Chris Mack’s 2019-2020 UofL Basketball team could currently be best described by the infamous words of one Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita for those of you scoring at home) from the movie The Karate Kid……..
Obviously, this Cards squad isn’t painting fences while trying to befriend a 70-something year old apartment maintenance guy. Instead, they’re just placing checkmarks in the ACC win column – five straight in fact. But in doing so, they have given a whole new meaning to the phrase “roller coaster season.” In addition, they have potentially given half of the Cardinal fanbase across the Commonwealth and abroad, myself included, stomach ulcers or hemorrhoids….or maybe both in many instances.
At times this UofL Basketball team could make a Prozac pill blush.
So what is it about this Louisville team that makes some UofL fans want to pull their hair out one minute and dote on them the next? I ask because I’m guilty of feeling that way myself.
Last night’s win over a poorly coached yet talented Georgia Tech team is a microcosm of how many of the Cards’ games have gone this season, especially in the last few weeks.
• Creep out to a lead
• Go flatter than a fart in a jar and relinquish said lead
• Claw their collective asses off to regain the lead , and even grow it
• Find a way to win in the closing seconds
Look I get it, a win is a win. And even though that’s a super cliché thing to say, it’s never been more fitting in a men’s college basketball season where it’s fairly obvious there is not a single unbeatable, dominant team. With that said, the Cards have too much talent and depth to be so erratic and inconsistent at times.
One thing that has been giving many Cards fans pause over the past several games is the play of Jordan Nwora. A preseason All-American candidate, Nwora had games earlier in the season where he put up some really impressive offensive numbers. And although his play has not been horrid as of late, he is shooting 11-36 from the field in his last three games. My iPhone calculator tells me that’s shooting the pill at a about a 31% clip – not ideal.
A major part of Nwora’s struggles I believe lie in the fact that most teams’ scouting reports are focused on keeping him at bay. The last thing I want to do is pile on a guy who I genuinely think wants to succeed. This isn’t personal. But it’s painfully apparent that UofL is a different team when Nwora is hitting on all cylinders, particularly on the offensive end (I’m not gonna touch on his defense). And by different, I mean beating teams like Michigan to a pulp (as I write this piece I see that Michigan lost at home to Penn State but I’m not changing my narrative b/c I’m too lazy).
Despite the recent downward trend of Nwora’s play, the trajectory for David Johnson is clearly way, way up. As a side note and if we’re being honest with one another, isn’t it always just a tad bit sweeter when a UofL player bursts onto the scene and he’s a hometown kid? That’s not taking anything away from the guys on this team not from the Ville, but damn it just touches a soft spot in my heart when they grew up in the 502.
OK enough with the sappy BS. David Johnson, in my opinion, is the biggest most pleasant surprise of this basketball season. His performance at Duke was one many of use will always remember. In some ways, it will always define him. And although he played fewer minutes last night due to foul trouble, he was still a vital part of the team’s success while scoring double figures and continuing to do things that the other guards on this roster simply cannot. Once he truly grasps the pack line defense that Chris Mack teaches, there’s no limit to how good this kid can be. For Louisville to be great and to fulfill everyone’s expectations (as well as their own) they need Nwora AND Johnson playing like they are capable. Of course, the entire team also needs to hit free throws but that’s another piece for another time.
Looking ahead, the Cards have a lot of basketball left before post season play arrives. They don’t have to be great to win a majority of the games they’ll play in but the up and down in-game performances have to at least level out a little because at some point the other team is going to make a few plays they normally wouldn’t. If or when that happens a loss or two could be inevitable followed by a predictable meltdown on Twitter and any other social media outlet you can imagine featuring fan on fan crime.
In closing I ask that you not find my above takes to be whiny or ungrateful. I fully realize that UofL could have just as easily lost their last four games as opposed to winning them. So I’m not bitching. Seriously, I’m not.
I just see the potential and promise of what could continue to be one helluva run through February and into late March for this team. As fans, I think we all want that don’t we? I just want more ups and fewer downs.
Here’s to hoping that in the coming weeks Coach Chris Mack can continue to help find ways for these guys to stay motivated and to play every minute and every possession like the game is on the line. When they’ve done it in certain past games this season it’s been a beautiful thing to watch.