It isn’t hard to see why the national narrative surrounding Louisville’s first truly bad loss of the season has been “well, classic trap game.”
The Cards were riding a 10-game wining streak as well as coming off the lingering high of beating Virginia for the first time in 10 tries, plus, since Jose Alvarado has returned from the injury that forced him to miss 12 games early in the season, Georgia Tech has been highly competitive against everyone, even quality opponents.
Louisville fans know better.
We know that this team was fully aware of how much of a threat Josh Pastner and company could be, because it was just three weeks ago when the Yellow Jackets came into the Yum Center and nearly waltzed out with what would have been an even more stunning win. If you can’t get motivated or you’re overlooking a team that damn near beat you on your home floor less than a month ago, well, I don’t know what to tell you.
Focus should not have been the issue Wednesday night, and yet, here we are.
—With this game coming on the 1-year anniversary of the Duke comeback game, my only scheduling request for 2020-21 is that the Cards don’t play on Feb. 12.
—This was a game that I couldn’t imagine watching as an impartial observer. I watched the entire second half and skimmed over the first earlier today, and even with the ability to skip over the commercials and the free-throws and the officiating conferences, it felt like a total chore.
Everything about this game was bad. Everything. The one way to salvage something from it would have been to come home with a victory, but that didn’t happen.
—Not a single Louisville starter scored in double figures Wednesday night. Those five starters combined for a measly 18 points and were nearly outscored by Malik Williams and David Johnson — who each finished with 16 — individually.
—How rare is it for Louisville to get so little production from its starting five?
The 18 points scored by UofL's starters at Georgia Tech was the lowest total by a UofL starting five since Feb. 4, 1947, when Ed Kupper (2 points), Jack Coleman (4), Deward Compton (1), Johnny Knopf (5), and Oz Johnson (5) combined for 17 pts in a 20-13 win at Georgetown College.— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) February 13, 2020
Yeah, pretty rare.
After the game, Chris Mack did tell Bob Valvano that he plans on switching up the starting lineup. You’d have to imagine that means David Johnson in for Fresh Kimble or Darius Perry and/or Malik Williams in for Steven Enoch. So there’s one less thing for everyone to obsess over.
—On the flip side, all five starters for Georgia Tech scored in double figures. The Yellow Jackets got just two points from their bench.
—I know that Mack is attached to a certain style of play and that while he may work in a few wrinkles here and there, he’s never going to significantly alter the principles at the core of his system. Because of that, there’s no point in talking about things like pressing full-court or gambling more defensively. Even so ....
Georgia Tech basically has six players. Four of them are really good, two of them are ok. Louisville plays nine guys, and Mack seems to have a fairly even level of faith in all of them. Given that imbalance, it’s hard to sit through a game like last night’s and not wish that we would have just run those dudes into the ground and pulled away in the game’s final 10 minutes.
It’s all still an adjustment for the fan base.
—The first four minutes of this game might be the most physical stretch of game action Louisville has been involved in all season. Georgia Tech came out and set the tone right away on the game’s first possession. They were going to clutch, grab and shove to the point where they would dare the officials to call 50 fouls in the game (they called 49).
If you’re U of L, you have to read that right from the jump and respond in kind, especially when you consider how poor a free-throw shooting team Tech is. The Cards didn’t, and as a result they fell into a 12-2 hole they were never able to fully climb out of.
—I have never, ever seen two officials whistle opposite things on a block/charge call and after deliberating, make said call a double foul. I’m 95 percent sure that isn’t the way that situation is supposed to go. Pretty much every time I’ve seen this happen, the call went to the official with the best view, typically the one under the basket. Last night was ... special.
—It was certainly much closer than it looked live, but I also think DJ’s layup had just started to descend when it was blocked. Because it was so close, I was very surprised they didn’t stick with the call on the floor.
As a fan, I am contractually obligated at this point to say that the officiating was bad both ways and it did not cost Louisville this game.
Moving on ...
—Josh Pastner has just three wins all time against Louisville, but the man has now ...
1) Swept a 2013-14 Louisville team that featured Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier, and only lost six games all season.
2) Ended Louisville’s longest conference winning streak in 37 years.
You can’t tell me the basketball gods don’t have a sense of humor.
—I think Pastner was going to get another year in Atlanta regardless, but with Alvarado, DeVoe and Wright all back next season, if Georgia Tech isn’t an NCAA tournament team in 2021 (barring their ban getting carried over into next season because of the current appeal), there’s really not going to be any excuse for him to see 2021-22. This team should be better than it’s been, but next year has to be the one GT fans are circling.
—Malik Williams was an absolute warrior in this game. David Johnson and Dwayne Sutton both had their moments, but Malik is the one guy who gave a complete performance. That’s the way leaders are supposed to battle in gross games like Wednesday’s. Props to him.
—When you get no-shows from both First Segment Darius and Final Segment Fresh, this is what happens.
—It’s hard to get too worked up over Fresh slipping and falling on the last possession, especially when he’s been clutch so many times this year, but I have no idea where he was going there. Even if he’d stayed on his feet, I’m not sure that possession would have ended the way we all were hoping it would.
—There is certainly evidence that U of L’s (current) starting backcourt combination is its least effective.
My wish for UofL is that they stop playing Darius Perry and Fresh Kimble together. Prior to last night's game, they were a -12 in 211 possessions during UofL's 10 game win streak.— Hoops Insight (@HoopsInsights) February 13, 2020
UofL was +103 in 474 possessions when they weren't playing together during the win streak.
—In addition to Louisville’s 10-game winning streak being snapped, we also lost the undefeated reputation for the podcast, and this was also U of L’s first loss in football or men’s basketball in a game televised by the ACC Network.
—It’s easy to criticize Mack for going back to man out of a timeout when the zone had been so effective, but I get what he was doing and I didn’t hate it at the time.
Coming out of a timeout earlier in the game, Mack knew Pastner was drawing up a specific play to attack Louisville’s man, so he made the move to zone. GT looked completely out of sorts and turned the ball over. This time, Mack flipped the script in an attempt to produce the same result. You could argue this might be giving Pastner too much credit, but hey, it worked the first time.
It may have worked the second time too if Jordan Nwora hadn’t just completely spaced out and not slid over to help Dwayne Sutton, who was expecting help on a driving Michael DeVoe after getting screened by Nwora’s man. Instead, DeVoe got to the basked unimpeded, scored and got fouled, and immediately shifted all the momentum back to Georgia Tech, which moved its one point lead back to four.
Right when the shot went in, both Sutton and Fresh Kimble got on Jordan with what appeared to be equal parts frustration and disbelief.
Absolutely no help defense here and Fresh lets Jordan know about it. Dwayne Sutton isn’t THIS bad of a defender. He gets screened and has to chase his man on his own. pic.twitter.com/4JmdeJLvbB— Justin Renck (@JustinRenck) February 13, 2020
After a great defensive game against Virginia, this was not Nwora’s best night on that end of the floor. Or the other end of the floor, for that matter.
—I’ll say this for Jordan, for all the criticism he gets for not passing the ball on the fast break, he made two really terrific transition passes at key moments last night. He also only took one really terrible shot.
The rest of the evening for No. 33, like pretty much everyone else on the team, was not great.
—Ryan McMahon has missed more than three three-pointers in a game just five times this season, and Louisville is 2-3 in those games. Florida State is the only Cardinal loss in which McMahon missed fewer than four triples, and he was 0-for-3 from deep in that game.
—From cameras directly in Jordan Nwora’s face on the bench to not having a scoreboard on the picture for four minutes to references to “Scott Pastner”; Another banner evening for the ACC Network.
—If you’re looking for a reason to feel better about last night, Louisville entered the evening ranked No. 7 in the NET and it is still No. 7 in the NET as I type this. Also, Georgia Tech is No. 80 in the metric. If the Yellow Jackets can climb at least five more spots, the loss will go from a Quad 2 to a Quad 1 for the Cards.
—We deserved to lose solely for the possession where in a seven-second span we airballed two shots by what appeared to be a combined 27 feet. It wasn’t just that possession either. I don’t know if anyone tracks stuff like this, but I would be shocked if we didn’t set a season-high for airballs last night.
—This shouldn’t come as any great surprise, but Louisville has lost each of the last four games in which it took 23 or more three-pointers and didn’t make more than three.
louisville's three point shooting joins an illustrious group of shooting displays in the last 11 years. seventh time they've took 20 or more threes and made 3 or less. pic.twitter.com/zwKlSlzMcR— Chris Hatfield (@ChrisDHatfield) February 13, 2020
—This isn’t a crushing blow to Louisville’s NCAA tournament resume (virtually every team on seed lines 2-5 has at least one non-Quad 1 loss), but it certainly puts the Cards in a position where they have significantly less margin for error than they did before. U of L’s overall and ACC records both still sparkle, but its overall resume doesn’t have nearly the level of pop that you’d expect from an ACC team that is 21-4 overall and 12-2 in league play.
At the moment, Louisville is 4-3 in Quadrant 1 games and has just two more opportunities — at Florida State and at Virginia — to register Quad 1 wins before the end of the regular season. Of those Quad 1 wins, only the victory over Duke at Cameron Indoor is a victory over a top 25 team in the NET.
Overall, the Cards are still in fine shape to be a top 3 seed on Selection Sunday, but their safety net is certainly smaller than it was 24 hours ago.
—Done with the grey uniforms.
—I’ve been saying for weeks now that I expected U of L to drop a game at some point between now and the end of the regular season that wasn’t Florida State, so you’d think I’d be better prepared for this moment. Like the Texas Tech game, it’s not the overall loss that bothers me as much as the way it went down.
Georgia Tech did not play especially well Wednesday night, and it left the door open for Louisville at every possible turn. The entire second half there was this feeling that all the Cards needed was one run to seize control, win the game, and then pretend like this whole mess never happened. Instead, the team continued to fumble the ball away in key offensive situations and make too many mental lapses on key defensive possessions. It was easily the most frustrating performance of the season to watch, something you don’t want to be saying in mid-February.
I’m still bullish on this team’s long-term outlook and I’m still confident in their ability to play with anyone in the country on a neutral court ... but I thought we were past nights like Wednesday.
Bad shooting games? Fine. Other team shooting the lights out? It happens. But opening stretches where we come out and play like zombies (to steal Chris Mack’s description)? That just should not be happening in month four of the season.
Perhaps this is the moment where this group finally fully grasps that while it’s a good team, it isn’t anywhere near good enough to show up, go through the motions, and coast past a bottom tier team in the ACC. You’d think that lesson would have been learned after the previous six or seven instances of this happening, but maybe this is the one that sticks.
I’m not mad, I’m still big picture optimistic, but I’m definitely disappointed.