The 2018-19 University of Louisville Cardinals continue to amaze.
Not that a 13 point mid December homecourt victory over #147 Kent State in and of itself is an earth shattering result.
It was the manner of the win.
It was the apparent visual and empirical evidence of game by game by game improvement that was yet again manifest.
There are reasons aplenty for the faithful’s burgeoning exuberance about this plucky band of Cards.
And the mack daddy of them all is . . . all together now . . . Chris Mack.
(Yes, kids, I can go literary and verbose, and I can go hip hop. At least as street as a septuagenarian with a bum wheel can go.)
So, before we get to the game itself, some props for that new guy on the bench.
Chris Mack nailed his introductory presser. He said all the right stuff. He was confident, but self effacing. His kids were cute, one of them turning the venue into his own romper room. Coach opened his arms to former Cardinals, to the tradition, and it was not simply lip service.
Chris Mack -- and his staff, Dino Gaudio, Luke Murray, Mike Pegues -- all things considered given the clouds enshrouding the program, corralled the most dumbfounding, excellent recruiting class in the history of the game. His strength coach Andy Kettler has beefed up the guys who looked like 97 lb. weaklings compared to Mississippi State’s Bulldogs, who throttled the Cards in last season’s finale.
Chris Mack, by game eleven of his inaugural campaign, has tuned up a gang that opened the season with as much get up and go as an ‘81 Yugo into a turbo charged asphalt grabber that, if not quite a Beemer, sure scoots like a GTI or WRX.
My peeps are pumped. As well they should be. The future’s so bright -- get ready for it, Bill Walton -- there’s a run on Maui Jim®’s from the 502.
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Given that the game was really never in doubt after U of L took a 14-13 lead on a Malik Williams trey at 12:28 of the first, I concentrated on the flow, how the O looked crisp and in rhythm, how the D looked daunting, often impenetrable for the Golden Flashes.
And I took note of Mack’s maneuvering during the victory.
One moment of the latter stands out.
With Louisville up 20, 67-47, approaching the second to last media stoppage of the game, Jordan Nwora, vastly improved and still improving, made one of his cringe-worthy-I-need-to-score-now moves, attempting to get to the lane from the right elbow with a clunky behind the back dribble. He didn’t lose the ball, despite his momentary ne’er do well lapse.
Chris Mack called a timeout, and met Nwora twenty feet short of the bench, quietly but demonstrably chastising him for the selfish gambit. When Mack had said his peace, Nwora was approached by Luke Murray and Dino Gaudio, who chatted him up.
Nwora was not pulled from the game, at least immediately, and continued his steady play for the rest of the tilt.
I mention this not to diss Nwora. In fact, I noted in the first half how he “let the game come to him,” even though it seemed obvious he wouldn’t hit his average. Of course, just after I jotted that down, when the Cards were up 29-20, Nwora made two consecutive treys. One, unmolested from the left corner; the other, straightaway, also unmolested for a 35-24 advantage. Both were within the normal flow of the O.
I mention it because Mack used the mistake as a moment of instruction, not a knee-jerk-him-from-the-action reaction.
This Mack fellow sure seems to be doing a lot of things right.
My one worry. We fans all need at least one, right? As a Denny Crum guy, I’m not so comfortable how we’ve gotten to the end of a couple games with no timeouts to use. DC always had some. How much did we love those bloodbaths with Memphis State, and it would get to crunch time and Dana Kirk would find himself with no way to coach his Tigers, having burned all his timeouts.
It’s a small concern, to be fair. I shall dwell no further. For now.
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Other things I liked:
Louisville finished the 1st, its most complete half of the campaign, hitting 8/10 from the field for a 17 point lead. At the break, the Cardinals had 13 points off turnovers, and had given up zero.
All the Cards are, in one way or another, improving. Except for one. Whose name I won’t mention so as not to add to the glare of scrutiny he’s facing.
Malik Williams is the most appreciably upgraded. Tougher on D, Tougher on the boards. More judicious with the rock. More comfortable down low. How sweet is this to watch evolve?
Loved how he initiated the action with a nifty pass to Ryan McMahon, who found Dwayne Sutton for deuce and 19-13 margin. As we hear often, in hockey, MW would also have gotten an assist on his stat line. Loved how he snared the carom on a Sutton missed FT, got fouled on his attempted follow, draining 2 FTs for a 75-56 lead. And how his block kicked off a fast break which ended with a Nwora layup on a Khwan Fore assist for an 81-62 lead.
Louisville’s focus was obvious coming out of halftime. Five defensive stops in a row, and a 9-2 run to push the advantage past twenty.
U of L continues to hit its charity tosses. 22/29. 76%. .768 for the season. Which, if it continues, will make this squad easily the most proficient at the line . . . ever, Or, at least since ‘49-’50, which is as far back as records go in Kenny Klein’s best in the land media guide.
Only ten turnovers, two under the Cards’ average. Though U of L’s assist/ turnover ratio isn’t anything noteworthy (147/132 on the year). the Cards are taking care of the ball much better than recent seasons.
”35 year old” PG Christen Cunningham. 5/6 FG. 6/8 FT. 3 RB. 4 Assists.
Jordan Nwora. 10 RB.
Dwayne Sutton. 16 Pts. 7 RB. 4 Assists.
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Next up: #291 Robert Morris.
After which, the season gets as serious as cardiac infarction. UK. ACC. & Beyond.
-- Seedy K