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Louisville 82, Wake Forest 54: Belated thoughts

Let’s carry these good vibes into February.

NCAA Basketball: Louisville at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Louisville closed out an overwhelmingly positive January with an overwhelmingly positive performance against Wake Forest Wednesday night. I finally got a chance to get a re-watch in this morning, so let’s hit on some brief thoughts before fully jumping into the February gauntlet.

—Louisville has now won three straight ACC road games by a combined 77 points, and all three game by 21 points or more. Via Kelly Dickey, this is just the third time in the history of Cardinal basketball that the team has won three conference road games by 20 points or more. The other two occurrences took place in Conference USA (2002-03) and the American Athletic (2013-14).

I don’t care who the opponents were or who didn’t play in the games, for this group to hit that mark in this league is nothing short of remarkable. And there are still five league games away from home to go.

—Wake Forest came out with a defensive game plan of super aggressive man-to-man, trying to get Louisville to start its offense closer to mid-court than the three-point line, helping out on Christen Cunningham if he got a step, shadowing Jordan Nwora, and attempting to force the ball into the hands of Khwan Fore.

On U of L’s second and third possessions, Fore whipped his man and scored at the rim. The Cards led 6-0, Danny Manning called a timeout, and that was pretty much that. Wake never got back to that level of intensity on defense, it tried to mix in some zone looks, but the Deacs were more or less broken in those opening few minutes.

Fore becoming a respectable offensive option is a nice step forward for this team, especially with it now appearing evident that he’s going to be the starter at the two from here on out. Opposing defenses have seen in recent weeks that he’s willing to take (and make at a decent clip) wide open three-pointers. That’s forced them to press up on him in man sets, which is much better for his drive-first game. It’s also removed the issue there being a lack of space for his teammates to operate.

Fore’s the best on-ball defender Chris Mack has, so he’s going to play decent minutes regardless. The marked offensive improvements since the calendar flipped to 2019 are a bonus, and one of those little things that have the potential to take this team from “overachieving and fun” to “legitimate national threat.”

—As good as Fore is defensively and as well as he played against Brandon Childress for the bulk of Wednesday night, Childress still made him look realllll silly on one possession with a cross that was eerily reminiscent of his father. If Louisville hadn’t been up by 90 the play might have gotten a little bit of national attention. I’m sure the staff and Fore’s teammates had some fun with it during the film session.

—The first text I got Wednesday night during the game was about Chris Mack’s ill-fitting pinstripe suit “screaming Wake Forest game.” Paul Rogers and Bob Valvano on press row also dressed like this was a Raycom game against the worst team in the ACC, which I’m good with. Gotta save the sartorial splendor for the February gauntlet.

Also, I have it on hight authority that Mack purposefully gets his suits big because he “needs room to coach.” This may or may not embarrass his wife, but as long as these results keep up, I think we’re all good with it.

—I love how many former Cards (Terry, Donovan, Earl) have gotten U of L-themed ice once they’ve made it to the league.

Chinanu Onuaku is the latest U of L product to join that club.

Also, let’s take a moment to acknowledge how cool Kenny Klein is.

The coolest.

—I’ve said this before and I’ll say it until he proves me wrong: The Ryan McMahon three-point attempt that immediately follows his first three-point make of the night always goes in. Always. Once he sees it go through the net for the first time, it’s showtime.

Both McMahon and Jordan Nwora rediscovered their outside strokes Wednesday night after a stretch where they had been uncharacteristically off on some pretty wide open looks. This is a good time for them both to make that happen.

Also, Ryan’s last three made the final score way more appropriately dominant than it could have been, which is near and dear to my heart. That performance deserved an 82-54 final look; 79-54 wouldn’t have done it justice.

—The best part about the loaded February slate is that we’re largely going to avoid Raycom moving forward. I’m not sure how many more Cory Alexander “did you know I played in the ACC?” stories I can take. He and Lepler did the best they could, but they were out of stuff to talk about five minutes into the second half.

—Two years ago, Louisville’s game in Winston-Salem was arguably the toughest road environment the Cards faced all season. Granted, that game was in early March and a John Collins-led Demon Deacon squad was fighting for a spot in the NCAA tournament, but still, to go from that to what we saw Wednesday night was pretty jarring. I mean you could hear practically everything Chris Mack said all night on the television broadcast.

I know Danny Manning’s recruiting well ... but that’s a tough look in year five.

—Speaking of Manning and year five, if Wake Forest loses 20 games this season it will be just the sixth time it’s happened in the history of the program. Three of those 20-loss seasons will have come in Manning’s five years on the job.

The word is that Manning’s buyout is somewhere in the neighborhood of $18 million, which is absurd. Wake can’t afford to pay that, which means Manning seems more likely than not to remain at the helm even as the once-proud program he captains continues to trend downward.

—Once again, Nanu’s dunking Cardinal bird chain and “Issa Snack” hat deserve some love for Wednesday night MVP.

I’m iffy on the fanny pack though.

—The Cardinal Snow Globe is now 6-0 and I have absolutely no idea what to do about it as we enter February. A year ago, Snow Globe magic was completely used up by the time we got to this month, and I rode the train too far. By the time CC Headquarters overcorrected, it was already too late.

Again, my only response to all those concerned is that when the time comes (tomorrow), I’ll know what to do .... I’ll know what to do.

—This team, the same one that was picked to finish 11th in the ACC at the start of the year and was widely believed by Louisville fans (myself included) to be the weakest we’ve fielded since joining the league, is the first Cardinal squad to begin an ACC season 7-1.

I don’t know if that or the fact that the one loss came to Pitt is more surprising.

—Louisville’s transition defense has been one of its strongest assets all season long. But good transition D is one of those things that’s hard to truly appreciate until you see another team do it really, really poorly.

Thankfully, Wake Forest was willing to provide us with that service.

It’s even better with a look at the still frames.

1) Jordan Nwora catches the outlet pass from Ryan McMahon, but both Brandon Childress and Isaiah Mucius are in perfect position to stop the ball and force Louisville to get into its halfcourt set.

Hell, they could even trap Nwora if they’re feeling especially bold.

2. Ok, Nwora’s got a step on Mucius and Childress is leaning the wrong way for some reason. The trap’s out of the question, but we’re still in pretty good shape here.


4. Everybody watch.

I understand that McMahon’s the trailer here and that he’d just splashed a couple of threes, but he has to be a secondary concern in this situation. Unless you feel confident that Nwora is incapable of completing four uncontested dribbles followed by an uncontested dunk, your primary concern has to be stopping the ball. That’s first grade stuff.

My gratitude to Danny Manning and company for the stellar reminder to not take Chris Mack and this staff for granted.

—As surprisingly fun as November and December were, January, 2019 has the potential to forever be remembered as the four-week period where Chris Mack made it abundantly clear that Louisville basketball was going to return to prominence in short order.

If February winds up being even half as enjoyable, then the stage is going to be set for the type of March we didn’t think was remotely possible back in the fall.

Let’s start slaying some giants.