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Basketball winter has (finally) returned to Louisville

The best time in the best city finally feels like it again.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 18 Louisville at Duke Photo by Mary Holt/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The best winter nights are the ones where the winning feeling lingers for hours. If you’re reading this, you know the nights I’m talking about.

The final horn sounds, you clap, you yell, you reach down into the deepest pit of your vocabulary and grab your favorite combination of celebratory expletives. But that moment is just the beginning.

The succeeding hours are spent texting with like-minded friend and/or family about what just went down. They’re spent scouring social media for a new team celebration video, highlight clip or spicy postgame quote. These are the nights that carry us through a pair of otherwise unendurable months that offer little else outside of cold and darkness and teddy bears holding candy hearts.

The only problem for Louisville fans is that these nights have been few and far between for the last few years. Their absence was filled by frustrating finishes, forgettable results, and even for a few, the most unfathomable emotion of all for Cardinal basketball fans, a touch of apathy.

We’ve used “Cards are back” as a joking reaction to what feels like a thousand different things over the last few years. The feeling that was roused Saturday evening and which has lingered into the first half of the following week is no piece of snark. The feeling of rediscovering a large chunk of something you weren’t even sure was completely lost until you experienced it again is very real.

Louisville’s win over Duke Saturday night didn’t assure the Cardinals anything outside of a momentary momentum boost and a more enduring resume boost. U of L looks today more like a team destined to end its season in Atlanta than it did four days ago, but “destiny” isn’t a real thing for any coach, player or team in this sport, especially not in a season like this one. We all know that the difference between six wins over three weeks in March and one loss in one day is sadistically small.

Along the same lines, the return of “the buzz” (or whatever title you want to put on the way Louisville basketball can drive the city this time of year) doesn’t magically usher in a new period of time where everything that was good suddenly is again.

While I would expect the vibe inside the KFC Yum Center for Wednesday night’s game against Georgia Tech to be significantly better than it would have been had the Cards lost on Saturday, the days of that building being packed with 23,000+ every night regardless of opponent seem to have transitioned from endangered to extinct over the last couple of years. We don’t need to become the billionth entity to lay out all the reasons why this is or might be the case, I think we can all just agree that this isn’t entirely a Louisville thing, but it is a new reality that seems unlikely to change to dramatically any time soon.

I also can’t tell you what the NCAA is going to do in round two with U of L. Nobody can. No fan base understands this better than ours. Whatever action or inaction winds up playing out, here’s the one we thing we do know for sure about it: It’s going to have zero bearing on the two months that currently lie immediately in front of us. For now, that’s all that matters.

You don’t need me to tell you that the ACC is down this season. You also don’t need me to tell you that the ACC being down doesn’t mean that Louisville is going to blow through 12 of its next 13 games and take its best shot on the road against Florida State. There are at least a few more fan freakout days on the docket between now and those glorious first few weeks of March. I’m just so happy that the freakouts are going to be about actual basketball, because that’s what we do this time of year.

Rushing home from work on an especially dark 5:30 day to kiss the spouse, grab a quick bite, and then head to the arena or get focused on your favorite couch for the two hours of the day you’ve looked forward to since the weekend. Skipping 3:30 class because you know you’d just spend the time listening to some local blogger’s podcast about Georgia Tech and Josh Pastner (do that tomorrow). It’s what post-Christmas winter life is to people like you and me.

It feels like we’re finally back to what this whole thing is supposed to be about; on-court victories and defeats for an institution most of us have cared far too much about for as long as we can remember. The extreme lows used to always be tolerable because they were part of the game and they made the extreme highs possible. But too many of the extreme lows since 2015 haven’t been part of the game — at least the game as we know it — and that’s made the ride more tedious than it ever should be.

Louisville basketball and this time of year are so special to so many of us in a way that’s impossible to explain. If you don’t get it, you can’t get it.

That said, it’s been especially tough to justify the obsession these last few years. This should never feel like a chore or something we follow merely out of habit. This is supposed to be fun — the best kind of fun — and there have been too many times since that first weekend in the fall of 2015 where the feeling surrounding all of this felt foreign. That isn’t the case right now.

It finally feels like winter again in Louisville.