Playing schools pre-conference as truly awful as Central Arkansas is quite often counter productive.
Bad habits form against non-existent defenses. Laziness ensues when the games aren’t in doubt from opening tip. Some guys look to fatten up their stat lines. The fans that do show up are disengaged.
I suppose I understand -- $$$ -- theoretically -- $$$ --why these games are played. $$$. But I would prefer U of L adhering to the Denny Crum/ Tom Izzo Theory of December. Fewer cupcakes. More protein.
That said, it is the time of year when a team’s flaws and finer points start to manifest regardless of the quality of the opposition. Unlike most of these yawn-inducing walkovers, last evening’s 45 point evisceration of the Central Arkansas Bears did provide some salient moments.
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Consideration #1 is obviously whether the enigma that has been VJ King turns into a positive given.
After a where has this been aggressive performance that was frankly a bit jawdropping, one has to wonder whether the former Golden Arches AA is in a chrysalis state, morphing into butterfly status?
King, again a non-starter, was on the floor as the Cards increased their lead by 4 to 20-5. And was still in the game when U of L checked out for a bit, giving up offensive rebounds, a four point Central Arkansas possession, all of which infuriated Coach Chris Mack, who called a timeout to sufficiently blister his troops.
During that interlude, King gave up the baseline for a score, and did his usual look this way and that way then pass the ball when he had it in the right corner.
Then the light switched on. Brightly.
He ran the court and, with an assist from Ryan McMahon, slammed in a deuce for a 24-11 advantage. But it was his move at 8:08 of the 1st that raised the question: Why has King been hiding this?
He took a pass at the left elbow extended, never hesitated, busted a move to the paint, switched the ball from right hand to left, Eurostepped around an overmatched Bear defender, powered to the hoop and laid it in off the glass. 28-11.
Then, as if it were a video replay, he did it again to push the score to 38-13.
Not much later, coming out of the last media stoppage before intermission, he adroitly found Jordan Nwora for one of his four triples..
And then, and then, and then, with 1:59 left before cocktail time, he drove the middle hard, and tallied on a goal tend, --It would have netted -- converting the +1.
Damn, dude, where ya been?
King’s halftime stat line read 9 points on 4/5 from the field, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, no turnovers.
His best interlude of the season? Of course.
Best of his career? Well, I forget the details of his freshman performance, when he scored 24 against UVa on 8/14 shooting. Then The Rick, for some reason which to this day I believe sapped VJ of confidence, sat him for the entirety of the next game, or played him but minimally. I forget which.
The kid did not let up in the 2d. He finished with 17 points on 8/10 FGs. Six rebounds. Four assists. A steal. And that thunder follow jam that has all the faithful still slobbering the morning after to push the score to 81-41.
I was even impressed when King was whistled for an offensive foul late, while he was assertively trying to back his defender down.
Which performance caused me to watch the video of his post game appearance at the press conference.
What strikes me is that King is a thoughtful, somewhat reserved guy. And that is his default way of playing. He is the antithesis of, say, Montrezl Harrell.
But, if he continues this bold, decisive play on the court, King will morph Monarch. (Savor that clever writing, my loyal readers.) The Cardinals will be well served. It will be another significant factor in the resurgence of this transformative U of L outfit.
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For me, there were a couple of other factors of note.
Steven Enoch, against mediocre at best defense, scored the Cardinals’ first 10 points of the game. That was obviously the plan.
He finished with 16 points, and 9 boards. Well and good.
But, if the Cardinals are going to continue to grow as a unit, Enoch needs to learn to pass it out of the post. I don’t recall him doing it one time last night. His back to the basket post play will only be effective against legitimate competition if skip passing the rock to open guys on the weakside, or back to his feeder, becomes part of his repertoire.
It was like watching a flashback of Clifford Rozier in the early 90s, who “never” was inclined to go inside out. Seeing the ball thrown into the pivot then was like watching a Science Channel show on black holes. Last night was déjà vu all over again. (Required to quote Yogi, right?)
For context, it must be remembered that Enoch played very little in Kevin Ollie’s system at UConn, and received little if any coaching last year while sitting out his transfer penalty. He is the proverbial work in progress.
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U of L had 20 assists on 31 made FGs. Sweet.
The Cardinals committed only 10 turnovers, and are averaging only 12 per game, which seems better than in recent seasons. So, when they coughed it up 7 times after the break, it seemed like an inordinate number.
FT % regressed a bit. 15/22. 68%.
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Before last night’s 4/4 effort from beyond the arc, Louisville longballer Jordan Nwora, he with the perpetual green light, was 10/37 on treys. That’s a not so glossy 27%. His more judicious selection of attempts and makes last night raised his percentage to a more respectable 34%.
The sophomore with no small confidence in his own abilities will be way more effective than he’s been as he learns to pick and choose his scoring spots more effectively.
Several times last night he myopically drove the hoop when teammates within reasonable passing distance were wide open.
That niggling notwithstanding, Nwora had three assists and five rebounds to accompany his 21 points on 7/10 marksmanship. And I loved when he gave an old school low five to a ball boy, then fired a nifty assist on the possession to Malik Williams.
When he gets that hot dog out of his system, his game will be even more impressive. And effective.
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The mention of which ballgame edible and the reality of Saturday’s upcoming tilt in Bloomington remind me of my favorite personal moment in Assembly Hall.
Opening game of ‘84-’85 season, before Milt Wagner suffered a season ending injury.
A season-ticket holding friend allowed me to use his primo seats for the game, which ended with an 11 point Cardinal W over the #4 Hoosiers.
Every time Wagner touched the ball, a guy behind me would yell, “Put a little mustard on that hot dog.” Not figuratively every time, literally every time. Out of respect for my friend who had given The Professor and me his tickets, I curbed my tongue, never engaging the IU fan.
But, just in case, at halftime, I procured a packet of mustard at a concession stand. Which stayed in my pocket until the final buzzer, at which moment, I turned and, without saying a word, handed it to the fellow behind me who’d been on Milt’s case the whole game.
A W over the Hoosiers would be huuuuuuuuuge.
-- Seedy K