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Belated thoughts: Louisville 82, Michigan State 78 (OT)

The good vibes are back.

Michigan State v Louisville Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

I’ve had issues with sleep for as long as I can remember, so the fact that I was awake at 3 a.m. last night/this morning wasn’t especially out of the ordinary. It was the emotions accompanying the insomnia that were unfamiliar.

In the initial hours following Louisville’s upset of No. 9 Michigan State, I did what I would assume most of us did: Talked about the win with friends and family, watched every celebration video and clicked on every victory story that popped up on social media, and then hopped in bed.

Sleep definitely wasn’t going to come right away.

So I pulled the computer back out and flipped on the replay of the game, which aired in an abbreviated form from midnight to 2 a.m. on ESPNU. The hope was that at some point during the second half I would doze off.

No dice.

So then I started writing this post ... and finished it 24 hours later thanks to Brohm Watch madness.

There was a time when these happy kinds of sleepless nights were relatively commonplace. That time had been gone for what was starting to feel like at least a decade. Thank God they’re back.

Here’s to the start of a new era chock-full of groggy mornings.

—The most impressive thing about Tuesday night’s win was how much the first 42 minutes mirrored the loss to Marquette just four days earlier.

Louisville was in complete control for the bulk of the game, had a “wait, where did that 10-point lead go?” stretched that resulted in a heart attack-inducing end to regulation, and then ultimately got pushed to overtime. It would have been so easy for the players to let the thoughts from the Marquette loss not just creep into their minds, but completely take them over.

Chris Mack was concerned about this very thing, and chose to address it outright during the pre-overtime huddle.

“I specifically talked about it,” Mack said in reference to bringing up the Marquette loss. “I said ‘how did you feel in the locker room at Barclays on Friday night? How’d you feel? Because we’re in the same exact position. It’s up to you.’”

—I’ll be honest and say that I was totally fine with the player Twitter ban while it was in place. It seemed like an easy solution to one of the problems that consistently popped up at other programs across the country.

Having admitted, I’ll also say that I’ve loved seeing how the players have used Twitter since the ban was lifted, which is as much a testament to them as it is anything else.

For instance, we’ve never gotten to see post-major victory stuff like this before:

Pretty awesome.

—Ryan McMahon obviously did so many things so well for us, but honestly the most important may have been finding a way to get to the ball when Michigan State had to foul in the final moments of overtime. The Spartans even double-teamed McMahon and he still managed to shake free and make himself available. Mack said after the game that he fooled the defenders by using his eyes to make it appear as though a dangerous pass were being thrown to one side and then breaking the other way towards the inbounder. Insert your favorite generic undersized white kid adjective here. I was going to go with “savvy.”

I also have no idea why Michigan State didn’t just grab Malik Williams before the ball was inbounded. I know that’s supposed to be an intentional foul, but it never gets called that way.

Anyways, Ryan remains ice cold and the guy we’re always going to want at the stripe when the game’s hanging in the balance.

—It seems silly, but I got legitimately nervous when I thought about the November home court winning streak potentially coming to an end. One of my favorite early season traditions is pointing out that the Cards have never lost a November home game at the Yum Center, and haven’t lost a November home game period since 1972.

Those facts will be shared once again 12 months from now.

—The “Mack Shimmy” should become a staple.

We all spent a solid chunk of last night talking about how much the win meant to us, the city and the players who have been through more adversity than they signed up for, but it also meant a significant amount to the new man in charge. This video and the other celebration videos make that fact pretty apparent.

—This will probably be the fourth or fifth time I’ve written this, but the most obnoxious thing about Dan Dakich is that there’s no need for him to be obnoxious. When he just sticks to the color commentary stuff, there are few in college basketball who are better than he is. For whatever reason, though, he just can’t seem to help himself on Twitter and on his Indianapolis radio show, and he makes himself impossible to like.

When the topic of Jeff Brohm and rumors and reports came up, kudos to play-by-play man Jason Benetti for not letting the moment pass without making multiple digs at Dakich.

Dakich, of course, reported two weeks ago that Jeff Brohm would be introduced as Louisville’s new head football coach during a press conference on Nov. 26. That report was inaccurate.

—It’s stunning to me how fantastic all three grad transfers have been through the season’s first month. Each has been above and beyond what I thought they would be when they committed last spring.

Christen Cunningham has been this team’s rock, and I can’t imagine where they’d be without him.

Khwan Fore is the best on-ball defender on the team and has proven to be capable enough on offense that he’s nowhere near resembling a liability on that end of the floor.

And then Akoy Agau ... he looks like a player completely transformed from the one I saw playing sparingly for a bad SMU team last winter. He’s a solid body in the post, a decent enough offensive threat, and an invaluable leader and veteran presence on a team that would otherwise be sorely lacking in that department.

This team isn’t overachieving without these three guys overachieving. Here’s hoping the overachievement continues for all parties concerned.

—Chris Mack going straight at Ted Valentine multiple times last night was a thing of beauty.

There was this:

And also this:

And then also a very visible “This f—ing guy .... Are you f—-ing kidding me?” after the Malik Williams foul call at the end of regulation.

It was the right call, but whatever. Team Mack.

—One of the most annoying things as a fan/spectator is when an opposing player is left-handed, goes left 95% of the time, and your players fail to realize this and adjust defensively. I get that there’s a lot going on out on the floor and that sometimes your brain lags behind your natural reactions, but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating for those sitting on our asses and watching from home/the stands.

The phenomenon is especially obnoxious when there’s an opposing player like Nick Ward, a left-handed big man who does the exact same spin to his right, shoot with his left move every single time he catches the ball on the block. Steven Enoch and Malik Williams both struggled to adjust to this, but deep in the second half there was a possession where Ward caught the ball in the post and Akoy Agau simply draped himself over Ward’s right shoulder and dared him to do anything else. Ward refused, tried to make the same move he always does, and forced up and awkward looking push shot that didn’t come close to hitting the rim.

This was probably my favorite play of the night, and perfectly summed up why Akoy is the best.

Also, happy birthday today to the big guy. I’m not going to make a “he’s older than the average college basketball player joke,” so you can insert your own here.

—You can’t give me enough postgame videos.

—There’s no way to dance around it, but Louisville was better when V.J. King wasn’t on the floor Tuesday night. Maybe it winds up being the spark he’s in need of or maybe it’s simply a sign of things to come, but it’s a fact.

V.J. still looks every bit as unsure of what to do when the ball is in his hands as he did when he was a freshman. The ball just stops when it gets to him, and then the possession does too. It’s like he’s still guessing out there; trying to play naturally, but brutally unsure of how to do that.

The best thing for V.J. right now would be to focus on attacking the glass, getting cheap points around the basket, creating for teammates and giving maximum effort on defense. Carve a niche for yourself in a secondary role and then let the other stuff come, a la Dwayne Sutton last year.

—This also demands mention if we’re talking about V.J.: He stayed into the game the entire night and was just as excited as everyone else on the team during the postgame celebration.

That speaks volumes about a junior captain who was benched for the first time and whose college career certainly hasn’t gone the way he thought it would when he arrived on campus. I completely understand the frustrations, but I also think being a hell of a teammate deserves some proper recognition.

—Kenny Goins finishing with 17 rebounds and zero field goal attempts in 29 minutes is one of the more bizarre stat lines from a Louisville game that I can ever remember. Goins entered the night averaging better than five shot attempts per game.

—Can’t convince me that Russ Smith being in the house didn’t help this version of Louisville-Michigan State go more 2012 than 2015 (either of them).

Suck it, Draymond.

—Louisville is now 3-2 all-time in the ACC-Big 10 Challenge, with all three wins coming at home and both losses coming on the road. It’s also beaten the only two teams it has lost to (Michigan State and Purdue).

—Some cool numbers from Kelly Dickey:

—There was a possession in overtime that really stood out to me as far as marking the clear difference between this year and last year. Cassius Winston had fouled out and so Foster Loyer was being forced to run the point on MSU. It had become apparent in the previous few minutes that he was overmatched defensively, and so Chris Mack had set up some iso sets for Ryan McMahon to go straight at him. Tom Izzo had counteracted by placing a shadow defender on McMahon, a move which forced Mack to respond.

What Mack did was run one of his traditional sets with Christen Cunningham starting out high with the ball, only instead of bringing a big man or forward to set the high ball screen, he had McMahon do it. The result was Cunningham being 1-on-1 with Loyer, whipping him off the dribble and drawing a foul that sent him back to the charity stripe with a chance to make it a two possession game (he made 1 of 2).

This isn’t meant to be a dig at last year’s staff or team, which I will contend forever did the best it could under the strangest of circumstances. It’s just evidence of the little things that make the difference in games like this, the little things that consistently evaded us in 2017-18 and ultimately resulted in a trip to the NIT. It’s the benefit of having a proven head coach with a proven staff and a (almost) full offseason for that staff to work with its roster.

—If you say you didn’t have Virginia thoughts when Jordan Nwora went to the line up three and less than four seconds to go, I don’t believe you.

I also had an odd flashback to Bryn Forbes hitting a corner three for Michigan State to kick off overtime in the 2015 Elite 8 game. I was way more relieved than I should have been when CC scored first.

So suck it, Bryn Forbes.

—Once again, our first taste of Big Win Celebration Chris Mack did not disappoint.

—Matt McQuaid playing wouldn’t have changed anything. If you know a Michigan State fan who says otherwise, ignore them.

McQuaid is a decent outside shooter whose other major skill is somehow falling down 90% of the time he’s on the court. The man who started in place of him, Kyle Ahrens, buried three treys and tied for the team-high in points with 15.

—The saddest thing about the foul call on Malik Williams at the end of regulation is that I didn’t almost want to die after it happened. I expected something like that to happen. That’s where we are. Or maybe (hopefully) that’s where we were.

The same phenomenon made the win that much sweeter.

—The best thing about beating Michigan State in November is that for the next four months you know you have a win that’s going to sparkle. The Spartans are a lot like the old Louisville teams that would drop a handful of non-conference games and dip in the rankings early, but be right back where everyone originally thought they’d be by March.

As disappointing as the Marquette loss was, getting this one means much more than getting that one would have.

—I couldn’t be more pleasantly surprised by where we are right now, or more encouraged about what the future under Chris Mack could hold. This team should be 5-1 with a win over a top 10 team and a hard-fought game against a top five team on a neutral court. That’s more than I thought I was going to be able to say as we make the first turn and head into December.

Put simply, it feels wonderful to be this excited again.