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Friday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

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Lucas doesn’t care about Valentine’s Day, he’s just fully focused on the Cards getting back in the win column.

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NET Rankings Update: No. 7.

—Back at full strength, the U of L women went to Raleigh, ended NC State’s 8-game winning streak, and took back control of the ACC race.

—Elizabeth Balogun, who was granted a waiver to play immediately at Louisville because her coach at Georgia Tech had been abusive, is now playing for more of a father figure at U of L in Jeff Walz, who recently allowed her to leave the team to help Nigeria qualify for the Olympics.

The Cardinals definitely were locked in Thursday. And Balogun’s presence helped. She missed the Feb. 6 loss to Florida State and Sunday’s defeat at Syracuse while she was with the Nigerian national team at the Olympic qualifying tournament in Serbia. Nigeria qualified for the 2020 Tokyo Games.

Walz said some in the Louisville fan base have been critical of him for allowing Balogun to leave the Cardinals to play for her national team, but he said he never hesitated.

”As I tell all my fan base, sometimes we need to get out of our own way as fans and understand what’s best for these young women,” Walz said. “Elizabeth is going to get the opportunity to do something that a lot of us dream of.

”Did it cost us? Yeah it did. But at the end of the day, it’s ACC basketball games. Which, they’re important, I understand. But we need to really get a grasp on it, that she’s going to get a chance to walk in opening ceremonies of the 2020 Olympics. You just can’t put a price tag on that. Our players were in complete support of her. They wanted her to be part of it.”

Balogun, who had nine points and seven rebounds Thursday, said she thought Walz’s decision to let her go was “a father move. That’s something like a father would do for his child. I just said, ‘Thank you, thank you for letting me go.’”

—Congrats to Louisville signee JJ Traynor on being named the 5th Region Player of the Year. Traynor’s coach, former Cardinal James “Boo” Brewer, also picked up 5th Region Coach of the Year honors.

—This website allows you to pick the winners for the remaining games in each conference and see what the league tournament will look like in that scenario. Here’s the ACC page.

—I’m growing less and less convinced that Jay Scrubb plays a second for Louisville.

Here’s hoping whatever decision he makes is the best one for him.

—The U of L softball team dropped a 6-2 decision to No. 6 Michigan this morning in game one of the ACC-Big 10 Challenge.

—Busting Brackets has Louisville as the final two seed in its latest mock bracket.

—SB Nation’s Chris Dobbertean also has Louisville as the last two seed.

—The Chicago Sun Times had a full spread on former Cardinal pitcher Zack Burdi (now with the White Sox) this morning.

—Red Cup Rebellion previews this weekend’s Louisville-Ole Miss baseball series.

—The Oxford Eagle also has a preview.

—The Athletic asked 15 ACC media members to rank their top three in the super tight ACC Player of the Year race. Seven different players received votes, and Jordan Nwora just barely edged out Duke’s Vernon Carey to bring home the top honor ... at least at the moment.

Jordan Nwora, Louisville (32 points)

First place: 6 votes. Second place: 6 votes. Third place: 2 votes.

Credentials: Leads the league in scoring (18.8) and 3-point percentage (42.9), sixth in free-throw percentage (81.8), seventh in field-goal percentage (45.8), 11th in rebounding (7.2) and 17th in minutes per game (32.9); scored a career-high 37 against Boston College and has hit double figures in all but three games for the ACC co-leaders.

What voters said

• “The ACC’s preseason player of the year is the conference’s leading scorer to this point, leads the league in 3-point field goal percentage and is in the top 10 in rebounding. All this as he spearheads the Cardinals, who are the only ACC team ranked in the top five.” — David Furones (Miami), Sun-Sentinel, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

• “He’s the best player on the best team playing the best basketball. The ACC doesn’t have the versatile threats that it usually does, but Nwora seems able to do it all.” — Pete Sampson (Notre Dame), The Athletic

• “To me, Nwora is the face of the ACC right now as the leading scorer on a team that is primed to make a deep run. The Cardinals were on a 10-game winning streak and Nwora is the league’s leading scorer. He’s also a top-10 rebounder and leads the ACC in 3-point percentage. He’s the total package, which is why he’s my No.1 choice.” — Grace Raynor (Clemson), The Athletic

• “I like his scoring consistency and also that he does a lot of things for Louisville, even while he’s very much the focus of any opposition game plan.” — Ken Sugiura (Georgia Tech), The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

• “Nwora leads the conference in scoring, narrowly ahead of Syracuse’s Elijah Hughes, but he’s been vastly more efficient. As long as his individual excellence and the Cardinals’ success continue, Nwora should have this on lock.” — Tashan Reed (Florida State), The Athletic

• “A two-game sampling from late January really paints the picture. One game, he only took five shots and chose to defer to his teammates in an 80-62 win over Clemson. The next, he took 20 shots and poured in 37 points in an 86-69 win at Boston College. Nwora can influence a game in many ways, and he doesn’t feel the need to play hero ball even though he often could.” — Trevor Hass (Boston College), Boston.com

Carey, Tre Jones (Duke), Elijah Hughes (Syracuse), John Mooney (Notre Dame), Landers Nolley (Virginia Tech) and Devin Vassell (Florida State) were the other players who received votes.

The U of L men have not produced a conference player of the year since all the way back in 1994 when Clifford Rozier repeated as Metro Conference Player of the Year.

—This is how the emergency pod is going to sound if Louisville ends up cutting down the nets in April.

—Charlie Strong spent some time visiting with Nick Saban and Alabama on Friday.

—Bellarmine has now lost three straight games and four of its last five. All four of those losses have come on three-pointers by their opponents in the game’s final seconds, and in all four situations, Bellarmine held the lead.

The most recent (last night) was probably the most painful.

—Georgia Tech’s stunning win over Louisville is the lead of the latest ACC news & notes.

—Danielle Lerner went back and looked at all 69 possessions where Louisville has played zone this season. The summary? It’s been pretty effective.

Coach Chris Mack has broken out the 2-3 zone in five games this season: against USC Upstate, Florida State, Boston College, Virginia and Georgia Tech (round 2) — plus one ill-fated possession against Kentucky. In total, the team has played 69 possessions of zone, and as much as I’d love for the Cardinals to preserve that stat by playing exclusively man going forward, there are indications that the zone is effective.

Per Synergy, Louisville’s zone defense ranks in the 79th percentile nationally and is categorized as “very good.” Opponents are shooting 40 percent and averaging 0.826 points per possession against the zone, faring slightly better than against the pack line (37.7 percent, 0.806 PPP).

The goal of a 2-3 zone is to stop penetration and limit fouls while putting the players in better position to run out for fast breaks. In Louisville’s case, it also most likely catches opponents off-guard because Mack uses it just 4 percent of the time, and most often after timeouts.

Although it’s a small sample size, the Cardinals’ zone has been more effective than man-to-man in forcing turnovers and preventing baskets without fouling. More than 17 percent of zone possessions against Louisville end with a turnover, while only 10 percent end with an opponent awarded free throws and 5.8 percent end with the Cardinals committing a shooting foul.

—Chris Mack has offered class of 2021 guard Trevor Keels. Keels is a four-star prospect who plays for the same high school (Paul VI in Fairfax, Va.) that produced V.J. King.

—The LEO has five things to do in Louisville this weekend.

—Happy opening day for the top-ranked Cardinal Nine.

—Cardinal Authority looks at five MVP candidates for this Louisville baseball team.

—For Cardinal fans in South Florida, there will be a game watch tomorrow for the Clemson game at Stout Irish Bar and Grille in Fort Lauderdale.

—Trez keeps Trezzin’.

—Backing the Pack recaps NC State’s Thursday night loss to Louisville.

—The latest episode of the CC podcast is here.

—Friday Irrelevance, triple helping:

—Registration for U of L’s summer soccer camps is now open.

—Kyle Boone’s updated NBA draft big board for CBS has Jordan Nwora at No. 31.

—And finally, happy Valentine’s Day, kids. Beat Clemson.