Though there was slippage in the performance of the Louisville Cardinals during the second half, or because of it, the 82-76 win over a solid Akron Zip contingent is the most important game they’ve played so far against the best team they’ve played so far.
If U of L is to meet expectations, this is where the team learns what it needs to work on. Watch this film. See what worked. See what didn’t. Improve.
The second half engagement with John Groce’s team was worth more than all the previous runaways against schlepper schools combined.
Groce can coach. You might remember in ‘12, he took the underdog Ohio Bobcats to the Sweet 16, then fashioned a winning record at Illinois, but couldn’t recruit at the Big 10 level, and now is coaching them up in Rubber City.
His Zips were quick, especially Loren Cristian Jackson, who got to the hoop at will late.
His Zips played tough D, forcing 14 Cardinal turnovers.
His Zips were more proficient at the FT line. 13/15 vs. 21/30.
Louisville blinked. But, flaws exposed, survived.
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In his post game radio show, Chris Mack said the key word moving forward this season is Sacrifice.
I don’t have a transcript, so this is paraphrase, but he said something to the effect that, for some players it will be shots, for some players it will be minutes. Etc.
For all there will need to be development and maturation.
Except of course for The Warrior, Dwayne Sutton.
Mack: “If everybody played with the intensity and focus of Dwayne, we’d go undefeated.”
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Here are some of the questions that need to be, and will be answered for better or worse in the weeks to come as competition stiffens.
How will the Point Guard/ 2 Guard rotation work out?
Mack says he hopes to play ten guys overall. Which means he plans on using the whole quartet of Darius Perry, Fresh Kimble, Ryan McMahon and David Johnson. What’s fascinating is how different each is.
How can the attributes of each contribute to the benefit of the whole?
Perry is the best defender. And he’s a streak scorer. And a streak distributor. But still a might inconsistent. I focused on him Sunday during the pre-pregame shoot around. In three minutes or so, he only missed a single shot from beyond the arc. Then, in the game, he went 0/3.
McMahon is easily the best shooter, and can go on streaks that break even the best of teams. He will have interludes this season like Luke Hancock in the ‘13 title game that will shift momentum to the Cards. But, at the other end, he can get beat off the bounce.
Kimble is Philly tough, but also short. He can get to the rim, but is still acclimating to this level of play.
It is obvious David Johnson is Mack’s choice as PG of the future, and, maybe, the now. He mentioned Johnson’s length and b-ball savvy a couple times after the Akron win.
* * * * *
In the pivot, can Steven Enoch develop his defensive acumen, and toughen up when competing against physical opponents?
Malik Williams, who obviously is still rounding into shape, is an aggressive defender. Will he be able to develop a better offensive game?
Will they both learn that, when they get the rock posting up, they can and often should send it back out, or skip it to the weak side?
Given Mack’s 10 guy rotation comments, it’s obvious he intends to work Aidan Igiehon into the mix. The raw rookie is a physical beast, but needs improvement in all areas of his game. Except running down court. The guy’s a gazelle.
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I actually liked how Sam Williamson played Sunday evening.
He was rarely an option on offense -- he only took two shots -- but he didn’t force himself as a scorer. He snared six rebounds. I love how quick he is to the ball, whether it’s to grab a missed shot, or leap to catch a pass.
He will continually improve. As Mack said, he expects Williamson to be much better in February than he is now.
Nothing needs to be said of Steady Dwayne Sutton’s game. He plays to the maximum of his ability and beyond in every facet of the game. When Dickie V gets around to naming his All Glue Team, Sutton will be captain.
Against the Zips, Sutton went for 10 points, 14 boards evenly divided between offensive and defensive, an assist and a steal.
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Which brings me to Jordan Nwora, the Cardinal scoring ace, upon whose shoulders much of the Cardinals success this season rests.
Those who have been here before know that I have reservations about Nwora’s game. (The astute readers understand I’m not a hater, just want the star to play like one all the time.)
Here’s the yin and yang of Nwora’s game from a sequence in the Akron victory.
During the Cards 3d possession of the 2d half, Darius Perry made the Sportscenter play of the game with perfect 35 foot alley oop to Steven Enoch for a slam. +1.
Enoch missed the charity shot, which caromed long off the rim to exactly where Nwora had been lined up. Operative words: where he’d been lined up. Instead of staying and fighting for the rebound, he had already turned and was moseying up court.
Then, on the next possession, he netted a beauteous trey.
Nwora did not have a good shooting night Sunday evening. He was 5/11, 3/5 in the opening stanza. And 1/8 after halftime. A few of those first half misses were ill advised attempts. Many in the second half were.
I have stated before and still believe that Coach Mack is attempting to break Nwora’s hero ball tendencies. When, about five minutes into the 2d, Jordan drove into traffic where there was nowhere to go, realized it for once, and made a bad pass that was stolen, Mack immediately pulled him from the game.
OK, just one more example of what I’m trying to point out, and I’ll stop. Promise.
During the 1st, Nwora had one of those sequences, when you opine to yourself, “Forget Mike Marra, Nwora’s the best shooter ever to play for the Cardinals.” (Other than Asia Durr, of course, and possibly Ryan McMahon.)
He twined a nifty pull up deuce, hustled down court and played exemplary assertive D, trying to trap a Zip along the sideline. Came down and drained a corner 3, then another from straight away.
Then he got the ball off a missed shot, didn’t pass to the guards streaking up court ahead of him, took it all the way to the arc, ignored the two Cards open under the hoop and jacked up a three that missed.
It drives me crazy. As if you couldn’t tell.
He is a great great shooter. He is a truly instinctual rebounder. He can play really effective defense . . . when he wants to.
Mack pulled him a couple more times last night, after Nwora made similarly selfish or lackadaisical plays. My prayer is that he gets the message.
Here’s what I’m hoping Nwora will be, stated more succinctly than me by Dana O’Neil when describing her picks for an All Decade Team at theathletic.com:
I wanted players I could trust to win. That meant guys who didn’t just score buckets of points or show flashes of greatness, but players who were consistent in the entirety of their college careers (no matter how long or short); who found a way to be about the team even as they achieved individual glory; who could, at least on occasion, defend; and who, during the course of their careers, exhibited proof they were winners by leading their teams to accomplishments as great as, if not greater than, their own.
Sooooooooo, I shall endeavor not to harp on this again.
As I told Sportsbee at halftime, I have come to, or at least I’m working on coming to an acceptance of the good and not so good of Jordan Nwora. In the same way, we came to accept and love Russ Smith, who would confound the faithful with his amazing scoring skills, and his boneheaded plays.
Smith was always a pesky defender. If Nwora would just develop than on a consistent basis . . .
So fond are my wishes that Nwora becomes a more complete player, not just a scorer, in my notes Sunday evening, I wondered if there’s a nickname for him that might become the equivalent of Russdiculous?
For those readers, who I’m so sure shall give me grief about this diatribe, I intend not to do it again.
Enough is enough. I’m even tired of hearing myself bray.
* * * * *
Of course, I, like many, am fascinated with Akron’s nickname, the Zips, and wondered from whence it cometh?
Turns out it used to be the Zippers, which was chosen from a 1925 naming contest among the student body. Beating out such entries as the Tip Toppers, Hillbillies, Kangaroos and Cheveliers. It was shortened in 1950 to Zips.
But, I gotta ask. Was there like a zipper factory in Akron or something?
The mystery remains.
-- Seedy K