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Extended Thoughts: Louisville 75, Western Kentucky 54

First thought: It ruled.

NCAA Basketball: Wade Houston Tipoff Classic-Western Kentucky at Louisville Louisville Courier-Journal-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t think there’s been a result in the Chris Mack era so far that has surprised me more than Tuesday night’s. Down to eight scholarship players, playing without at least two starters, having just one active player on the team who isn’t a freshman or sophomore, coming off of three just kind of ok performances, and then beating that Western Kentucky team by 21 was marvelous to watch.

The difference between what Mack brings to the table and what Rick Stansbury brings to the table has never been on more clear display.

—Since Louisville and Western Kentucky began playing regularly again, there have been two times where I’ve gone into the game believing the Hilltoppers would win. One was Tuesday night, and U of L promptly won by 21. The other was back in 2010, when the Cards had to play at Diddle Arena for the first time in ages. In that game, Louisville went 16-of-30 from three and won 114-82.

If I’m ever feeling nervous about a WKU game again, I’ll be sure to announce it publicly so that you can all have ample time to drive to Southern Indiana and bet your mortgage on the good guys.

—Through four games, I think it’s apparent that Carlik Jones is as good as we were all hoping he’d be, David Johnson (while he hasn’t been stellar) is still a future first round NBA draft pick, and the Jae’Lyn Withers “he’s not your typical redshirt” hype was justified. But for this team to be 4-0 right now, it needed at least one guy to be a rock solid contributor that no one saw coming.

So this is where we talk about Dre Davis.

I will be the first to admit that I had zero belief that Davis could be this good, this season. Having an endless motor and an ACC-ready frame is one thing, but it’s the polish on his game that has been so pleasantly stunning. The guy has a really solid looking outside stroke — I completely retract my Rakeem Buckles comparison from after the Evansville game — and a tremendous overall feel for the game.

Shoutout to D’Andre Davis Sr. and the Lawrence Central program for having this guy college ready from the first moment he stepped on the court. We will gladly welcome D’Ante into the fold in a couple of years.

Dre Days are here. Dre and Tae Days are coming.

—I woke up Wednesday mornin thinking about Aidan Igiehon splashing a 15-foot jumper and J.J. Traynor burying a no-hesitation corner three and wondering if it was all a fever dream. It was not.

—Speaking of Igiehon, it feels strange to praise a guy for a two-point, two-rebound, five-foul performance, but he gave Louisville really quality minutes and did a bang up job guarding Charles Bassey while he was on the floor. A year ago, he’s simply unplayable in that game.

While the progress has been slower than many Cardinal fans would have liked, you can see the pieces starting to come together. If he makes as much of a leap over the 12 months ahead, we’re going to have something.

—Imagine getting paid to point out the obvious as much as Jimmy Dykes does during any of his college basketball broadcasts.

When you get done in that bathroom, you’re gonna wanna make sure you flush the toilet. Doesn’t matter how long you’ve been with this company, you’ve ALWAYS gotta flush that toilet.

The thing about emailing that people are always forgetting about, is that at the end of the day, none of it matters unless you hit “send.”

Guy knows how to record a banger though.

—In a game where Western Kentucky’s advantages over Louisville were fairly obvious, U of L’s biggest ace in the hole was pretty clearly having a guy in David Johnson that the Hilltoppers wouldn’t have a natural answer for. This needed to be a DJ game for the Cards to win the way they did, and thankfully, it was.

I liked what Mack said after the game about how Johnson shouldn’t be a guy who needs to hit a jump shot or two to get his game going. I know that teams are going to keep playing off of him, and I know that there are going to be help defenders ready to pounce the moment he makes a move to the basket, but in the lane is where David still needs to be doing his best work. Whether its straight line drives where he either gets fouled or gets to the rack, or designed sets where he can post up a smaller defender, Johnson has got to make sure that, above all else, he utilizes his combination of size and skill as effectively as possible.

—It’s been a while since I’ve seen a good team just completely lay down the way Western Kentucky did in the last few minutes on Tuesday. Maybe it was the exhaustion from playing three games in three days and then having to fly in from South Dakota, but man, when they got down double-digits, that was it. They were gonna half-ass everything until the final horn and then be happy to head back to Bowling Green.

—Just going to say it again: Jae’Lyn Withers is going to be a tremendous college basketball player. He’s already pretty damn good.

I loved the fact that he got totally humbled by Bassey — going right into the body of a professional shot-blocking machine who’s got at least four inches on you isn’t the best decision — and didn’t let it affect his game at all. Too many young guys these days (God I’m old) let an embarrassing play that they know is going to be posted on social media completely alter the flow of their game. Withers just kept going to work on Bassey on the defensive end, and then scored on the big man via jump shot (a wiser choice) a few possessions later.

Again, he has every tool necessary to be one of the better power forwards to come through this program in a long time.

—My one complaint about this team so far — and I say this knowing full well that it’s an extremely nit-picky fan thing — is the lack of energy on the bench. I get that it’s a unique setup for everyone this season, but if you watched the Baylor-Illinois game Wednesday night, those two benches were completely into every dribble and going nuts after every major play.

That type of bench energy has typically been a Louisville staple, especially in recent years, but we haven’t seen much of it in the first four games. Of course that might be because like three fourths of the guys on the bench are too injured to stand up and do any celebrating.

—I know that we probably benefitted from it more than WKU did on Tuesday, but my God, not every collision in college basketball is a charge. But if they’re going to keep calling it that way, you might as well take full advantage.

—I hope that we aren’t already (myself included) starting to take what Carlik Jones does for this team a little bit for granted. Watching him play reminds me so much of watching Fred VanVleet at Wichita State back in the day, which is about as high a compliment as I can pay.

In an era where college basketball fans almost never watch a game without constantly refreshing Twitter or flipping over to check on another team, the subtleties that make Jones so terrific are easy to miss. The stats are the stats, but what makes him truly unique is how he sees the game the same way a mathematician sees a half-finished equation; he recognizes exactly what the present situation is, he knows exactly what the next three moves need to be in order to produce the desired result, and he knows what that desired result is. Teams don’t have the highest level of success without at least one guy who plays the game like that — a guy who has a feel for which way the ball is going to bounce off the rim, or where the ball should be three passes from now. It is so, so fun to watch him out there.

My only complaint with Carlik so far is that I wish he’d give himself just a little bit more of a green light from deep, especially in end of the shot clock situations. When the shot clock gets to five or six, I’d much rather see Jones pull up from deep than try and drive into a wave of much larger defenders. I think he’s already shown that he’s capable of knocking down the 24-footer with a fairly high degree on consistency, so let’s hoist more of those bad boys up.

—Getting to watch this team play five games in nine days has been a terrific treat to start the season. Let’s end the stretch the right way on Friday.