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Belated thoughts on Louisville’s win over Kent State

Eleven non-con games down, just two to go.

Let’s hop right in.

—I hate that the final margin ended up where it did, because Louisville was more than 13 points better than Kent State was on Saturday. Outside of the first six minutes, that was about as well as the Cards have defended all season, and they were pretty damn good on the other end of the floor as well. If Jaylin Walker isn’t unconscious in the second half and if U of L doesn’t get a little sloppy in the final couple of minutes, that’s a 20+ point win over a team that entered the day 8-1.

Also, 83-69 looks way better than 83-70, so that phantom foul call in the closing seconds was super annoying. Even more annoying if you had the Cards -13 or -13.5.

—This was the second time in as many games that Chris Mack has been willing to adjust in-game and deviate a bit from his pack line principles.

On Wednesday, Mack made the move to stop fronting the post after Lipscomb threw over the top effectively multiple times to get easy layups for Rob Marberry. That move paid clear dividends in the second half. In the second half of Saturday’s game, Mack was willing to dedicate multiple defenders to ensure that Jaylin Walker couldn’t single-handedly create another nervous final five minutes inside the KFC Yum Center.

It’s not the first time this season that Mack has showcased his flexibility. During the preseason and after both exhibition games, Mack talked straightforwardly about the need for Malik Williams to live in the post (unless he was playing the 4) and not hang out on the perimeter anymore. As the season has gone along, Mack has figured out the best way to utilize this type of weapon that he never had the luxury of coaching at Xavier, and you’re seeing Williams doing damage from all over the floor.

So often in college basketball we see promising head coaches flame out because of a total unwillingness to change anything about the philosophy that helped them get to their place of prominence. The best coaches keep their primary principles in place, but also recognize that the game is always evolving and that they have to evolve with it. They also recognize that every team is different, and that sometimes old rules need to be bent and new rules need to be created.

Chris Mack has already shown in his first seven weeks on the gig that a stubborn resistance to change isn’t going to be an issue for him at Louisville. That’s a nice thing for us all to know this early in the relationship.

—Brayden Mack joined the CCBM army on Saturday.

He’s already a top 10 poster on this site and he doesn’t even have an account.

—It’s gonna be tough for Kent State to make the NCAA tournament since they’re in the same conference as Buffalo and the Bulls look like a damn wrecking machine right now. But with two players as good as Jaylin Walker and Jalen Avery, the Golden Flashes are still more than likely going to win 20+ games and be one of the three or four best teams in the MAC.

The advanced metrics aren’t going to give Louisville a massive bump for winning this game by 13, but they certainly aren’t going to punish the Cards. Assuming Kent State hangs in the top 160 of the NET (they’re No. 92 as of right now), this will be a Quad 3 win, and every non-Q4 win helps.

—This isn’t specific to the Kent State game, but the Hoops Insight newsletter did some really good digging on Ryan McMahon and the most productive backcourt mate for him.

This absolutely doesn’t mean that Ryan McMahon should necessarily be playing less for UofL. However, it means that UofL needs to put him in situations where he can perform his role. UofL has not had a lot of success when McMahon plays alongside Cunningham this season; even excluding the Indiana game, UofL is only +2 in 112 possessions they have shared. They’ve been good on defense, allowing 0.84 points per possession (down from 0.92 on the season), but disastrous on offense, at 0.86 points per possession (down from 1.04 on the season). However, the combo of Ryan McMahon and Darius Perry has been very good, outscoring opponents by +23 points in 110 possessions and scoring 1.08 points per possession. The key is that Perry is more dynamic off the dribble than Cunningham, which breaks down the defense and makes McMahon a threat. Perry’s ability off the dribble opens up 3’s for all of UofL’s wing players, in fact:

Darius Perry’s role also completely changes when he shares the court with McMahon, compared to when he plays without him. With McMahon on the court, Darius Perry takes only 10% of UofL’s shots, and assists on 35% of UofL’s baskets. Without McMahon, Perry is almost always playing alongside Christen Cunningham or Khwan Fore and becomes more of a secondary ballhandler and a scorer; he shoots 19% of UofL’s shots and assists on only 14% of UofL’s baskets.

Given Darius Perry’s ability to open up looks from 3 for his teammates, Ryan McMahon should play a majority of his time alongside Perry. Against Indiana, the two only played together for 2 possessions. UofL has to capitalize on Ryan McMahon’s skill set by putting complimentary pieces around him.

Darius still seems to be struggling with getting acclimated to his new multiple roles, but he should be comforted by the fact that even when he’s having issues with his own shot, he’s making those around him — especially McMahon — better.

Perry also deserves a nod for the job he did on Walker during the first half when he took over the duties from Dwayne Sutton. Khwan Fore is (deservedly) getting more praise than any other Cardinal for his defensive play, but Darius is still one of the three or four best defenders on this team, and his defensive play is still a big part of the reason why Louisville is an overachieving 8-3 right now.

—Jaylin Walker was the 2017 MAC tournament MVP, a preseason First Team All-MAC selection for this season, and currently the No. 6 scorer in America. This wasn’t a “random dude comes into the Yum Center and goes crazy” game, this is just what Walker does. He’s one of the better guards that U of L is going to have to defend all season, and having Jalen Avery — who led the country in assist-turnover ratio this season and was No. 4 in the category heading into Saturday’s game — next to him in the backcourt only makes that assignment tougher.

—You don’t want to see things go any further than they did with Darius Perry getting into that dude’s face and Malik Williams being one half of a double technical, but it is nice to see that this team is never going to get punked. Last year ... that was a concern.

From a pure talent standpoint, Louisville probably isn’t one of the seven or eight (or nine) best teams in the ACC. If you want to finish in the top half of the league, you have to make up for that deficiency in some way, and being tougher than everyone appears to be a significant part of the equation for this team. Again, that’s a welcome change.

—I’ve been saying this on the radio for a few weeks now, but I think it’s time everyone stopped with the “if we can just get V.J. King to ...” talk, and just accept him for what he is right now. It’s painfully obvious that he’s in his own head right now, and there’s nothing any of us can do to change that.

When V.J. airballed that short jumper in the first half and the crowd groaned, you just knew he was going to spend the rest of the day thinking about it, which sucks.

If I’m V.J. right now, I’m focusing on rebounding and defense when I get into the game. I’m dribbling as little as possible, I’m keeping the ball moving when I’m offense, I’m attacking the rim only if I see a wide open lane, and I’m hoping everything else works itself out as the season goes along. That’s all you can do.

—Twice, Kent State ran slip screen plays to take advantage of the fact that Louisville’s big men hedge extremely hard on high ball screens. Both times, the plays resulted in easy layups.

When obvious holes like this have popped up before this season, they’ve been plugged very quickly. I guarantee this is something Mack will be working to counteract during practice this week.

—I don’t think it’s time to go away from Steven Enoch in the post, but Enoch has to do a better job of working hard and planting anchoring himself on the block before he gets the ball. He’s been getting forced way off the block too often these past couple of weeks, and he is about 14 as effective from 8 feet and out as he is from 5 feet and in. I know we have a lot of possessions that are designed to feed him, but those possessions become wastes when he gets the ball 12 feet out and his back is still to the basket.

Thankfully, Malik Williams has been picking up the production slack more times than not, but that isn’t always going to be the case (see the Indiana game). If Enoch still wants to be the dude in the post for this team, he needs to get back to working as hard before he touches the ball as he was during the season’s first few weeks.

—There’s not much to say about Jordan Nwora, Christen Cunningham, Dwayne Sutton and Khwan Fore other than just keep doing you. You’re all doing amazing.

—The best thing about Cunningham is that he always recognizes when he has an offensive advantage, but he’s equally aware during the times when he doesn’t. At this level, so many guys who play the point guard position think they can take every person who matches up against them, and that it’s in their team’s best interest to do so.

Cunningham had a clear advantage against Jalen Every and every other defender Kent State threw at him on Saturday. He ate those dudes up, hit five of the six shots he took, and scored a season-high 17 points. But with Christen, this type of performance never makes you worry that he’ll play outside of his own limits moving forward. He’s keenly aware of the times when he’s going to have a hard time creating his own shot, and when it’s in the best interest of his team for him to serve as the jump-starter of the offense and a facilitator for others. It’s one of the best attributes a point guard can have, and I shudder to think where we’d be right now without a floor general like CC.

—I don’t think it was by design, but our last game before Kentucky being against Robert Morris is a thing of beauty. I also like that we’re doing what a lot of major programs have been doing for years and spacing out our games around the holidays. It’s not ideal for us as fans, but if it leads to a win over Kentucky and a solid start in the ACC, I think we’ll all manage.