pulled away for two reasons. First, Lagerald Vick had a career night, canning all eight of his three-point attempts and scoring 32 points. Second, Kansas had Udoka Azubuike and Vermont had no answer for him.

Steven Enoch is Louisville’s Udoka Azubuike, and he’s going to need to be at his best Friday night, because my assumption is that Chris Mack is going to build his offensive plan of attack around the big man.

—Usually I wind up feeling sorry for the coach of the team that’s getting doubled or tripled up in these buy games. When the coach is Sean Woods though ...

Woods was already an unpopular dude in college basketball circles before the battery allegations forced him to resign at Morehead. Plus, you know, he’s an “Unforgettable.”

I won’t shed a tear for the 50-point beatdown Woods received on Tuesday.

—Khwan Fore is much better than I thought he was. He’s not going to be a double figure scorer or anything like that, but both his handles and his outside shot are more serviceable than I’d given him credit for. Fore is also right there in the conversation with Darius Perry and Dwayne Sutton for best on-ball defender on the team.

—There’s been a lot of discussion last night and this morning on Mack’s decision to end the postgame open locker room policy that existed at U of L since Denny Crum had been the head coach.

This doesn’t affect me since I don’t go into the locker rooms after games in search of content, but I do feel for the media members whose jobs just got a little tougher because of this. Having said that, I also see where Mack is coming from, and why the vast, vast majority of programs across the country have a closed door policy.

After the first exhibition game, V.J. King was asked a question about his name popping up in one of the FBI investigation stories. King looked surprised and unprepared and tossed out an answer that raised some eyebrows and became fodder for discussion on local radio (I talked about it for a minute or so). After the win over Nicholls, King was not around in the locker room during the media availability, which also resulted in some discussion the next day. For Mack, King, and at least a few others, this is an annoying distraction ... at the very least.

The programs that have had the most success in situations involving the NCAA have been the ones that have fought the governing body tooth and nail every step of the way. Along the same lines, programs that have had the most success in keeping their names out of negative headlines have been the ones that have been able to keep everything as close to the vest as possible. Both of those statements are sad, but they’re accurate, and you can’t fault Chris Mack for being aware of that.

The fans may miss out on some feel-good stories, but if this gives the program its best chance of staying out of the news (for the wrong reasons) and getting back on track, I think the fans are fine with the trade. Myself included.

—Louisville got more bench points Tuesday night than it had in any game since the final Denny Crum season. Pretty wild.

—Jacob Redding’s dream of finishing his college career without missing a shot came to an end Tuesday night when his three-point attempt in the game’s final minutes found nothing more. That the miss wound up resulting in a rebound and put-back basket for fellow walk-on Jo Griffin likely offered Redding little solace. It certainly didn’t offer me any.

Redding finished his freshman season 4-for-4 from the field, 3-for-3 from behind the three-point line, and 2-for-2 from the free-throw line.

A perfect world doesn’t exist. I always knew it, but I didn’t really know it until Tuesday night.

—The ACC Network Extra (or whatever) is a truly miserable viewing experience. From the constant glitches to somehow winding up 10 minutes behind the actual live game, the whole thing makes the WDRB days with Don Russell feel like an all-expenses paid trip to Turks and Caicos.

Easily the highlight of the latest ACCNE experience was the camera operator going full Charlie Strong/Pat Moorer and not being able to figure out which Southern coach was Sean Woods. The “I’m just going to assume this black guy is the head coach” approach was embarrassing enough when the sport was football, but for basketball, it’s almost impressive to get that wrong multiple times. Forget knowing what the head coach looks like, in basketball he’s always the guy who’s either sitting at the very end of the bench or who’s the only one pacing the sidelines. Twice last night, the ACCNE crew zoomed in on one guy sitting on the bench and saying nothing while another literally walked back and forth in front of him and was screaming at the players on the floor.

Take me back to halftime interviews with Robbie Valentine.

—It may seem like a 50-point win over a bad team is nothing to be overly enthusiastic about, but with the minefield Louisville is about to run through, it certainly beats the alternative of another lackluster performance.

Louisville could lose each of its next five games:

vs. Vermont (Friday)

vs. No. 5 Tennessee (a week from today)

vs. No. 2 Kansas/No. 24 Marquette (Nov. 23)

vs. No. 11 Michigan State (Nov. 27)

At Seton Hall (Dec. 1)

And then after a home reprieve against Central Arkansas, you’re back on the road to face what will likely be a ranked Indiana team that’s hungry to snap its losing streak against you.

Getting things in order Tuesday night was of paramount importance.