Let’s hop right into it.
—It’s easy to talk about a guy “turning a corner” when he’s in the type of shooting zone that Jordan Nwora’s in right now, but at every level, he’s looked like a different player since that Pitt game two weeks ago. The energy is up, the forced shots are almost non-existent, and the defensive effort is at a level we haven’t come close to seeing from him in his previous year and a half as a Cardinal.
Nwora has made 44 three-pointers so far this season, and 97.7 percent of those have come off of assists. Catching and shooting is always going to be the most lethal part of his offensive game, but since Pitt — where Jeff Capel’s team held Nwoara to 2-of-14 from the field mostly by not letting him kill them with catch and shoots — Jordan’s been finding other ways to generate offense. He’s been better off the bounce, he’s been better about shot faking, and he’s also been better at choosing the hockey pass over the highly challenged 25-footer. Notice that it’s been since that Pitt game that Jordan has had a perimeter jump shot blocked.
For two years the conversation surrounding Nwora has been limited to his stellar offensive play and criticism of his defense. Lost in that shuffle has been the fact that the man is a tremendous rebounder, pound-for-pound the best on this team. Nwora’s posted five games with double-digit rebounds this season, and his three-board performance against North Carolina is the only time all year that he’s grabbed fewer than five. An effort on the glass that consistent demands at least a little bit of acknowledgement.
Jordan’s been terrific all season, but in the last two weeks he’s made the transition from looking like one of the league’s 10-15 best scorers to looking like one of the league’s 10-15 best players. If that keeps up, he’ll warrant an All-ACC nod six weeks from now.
—Ryan McMahon has blocked six shots in his Cardinal career, two in each season. He’s never had one as vicious as the one he had Saturday, or one that led to a cooler transition basket.
Sequence of the year for Louisville: Ryan McMahon throwing someone’s shit leads to a one-handed Malik Williams alley-pop. pic.twitter.com/8Mn3QRWaFm— Mike Rutherford (@CardChronicle) January 19, 2019
ACC Defensive Player of the Year.
—Second note on McMahon: Maybe it was just me, but it certainly felt like he was open a bunch of times during his 17 minutes on the floor and wasn’t getting the ball. Not sure if other things were being emphasized or what the deal is, but typically when Ryan has a glimmer of daylight, his teammates are aware and eager to get the ball into his hands.
—In hindsight, you can’t blame the Georgia Tech clock operators for trying to stop the game after the Yellow Jackets scored on the game’s first possession. That stoppage also led to one of the best announcing moments of the season.
Searching for something, anything to say during the extended break in the action, Evan Lepler made it a point to note that “Georgia Tech is shutting out Louisville so far.” The game had featured one possession at that point, and the possession had been Georgia Tech’s.
It’s not your fault, Evan.
—It was hard to watch that game and not wonder if there’s something going on internally with Tech right now.
First, you have three players all being declared out at the same time a little less than 24 hours before tip. Only one of those players (Alvarado) is given assigned a specific reason for his absence (groin injury). Then, the team goes out in front of a sold out crowd and plays like a 10-year-old youth league C team that just wants to be back home playing video games.
It was an odd performance, and Josh Pastner’s comments afterward did nothing to dissuade my thinking that there’s at least a little bit of internal unrest going on right now.
The “Ramblin’ Wreck” unis were cool though.
—Christen Cunningham (I’m still embarrassed about mispronouncing his first name all season) became the first Louisville player since LaBradford Smith in 1989 to post 11 assists and no turnovers in a game.
Here’s Jeff Greer with all 11 of those assists in one video:
Here are all 11 of Christen Cunningham's assists from Louisville's 79-51 win over Georgia Tech on Saturday. A few in transition, a few in the halfcourt, a few off inbounds plays, a few off pick-and-roll. Lotta variety. pic.twitter.com/fiMMvt1NDm— Jeff Greer (@jeffgreer_) January 21, 2019
—Based solely on our experience this season, I think every year from now on, Louisville needs to take at least one grad transfer/regular transfer who came out of this area but spent the first part of his college career at a mid/low major. It’s a proven method for success at this point.
—Via Kelly Dickey, this is the first time since 2009 that Louisville has been in first place in its league standings after five games. Granted, it’s a six-way tie for first and the toughest part of U of L’s schedule is still to come, but still ... cool.
—The church road trip game is still one of the best U of L events of every year, and I’m so happy that they still do it even though we don’t play DePaul anymore.
You could tell after the game that Chris Mack was genuinely giddy about the road court advantage, and it was cool to see all the players posting about “Cardlanta” (I’m guessing they had some prodding) afterwards as well.
—There was no moment in the first half where I felt bad for Josh Pastner. Not one.
—I’ve heard a couple of people express concern over our interior defense because James Banks went for 24 and 11. I think those concerns are unfounded for a few reasons.
First, Banks is a super talented kid who will be terrific once he matures and brings the same level of effort to every game. Second, with the other two members of Tech’s top three scorers both out for the game, Banks was really the only reliable offensive threat the team had besides Michael Devoe, and Devoe was off. Third, the bulk of Banks’ damage came when the outcome of the game had already been decided.
Both Malik Williams and Steven Enoch delivered fine performances, and both are continuing to provide the reliable production from the five spot that we were missing for most of December.
—I’m just gonna say what we’ve all been thinking: We haven’t seen enough walk-on scoring this season. Props to Jo Griffin for helping to change that narrative. He’s now within striking distance of Jacob Redding in the walk-on scoring race (6-4).
—There are so many things about this season that would have shocked me if I’d known about them three months ago. Near the top of that list is Louisville being able to name the score in an ACC road game, regardless of the circumstances. The Cards being 4-1 through five games with wins in two of their three road games and the only loss coming to Pitt would be up there as well.
Pleasantly surprising seasons are the absolute best, and given all the outside stuff that was at play heading into this one, 2018-19 is in the process of being one of the most pleasantly surprising campaigns in my lifetime.
I’m aware of what’s coming in February, but this has been so much damn fun, and I don’t think the gauntlet that lies ahead is going to change that.