A lot of times after a Louisville loss that has left me particularly discouraged, I’ll go back and watch the replay or a condensed version of the game a day or two later, and I’ll feel much better about the entire thing. I’ll realize that my ire was an over-the-top product of the heat of the moment, and I’ll be ready to move onto the next game with a properly cleansed fan palate.
This isn’t one of those games.
My second viewing of Louisville’s Saturday night loss did little to temper the soup of negative emotions I was swimming in both during the game and once the final score had been set in stone.
While an opportunity to remove the bad taste from all of our mouths is coming in just a few short hours, we still have to talk about this game independently before it becomes either a one-off performance or the first stumble in a string of troubling setbacks.
1. If this team is going to spend the next couple of months doing the types of things we’re all daydreaming about, there’s one message above all others that needs to be absorbed as soon as possible: You’re not good enough to coast. Ever.
There are other teams in college basketball right now and there have been Louisville teams in the past that have been or are naturally gifted enough to gear down without anybody noticing. You are not one of them.
If at any point in any game, two of the five guys on the floor aren’t as locked in as they should be, it’s going to be apparent. If at any point in any game, the guys on the bench have their heads somewhere else, it’s going to be apparent. If at any point in any game, Louisville players as a collective unit start to feel like their job for the evening is already done, it’s going to be apparent.
This can be the best team in the ACC. This can be a team that plays its way deep into the NCAA tournament. This can work, but it can only work if every member of this unit is fully focused and fully invested for all 40 minutes, every game.
Play every second of every game like the entire world thinks you’re the 7th or 8th best team in the ACC. Because the moment you lose that mentality, that’s exactly what you become.
2. I don’t know if it was all the injuries Miami was dealing with, the Hurricanes’ overall record, the late tip, our guys staring at their national ranking a little too much, or maybe some combination of all that, but Louisville absolutely was not ready to play this game. In a season where slow starts have been a concerning trend, the Cards have never looked more zombie-like than they did for the opening minutes in Coral Gables Saturday night.
Here’s the most painful thing about that: Miami might have looked worse in the game’s first two segments.
When you’re facing a shorthanded team that’s already a little bit down on themselves (and we’ve seen this from the ‘Canes in pretty much each of the last three seasons), if you play them with the focus and the tenacity that you’d bring to a regional final, they’re going to break at some point early on in the game and then go through the motions just to make it to the finish line. Instead, Miami — which didn’t look any more engaged than their visitors early on — misfired on eight of their first nine field goal attempts, and still only found themselves down 4-2.
After that, the underdogs played with a spark that didn’t go away.
Miami set the tone by showing they wanted it more. If you need evidence, here you go. pic.twitter.com/NfBYklpZ47— Justin Renck (@JustinRenck) January 18, 2021
Loose ball, Miami player grabs it on the wing and drives to the basket with no help in his way. So a 50/50 ball went to Miami and they attacked. pic.twitter.com/uuG9c3ifK7— Justin Renck (@JustinRenck) January 18, 2021
All the sudden Isaiah Wong is cooking, Matt Cross is hitting open threes, Elijah Olaniyi is beating everyone off the dribble, the Hurricane bench is into every play, and that horrible shot selection and those lackluster defensive possessions from Louisville early in the game aren’t as easy to brush off.
3. The biggest positive to take away from this game is that Carlik Jones is exactly who the rest of the country is starting to recognize him as. The guy was pretty much the only player wearing red who was locked in from the moment the ball was tipped, he did everything humanly possible to bring his team all the way back, and he looked every bit as pissed as the most pissed among us in the game’s closing moments.
As scary as it is to think about, if Carlik doesn’t make some absurd shots in the heart of the second half, Miami wins that game in a rout.
Carlik Jones is a deceleration magician. So good at dropping/changing speeds with his handle, shedding defenders in the final third of the floor. Also has that pro hop move in his arsenal. https://t.co/Etefe7g5K1— Brian Geisinger (@bgeis_bird) January 18, 2021
Of course if every player starts that game with the mentality of No. 1, we win going away.
4. Chris Mack mentioned after the game that David Johnson had gotten banged up a little bit in practice the day before, but made sure to note that it wasn’t an excuse for the sophomore guard’s play.
I guess I’m a little bit relieved to hear that there was something going on with Johnson, because if this had just been a standard effort with no sort of off-the-court explanation, well, it would have been more than a bit unsettling.
Johnson was never into the flow of the game on either end of the floor. He settled for bad jump shots, he didn’t work hard off the ball, and he got caught ball watching multiple times in scramble situations. It was jarringly bad from a player who has been so stellar for the last month.
I don’t know anything other than what Mack said about the injury DJ’s dealing with — based on the way he was hobbling at one point in the second half I’d say it has to be a foot or an ankle — but here’s hoping he’s back to 100 percent as soon as possible, because Louisville isn’t going to beat many teams in the ACC when he plays the way he did Saturday night.
5. Louisville fans (myself definitely included) were pretty effusive in their praise for Samuell Williamson after the Wake Forest game. We liked that he knocked down some open shots from the outside, but we loved how much he was battling for rebounds, how hard he was cutting off the ball, and how locked in he was on defense.
It would seem as though the outside shooting was the only one thing that really stuck for Sam.
The Samuell Williamson we saw against Miami looked awfully similar to the Samuell Williamson we saw against Virginia Tech. He didn’t crash the glass with any sort of reckless abandon, he didn’t move well away from the ball, and for most of the night he seemed content to float around the perimeter and try to capitalize on open looks from the outside. He finished 0-for-4 from deep and 1-for-6 from the field overall.
I really and truly believed that the talk with Mack and the performance against Wake was going to be a turning point for Williamson, but this can’t be an every other game deal. The shooting can come and go, but the effort level has got to remain consistent. It was nowhere near where it needed to be on Saturday.
6. Isaiah Wong is the real deal, but when you’re facing a team that only has one of its typical starters suiting up, you simply can’t let that one guy beat you. This would have been like if Wisconsin had let David Johnson get to the rim at will and go off for 45 last month.
If Harlond Beverley breaks out for 25 or the Cross kid hits 10 threes, so be it. But you can’t let the only All-ACC caliber player on the other team go off for 30, 7 and 6 on just 20 field goal attempts. Make him use too many possessions to get that number or make somebody else beat you.
All that said, a hearty tip of the cap to Wong. That was easily the best performance by a Louisville opponent this season.
7. After a game against Wake where Louisville perfectly executed the modern basketball approach and thrived either right at the rim or beyond the arc, the Cards took a ton of challenged midrange shots against Miami. The results weren’t pretty.
Unless you’re Carlik Jones or Sam Williamson, that’s not the area where you want to live.
8. We’re halfway through year No. 3 of the “Mack Line Defense,” and we’ve seen it fail to be effective a few times before, but never in the manner in which it faltered on Saturday. Louisville wants a half-court game where its opponents take a bunch of challenged jump shots and where the Cards dominate the defensive glass to eliminate any second chance opportunities around the rim.
What this style of play should never allow is straight line drive after straight line drive where no help ever comes and the opponents are allowed to build a lead off of uncontested layups and dunks. Louisville did tighten things up a bit defensively near the end of the second half, and then Miami promptly started killing them with second chance opportunities.
Again, just a brutal night for the Cards on multiple levels.
9. It was very cool to hear the ACC Network’s Jay Alter giving CC a shoutout midway through the game. Would I have preferred it not to be a reference to me writing about how we need to view Louisville as a legitimate ACC title contender while the Cards were down 11 to a team that was 1-5 in the league at the time? Yes I would have. But big thanks to Jay anyway.
Also, U of L went on a solid run to trim the lead to 3 right after that happened, and you know I was fully prepared with three paragraphs on how the name drop changed the whole damn game. Alas.
10. The late game scramble sequence where all Louisville needed to do was pick up a loose ball for an easy dunk to cut the lead to five but instead fumbled it to Miami for an easy dunk on the other end that extended the lead to nine just about broke me.
There were probably nine or 10 times in my youth where Louisville basketball drove my dad to “take a drive” in the middle of a game or immediately following a loss. That was as close as I’ve come in my personal dad era so far to pulling the take a drive move.
11. Lotta questions floating around out there about Dre Davis Three-Point Era Watch after Saturday.
Here’s the answer: It’s on, but it’s also on life support. If we get one more airball from the wing early in a key possession, it’s done for good and there will be no coming back. The era exists solely due to the wide open corner three fairly deep into a possession. That’s the only reason it’s still around.
12. Of the three games in eight days the Cards are playing here, this was the one I was easily the least concerned about. I mean, the Florida Gulf Coast team that just got swept at home by Bellarmine beat that same Miami team in Coral Gables, and the Hurricanes were more healthy for that game than they were Saturday night.
The only good thing about having such a short turnaround against a team that’s had your number recently is that a win will quickly and almost completely erase all the bad thoughts that Saturday night produced.
We’re about to find out an awful lot about this team.