The Louisville Cardinals did what previous experience this season projected they should do last night.
Against a woeful Wake Forest Demon Deacon contingent, in front of a sadly empty arena in chilly Winston Salem, the red-clad Cards never trailed, led by 23 at the half, had the Deacs measured by as many as 35 midway through the second, overcame some late game slippage that had Chris Mack none too pleased during his brief Raycom postgame Q&A, and headed back to the Ville an 82-54 victor.
Goodbye Avalanche Gulch. Hello Khumbu Icefall.
Yes, I’m coming with the mountain climbing analogies.
According to Ken Pomeroy, who I along with every other erstwhile hoops pundit quotes too much, Louisville has faced the easiest ACC schedule thus far. The Cards have negotiated it in grand fashion, sitting this frigid last day of January atop the conference with Duke and UVa.
They were upended at Pitt. But that “deplorable” performance begat the smackdown in Chapel Hill a few days later. And they smote the rest of the league bottom feeders as a team on the rise should have.
It was the equivalent of negotiating Avalanche Gulch. Which is the main route to climb California’s Mt. Shasta. From Bunny Flat (6,950) to the summit (14,179). The climb is arduous but not especially technical or dangerous. If you fall, you’ll slide down the gulch and break a leg perhaps. (I’ve been there to make that climb in my more adventurous mid adulthood.)
Unlike the Khumbu Icefall, which you more likely may have heard of, arguably the most perilous portion of an attempt to summit Mt. Everest. A fall there, and you’re a couple hundred feet down a crack in the ice, and, well you know. (No, of course not, I’ve only seen photos and video.)
Miami, @Pitt, @North Carolina, Boston College, @Georgia Tech, NC State, Pitt again and @Wake Forest is the equivalent of Avalanche Gulch.
North Carolina redux, @Virginia Tech, @Florida State, Duke, Clemson, @Syracuse, UVa, @Boston College, Notre Dame and a regular season finale rematch with the Wahoos in Charlottesville. That’s the Khumbu Icefall.
That’s K2. And, if the Cards aren’t ready, it could be a KO.
After last evening’s tuneup, the question to be sure is, are the surprising Cards (Ken Pom #13, NET # 13) ready?
* * * * *
Though last nights beatdown was never in question, it provided further insight into the nature of this edition of the Cards, both positive and otherwise.
It was, until the last eight minutes, a mature performance.
Not surprising, since the Cardinals are a relatively experienced squad. Christen Cunningham and Khwan Fore are grad transfers. Reshirt junior Dwayne Sutton is mature beyond his years. So too savvy Ryan McMahon. Of the major contributors, only Jordan Nwora and Malik Williams are true second season players.
Louisville’s defense -- name it what you wish -- is solid, if not spectacular. Tough. WF was held to 27% shooting, 18/68, well under the team’s season average.
Nwora (20 points, 6 rebounds) is capable of spectacular scoring and canny board play. He can take over a game, and cut the heart out of an opponent. He is also prone to lazy passes, sloppy focus, and believing he can soar from far away for a jam like Michael Jordan.
Steven Enoch and Malik Williams are a great complement, unique contributors to a presence in the pivot. Yet inconsistent, and still foul prone.
Ryan McMahon is steady off the bench. And if teams leave him open, as the Demon Deacons unwisely did last night, there will be string music. He was 4/6 from the burbs.
And, here we are again, wondering what, if anything, the Cardinals will get from Darius Perry, who was Teed up last night for his minor plaint about a horrible foul called on him, and the enigma inside a mystery of a conundrum that is VJ King?
One guy’s opinion. Perry might still prove a legit contributor. He plays with piss and vinegar. I believe he will steady and, somewhere along the rest of the way, will provide a needed boost for a W or two.
VJ King us another story. He is done. He’s lost all confidence in his game. His shots, when he takes them are way off. He passed up several uncontested threes last night. He doesn’t know what to do when he has the ball. His defense is mediocre.
It is way more sad, to me anyway, than disappointing. Though it is the latter also.
Sooooooooo, ten games to go in the regular season. Six against Top 25 foes. Visits to the Carrier Dome, and feisty BC.
The steep and dangerous part of the climb is dead ahead.
Grab your crampons.
Dress in layers.
February has arrived.
-- Seedy K