You don’t want to overstate the importance of winning a conference opener that you were supposed to win, but when you’re facing the type of February that Louisville’s going to face, a win like Sunday’s feels a little bit more important than it would have in other years.
As it stands right now, I think there are six teams in the ACC that U of L is clearly better than, and Miami is one of them. If you’re looking at winning at least nine or 10 league games, you can’t lose to one of those six teams at home.
Because this is coming:
Now I fully expect Louisville to “steal” a couple of those projected losses, but you want to be in a position where those wins are significantly bolstering your resume, not just counteracting a bad January defeat. Sunday night was step one towards being in that position.
Some more thoughts ...
—Miami might be the worst team in the conference when it comes to rim protection and having a reliable inside presence, so this was a game where one of our big men needed to thrive. That big man wound up being Malik Williams, who scored a career-high 19 points to go along with 11 rebounds and a block in 23 minutes of floor time.
After the game, Chris Mack said that the staff had put some wrinkles into its offensive game plan specifically for Williams. He added that while he’s never going to run an offense that’s “5 out,” he knew he needed to find ways to take advantage of Williams’ unique skillset when the big man was in at the five spot.
Don’t be surprised if this is the beginning of a shift towards Williams getting a majority of the minutes at the five. Despite his thinner frame, he’s been Louisville’s best defensive center since the start of the season. With Steven Enoch continuing to struggle with his post offense against quality opponents, Williams might be the horse the staff chooses to ride into the heart of league play. The fact that they’re changing elements of their core offense specifically for Williams and that he started the second half on Sunday would seem to hint that they’re at least leaning in that direction.
—Shoutout to ESPNU for making us feel like we never left the ACC Network Extra last night. The oddly pixelated picture, the persistent mic issues, and the loud buzzing sound that popped up twice really made it feel like we were back in the comforting arms of early December.
—There is no shot in the world I’m more confident in than a Ryan McMahon three-pointer immediately following a made Ryan McMahon three-pointer. If the guy sees it go through the net once and you give him another clean look at the basket moments later, it’s going in again.
It was encouraging to see Ryan get his shot going, but even more encouraging to see him make a huge impact despite missing his first five shots. McMahon’s nine assists weren’t just a new career-high, they were the most by any Louisville player in a game this season.
The way Chris Mack talks about McMahon makes it very apparent that he believes RyMac can be an extremely valuable all-around contributor both down the stretch this season and throughout next one. Sunday night gave a pretty clear indication why he feels that way.
—It looked to me like Louisville passed up on more open/semi-contested looks from the outside than usual on Sunday night. When something like this is apparent to the untrained eye, it’s usually because it was a central point of emphasis in the days leading up to the game.
Sure enough, Mack talked after the game about shot selection — especially early in possessions — being something that was talked about over the past week. While it certainly needed to be discussed, there were a handful of times, especially in the first half, where Jordan Nwora, Ryan McMahon and others passed up clean looks from the outside early in a possession and we wound up taking a much worse shot. That was probably addressed during the break, because it didn’t happen nearly as much in the second half.
—Awesome shot from Brandon Pry’s game gallery:
—I legit feel bad for Miami. The pieces they have are really good (Lykes, Johnson and Vasiljevic would play major minutes for just about every team in the ACC), they just don’t have nearly enough of them, and that’s through no fault of their own.
Like Louisville, Miami was all over the original FBI indictment that was released in Sept., 2017. Also like Louisville, the Canes saw an extremely promising recruiting class completely decimated as a result. By the time the FBI came back and said “whoops, you actually did absolutely nothing here, that’s our bad” and took Miami completely out of the superseding indictment, the damage was already done. Toss in an injury, a couple early departures for the NBA Draft and the NCAA’s ridiculous ruling to suspend Dewan Hernandez (the team’s best player) for the entire season because of his ties to Christian Dawkins, and you have a team with just seven scholarship players for 2018-19.
It takes a significant amount of time and effort to get a program like Miami in a position where it’s expected to be a top six team in the ACC on an annual basis. Now all that momentum that Larranaga had built has been completely halted by a sequence of unfair events the head coach had no control over.
I know we’ve dealt with our own fair share of rulings that we believed were unfair, but imagine being totally exonerated after you’d already felt the ill-effects of some very public accusations, and having no way of getting back what you lost. That’s gotta be difficult to stomach.
The Canes will beat a couple of teams they shouldn’t simply because they have a handful of elite-level scorers, but you just can’t be a top half of the league team in a conference like the ACC when you’ve only got seven scholarship players.
—Miami’s Dejan Vasiljevic has now hit at least one three-pointer in 27 straight games. That’s easily the longest streak in the ACC.
—Malik Williams shooting the ball from the floor once, getting the rebound while still on the ground, accidentally kicking a guy in the face, and then trying to shoot the ball from the floor a second time is easily the sequence of the year.
I mean, this belongs in a museum.
—There was a 2-on-1 fast break in the second half where Jordan Nwora could have made an easy pass for a layup, but instead missed a challenged shot near the rim. The three seated assistant coaches all in unison made the frustrated universal coach hand signal for “pass it.” It was beautiful.
—The ovation for V.J. King after his putback layup was wonderful. I hope his subconscious is able to put that noise above the noise from his social media mentions.
—Louisville is 1-0 in conference play for the ninth time in 11 seasons. The 2011-12 and 2016-17 seasons are the only ones over that span in which the Cards dropped their league opener.
—The Darius Perry turnover thing is weird, and it needs to get straightened out in the next couple of weeks. He’s the quickest guard we have, but his ability to get past really good on-ball defenders means nothing if he’s turning the ball over 50 percent of the time he gains that advantage. It certainly seems to be all in his head at the moment, an ailment that one really good game is typically able to cure.
Hopefully that happens sooner rather than later because there’s no way this team can hit its ceiling without Perry playing a large role.
—The best thing about Darius is that even though these last couple of weeks have been rough for him on the court, his bench intensity level hasn’t dipped a bit. Guys like that are always going to have my heart.
—I cherish each every opportunity I get to hear Sean Moth belt out “THREEEEEEEEEEEEEE FORE” and you should too.
—Christen Cunningham shooting the three at a much higher clip than he has at any other point in his college career is just one of those “things” that had to happen for this team to overachieve.
CC is currently connecting on 44.4 percent of his treys. Here are his three-point numbers before this season:
2017-18 (9 games): 3-for-17 (17.6 percent)
2016-17: 23-for-65 (35.4 percent)
2015-16: 19-for-70 (27.1 percent)
2014-15: 11-for-41 (26.8 percent)
Man am I glad we called that guy.
—Dwayne Sutton bounced back from a rough afternoon against Kentucky with a decidedly Dwayne stat line: 13 points, seven boards and two assists. He doesn’t need to be anything more than that for Louisville to be a double-digit win team in the ACC. Just give us that and be a dog on defense and we’re gold.
—It was good to see Akoy Agau getting some run in this game. He’s a great leader, but by all accounts he was pretty frustrated that he didn’t see the floor at all against Kentucky. There’s going to be at least one more major game this season where foul trouble (or some other sequence of events) results in him needing to play major quality minutes for the Cards to have a shot at securing a huge win. He’ll be ready.
—Immersing yourself in Louisville basketball and the beautiful conference grind is the only way to make it through these brutal post-holiday weeks. I’m so glad that it’s back.