We’ll start off with a semi-positive.
1. Everyone fans differently. Personally, the Louisville losses that eat at me the most are the ones that occurred either because of a lack of effort or some easy to fix mental mistake that should have been corrected long before the error in question took place. Maybe you feel the same way, maybe you don’t.
Wednesday night’s loss was disheartening because I think it put all of this team’s offensive limitations on full display, but for me, it wasn’t nearly as infuriating as the setback at Miami a couple of Saturdays ago was. Louisville worked its ass off for 40 minutes against Clemson. The effort level never wavered. What also never wavered was the poor shooting and the poor decision making on offense.
Clemson did what we all expected them to do and took away the strongest part of Louisville’s halfcourt offense. The Tigers cluttered the lane with help defenders, making it nearly impossible for Carlik Jones or David Johnson to get all the way to the rim out of a halfcourt set.
U of L handled this chess move about as poorly as you can. Jones and Johnson too often made incorrect decisions once they got near the lane and were met by the hoard of defenders. The open shooters on the wing were either ice cold or too reluctant to pull the trigger. And then our bigs missed mishandled way too many passes and bricked way too many shots right around the rim.
That’s how you lose a game where you hold an opponent to 7-of-35 shooting from three.
The most positive thing you can take away from this loss is that Louisville played about as poorly as it could play on offense, and it never let that frustrating inefficiency affect its focus or its effort level on the other end of the floor. The Cards were mature enough to give a masterful defensive effort that should bode well for them in the long run, but which frustratingly went to waste Wednesday night.
Play with the same effort and focus on defense every night out and expect more shots to fall. That’s all you can do.
2. Speaking of that Miami game, let’s check in on the Hurricanes’ last couple of weeks ...
In a league like this, when you’re gifted a game against a reeling team that’s without four starters, you simply cannot afford to half-ass the performance and risk coming home with an L. Those are the losses that get you killed.
3. For a couple of months now, people have been asking the question of what happens to this team on a night where both Carlik Jones and David Johnson are off their games. I think we all hypothesized that the result wouldn’t be pretty, and hey, now we know we were right.
Simply put, Louisville can’t beat any team with a pulse when Johnson plays the way he did on Wednesday. In his defense, I thought a couple of his mistakes — the horrific charge call and the jump stop where he didn’t move his pivot foot (which wiped away a basket) — were bogus, but there were plenty of either time where he made the wrong choice or just allowed Clemson to goad him into playing too fast.
As for Jones, this was the first time this season in a close game where it was “takeover time” and he just didn’t have it. When that’s the case, “taking the game game over” can quickly morph into “forcing things way too much,” which is exactly how it appeared down the stretch Wednesday night.
Both guys will be better the next time they’re thrown into a similar situation.
4. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life than I was that the meaningless Josh Nickelberry three in the closing seconds was going to be cash. His first three attempts weren’t even close, but you just knew that the one we needed the least was going to rip through the net.
At least is got us to 50.
5. I thought this was the second game where Samuell Williamson played really well. He fought defensively, pulled down 10 rebounds, earned himself good mid-range looks on offense, and took advantage of those looks.
I don’t know if Chris Mack wants to keep bringing him off the bench just because he’s playing well, but if it were me, I’d say Sam’s earned his starting spot back.
6. Louisville’s biggest problem right now is painfully apparent to anyone who’s watched this team play more than a couple of times. Against good, tough-nosed defensive teams, the Cardinals just don’t have enough offensive weaponry to score consistently out of their halfcourt sets.
It’s far from the first time we’ve been in this position — just think about the 2011-12 or 2014-15 teams that would go for long, long stretches of time where they’d run solid stuff but simply could not knock down a wide open look from the outside. The difference between those teams and this one is that they played in systems designed to get them a handful of cheap baskets off of turnovers and transition opportunities. Chris Mack’s system (Have you guys seen this? Have you heard about this?) does not.
Russ sees it too.
Easy O is this teams biggest problem. I love their consistency on O but if they don’t find a way to generate easy baskets especially in this system they will look awful.— Russdiculous Russ Smith (@Specter_Smit) January 28, 2021
Great defensive scheme & great n the half court, but too much half court waters down the genius.
Mack isn’t going to change his core philosophies, especially not in the middle of a season, so this team is really left with only one option if it wants to accomplish anything special in 2021: Get better at scoring consistently out of your halfcourt sets.
7. Aamir Simms is your classic “love him if he’s on your team, despise him if he’s on the other team” ACC player. He’s incredibly gifted, but he also knows how to get away with a ton and get under the skin of opposing players at the same time.
Very early on in this game, it became apparent that Simms was going to try and get into Jae’Lyn Withers’ head. He talked to him non-stop, gave him an elbow or two whenever he had the opportunity, and did whatever else he could to throw the talented youngster off his game.
At one point early in the second half, Withers made a terrific move right around Simms to draw a foul at the basket. One of those moves he pulls out from time to time that makes you giddy for a second over how good this kid could be a couple of years into the future.
When Jae’Lyn’s first free-throw was woefully short, Simms threw his head back as if the ball coming off the rim was a whizzing bullet he had to avoid, and then looked at the freshman standing at the line and laughed at him. Withers, now desperate not to repeat the embarrassing faux pas, missed his second free-throw long by about five feet, and did so with a shooting form that looked nothing like the free-throw form we’ve seen from him the rest of this season.
On the other end, Simms beat Withers with a slick up-and-under move, missed the shot, but then went right over his foe for a put-back. He then let him hear about it all the way down the court.
Jae’Lyn competed really hard against one of the best and most unique fives in the ACC, but this was a classic veteran schooling the talented newbie matchup. When Withers is in Simms’ position in a couple of years, I wouldn’t be surprised at all to hear him reference this game as one that both stuck with him and played a large part in his development.
8. Louisville is now 0-4 in ACC games at Littlejohn Coliseum, and Clemson remains the only team outside of Virginia that the Cards haven’t beaten on the road since joining the conference.
This is an even stranger streak of futility than our road woes at Notre Dame back in the Big East/early ACC days. Brad Brownell’s teams have been formidable enough over the last handful of years, but there’s no reason for Louisville to be 0-4 in these games.
9. Full disclosure here: I had every intention of re-watching this full game before diving into this post, but I couldn’t make it though the first half. Hitting the power button and just starting to type became an exercise in mental health preservation.
10. It’s nice to remind yourself after a loss like this that Louisville is still a couple of games over .500 in league play, but two of those wins came against the two worst teams in the league, and a third came against a Pitt team playing without its two best players.
The slate ahead is not nearly as kind. Georgia Tech has one of the most talented trios in the conference and has finally been playing like it in recent weeks. Syracuse has stepped its game up recently and isn’t an ideal opponent for a team with all sorts of shooting issues. And then Virginia ... well, finish that sentence however you want.
It’s kick things into high gear or else time. There’s no way around it.