I promise this won’t be as long as the Miami one.
—I know that some fans react to November/December games like Sunday’s as though they’re the plague, and I get it. It’s certainly much easier to get up for Michigan or Texas Tech than it is the Youngstown State Penguins. That doesn’t mean that these early season games against teams ranked outside Ken Pomeroy’s top 100 are “meaningless” or “a waste of time.” Darius Perry’s performance on Sunday is a perfect example of that.
Like a lot of us, Darius probably went into last season thinking he would be one of the ACC’s breakout sophomore stars. That belief was so strong that when Chris Mack stated midway through the summer that the only thing he was certain of was that Christen Cunningham was going to be the team’s starting point guard, it was news that was met with mild disbelief.
You know where the story goes from there. Perry went through a more down than up sophomore season where he especially struggled during the time he got running the point. His play was so erratic that most of us just assumed another grad transfer, Fresh Kimble from Saint Joseph’s this time, would assume the starting spot at the one with the same level of ease Cunningham had before him. Only that never happened.
Perry’s anointing as the day one starter at the point was met with the same collective side-eye that his sixth man status had been greeted with a year prior. Still, there were signs that this go-round was going to be different, most notably the fact that Chris Mack couldn’t make it through an interview during the summer or early fall without heaping some praise on Perry.
Even with all this being the case, Perry started 2019-20 needing to clear the mental hurdle that hd to have been born out of his struggles from last season. Even if he never lost faith in his ability to go get a bucket or lock down an opposing guard on D, what happened in 2018-19 had to have planted at least some small seed of doubt in Perry’s mind about whether or not he possessed the ability to effectively run Mack’s offense. The only way to overcome something like that is through actual game performance, which is where Sunday comes into play.
It doesn’t matter who the opponent was, when you produce a stat line of 10 points, 12 assists and one turnover over 27 minutes, you possess the ability to run the show for a high-level team. It was also pretty clear when he checked out of the game just how much Perry’s first career double-double (and the whole overall showing) meant to him.
You’re looking for confidence boosts and experience accumulations in these games. Perry definitely picked up the former.
—Mack added after the game that although Perry hasn’t shot the ball especially well from deep so far this season, they still have faith in his ability to do so. He noted that Perry had knocked down 20 straight at one point during shootaround.
I’m cool with Darius taking open or in rhythm threes, but he and Dwayne Sutton were the two people on this team who I thought might be most affected by the three-point line moving back this season. I don’t have the data to back this up, but it sure felt like last season (and the last two years for Darius) both those guys shot the three so much better when they were right at the line than they did a couple of feet behind it.
—Coming into Sunday, I had heard nothing but good things about Jerrod Calhoun, the 38-year-old Youngstown State head coach who cut his teeth working under Bob Huggins at both Cincinnati (as a student assistant) and West Virginia (as a full-on assistant from 2007-12). After watching the game, it’s not hard to see why. The Penguins are very well-coached, they play extremely hard, and the entire bench stayed fully engaged up until about the 2-minute mark of the second half.
Calhoun’s team threw everything they had at Louisville defensively. They pressed half court, they pressed full court, they switched up their man looks, and they also played a little of Huggins’ trademark 1-3-1 zone. When it came to doubling Steven Enoch in the post, Calhoun did something that I think you’re going to see other coaches emulate. Instead of having his other frontcourt player or the nearest defender be the doubler, the only Penguin allowed to come in and help was the man guarding Darius Perry or Fresh Kimble.
Calhoun was gambling that Louisville’s point guard either wouldn’t be able to knockdown the outside shot or wouldn’t make the right decision with the gained advantage after Enoch’s kickout. Perry and Kimble were a combine 0-for-4 from three, but did take advantage of the extra space given to them on a handful of occasions. Still, it was a smart play by the undersized visitors.
YSU was the 11th-youngest team in Division-I last season, and still managed to win eight conference games, tied for the second-most in program history. They brought back nearly everyone from that squad, and still don’t have a key senior contributor. I don’t bring any of this up to say that they’re a potential March Cinderella or that Louisville should feel overly proud of beating this team by 23. I’m just saying that when they’re playing for a Horizon League title during Championship Week in 2021, I hope you think to yourself: “I vaguely remember a while back someone saying something about this coach being solid and these guys potentially being good in a couple years. I think it was Jon Rothstein ... or maybe someone local, like Nick Coffey.”
That’s all I want.
—Never thought I’d be in this position, but after opening night, I was extremely content with the Fox Sports South broadcast. We even got to see Mike Gminski’s hoop earring when they threw it to the game after ours.
The devil you know ...
—Between the new video, the pyro, and the red lighting during the intros, I’m not sure pregame at the KFC Yum Center could be any better.
It’s a bummer (and still more than a bit jarring) to see that not even 15,000 people showed up for the home opener of a preseason top five team, but I think this is just the new reality.
—Also more than a bit jarring was seeing that Dwayne Sutton played 30 minutes and produced just two points and three rebounds.
When asked after the game about the fact that his team out-rebounded Louisville by eight, Calhoun talked about being a Huggins disciple and preaching toughness as a result. Another coach who also preaches toughness is Chris Mack, and he was none too pleased with his team’s performance in that category on Sunday. In fact, Mack opened up his postgame presser talking about the rebounding battle.
I am a little disappointed when I look at the box score and I see that we gave up 19 offensive rebounds. That is just way too many offensive rebounds to give up. I have always prided our program’s ability to not give up second shots and we have to get much better in that area.
We talked about them being a team, that is very tough and a together group and now an experienced group. We certainly had a lot of respect for those guys coming in, and we didn’t have much respect for when the shot went up and that’s why they gave us 19 offensive rebounds with their effort. Be that as it may, we will try and get better from this game.
Mack didn’t name names at any point after the game, but it’s pretty safe to assume that Sutton was one of the guys he was talking about being disappointed in, especially since he pointed out Steven Enoch’s 14 rebounds.
I’ll add this: I would bet money (not very much of it because I know none of you would pay up ... and because I don’t have very much of it) that there won’t be another game this season where Dwayne plays 30 or more minutes and finishes with three or fewer rebounds.
—VERY IMPORTANT: We put the baby in a super cute Cards outfit for the game but she was still too pissed about the football game to play along.
That’s definitely not my double chin in the photo. Nope. It just looks that way because of, you know, one of those filters the kids are using.
Look, just focus on the baby ok.
—Loved seeing Quinn Slazinski bury a couple of triples. It seemed coming into the season that one member of the Slazinksi/Jae’Lyn Withers/Josh Nickelberry trio was going to be the pick to get around 5 minutes or so a night, and it looks like that guy is going to be Quinn. If he can knock down the outside shot and grab a few rebounds, I’m all for it.
—I don’t want to just gloss over the performances of Jordan Nwora and Ryan McMahon, but there’s not a whole lot of detail to go into. Nwora played the way you expect an All-American to play in a game like this, and McMahon continued to shoot the ball the way he (reportedly) has for the last few months. He also, for the second straight game, buried an 18-foot jumper with his momentum going away from the basket. Again, that’s a skill that will never be his bread and butter, but it’s a new development that could make him reallllly dangerous this season.
Anyway, both guys were terrific.
—Fresh Kimble has a tendency to use the wrong hand on driving layups and it is driving me crazy. It seems like a little thing, but in both games this season he’s had shots blocked that seemed like they could have been easy finishes had he used the correct hand.
Against Miami, he had what appeared to be an easy bucket driving down the left side of the lane, used his right hand and got swatted. Same thing happened on the flip side on Sunday. It also happened another time, and although he didn’t get the shot blocked, he did miss it.
Shield that ball from the defenders with your body, my man. We’ve got plenty more teams with plenty more solid rim protectors to face.
Aside from that and his inability to get a shot to go down, Kimble was steady on Sunday, dishing out five assists against no turnovers. Even though he didn’t make a field goal, you can see his confidence and his comfort level growing when he’s out there.
—One of my favorite things in sports are atypical mascots that have zero relationship with the area of the world utilizing them. Naturally, I love the Youngstown State Penguins.
They’re the only Division-I program (in any sport) that are the Penguins, and the origin story for how the nickname came about is basically that the school needed one, some bros went on a road trip in the 1930s, decided “Penguins” would be a good one, and everyone else agreed. That’s it.
Additional shoutout to the Bracken County Polar Bears.
—Speaking of shoutouts, here’s one to Card Chronicle icon Keith Oddo for getting his first game action of the young season. I will enjoy the hell out of every second that we get to see that No. 1 uni shining on the court.
—It’s official: No warm-ups on the bench is definitely a thing this season. They wear them during pregame and then everyone loses them after intros. Make of that what you will.
—Chris Mack was asked after the game where Aidan Igiehon needs to improve, and I think he gave a very straightforward and honest answer.
“In all areas. He’s fouling at an alarming rate and the game’s moving too fast for him, but we’re going to continue to expose him in games so that he can get better. Ball-screen defense and rebounding are the two primary concerns that we have to get those two things better. If those two things improved greatly, we don’t need him to be a primary scorer as a freshman two games into his career. We don’t need him to be a play through post. We need him to rebound in and out of his area and we need him to be able to defend the ball screen. When he does those two things, his minutes and opportunity will grow.”
Best case scenario for Igiehon coming into the season seemed like freshman year Montrezl Harrell. I think now that if he can just be 60 percent of the player Trez was in 2012-13, he’s still going to be able to give us something valuable.
Defend, rebound, run.
—We’re approaching the Miami post word count, so it’s time to wrap this up.
I liked pretty much everything about Louisville’s first week of the season. I like how advanced (and different) the offense looks. I like how ready to contribute Samuell Williamson is. I like how engaged and enthusiastic our bench has been. I like that we’re getting extra experience for guys who wouldn’t be getting it if Malik Williams and David Johnson were healthy. I like that Chris Mack has been a little bit grizzly before and after both games. And I like the fact that there have been so many teachable moments and still so much room for improvement.
The uniforms have been cool too.
Bring on week two.