Let’s dive into what I think was Louisville’s second best overall performance of the season to date.
1. It’s not quite as pronounced as his predecessor’s was, and I am by no means saying that they’re going to wind up being similar players or even that they are similar college players, but David Johnson seems to be having a New Year’s sophomore jump similar to the one we saw from Donovan Mitchell back in 2016-17.
If you remember, Mitchell’s much-hyped second season as a Cardinal got off to an extremely slow start. Through the season’s first eight weeks he had been held to single digits in scoring in six of his team’s first 12 games, was shooting below 30 percent from three, and was the not so proud owner of some atrocious efficiency numbers. Everything changed when he was benched for Louisville’s New Year’s Eve game against Indiana. He dropped 25 in that contest and wound up being a First Team All-ACC honoree at the end of the season. He’s done pretty okay for himself since then.
Johnson had some flashes of brilliance in Louisville’s first month, but outside of his first half performance against Western Kentucky, we hadn’t seen the complete, sometimes dominant play we were expecting from the potential first round pick. In the last two games, however, DJ has been spectacular.
We also need to acknowledge Johnson’s three-point shooting. He’s now made at least one trey in every game since the season-opener against Evansville, is 7-for-10 from three over Louisville’s last two games, and 12-for-22 since the calendar turned to December.
I think the most notable thing about his transformation is that even his misses have started to look good. Long gone are the days of line drive bullets that seemed intended to punish the rim and/or glass if they didn’t fall through the net. On Saturday, his only two misses from deep were a straight on shot that just missed off the back iron, and a left wing shot that was halfway down.
Hard work pays off, and the more the rest of the country has to respect Johnson’s outside shot, the more it’s going to open the lane back up for him.
2. He didn’t shoot it well early and he got hit with a couple of bad luck foul calls, but I thought overall, this was a really strong effort from Samuell Williamson. It was certainly a sizable step up from what we saw from him against Kentucky.
Williamson was aggressive in the middle of the BC 3-2 matchup zone early, and it appeared to be by design. He did a great job of knowing when to look for teammates and knowing when to attack, he just couldn’t get any of his short looks to fall. He was rewarded more in the second half, and wound up with a solid 12 points on 5-of-10 shooting before he fouled out.
Most importantly, Sam’s energy level was exponentially higher than it was against Kentucky. This can be a good team with just an average Sam Williamson, but it can’t be a great one. Saturday was a solid step in the right direction.
3. This is Gabe Wiznitzer’s conference.
You fools let him get in the scoring column. It’s all downhill for the rest of the league from here.
4. Louisville continued its trend of starting games slowly on Saturday. The Cards trailed by five after the first segment against Boston College and are now -19 in the first segment of games for the season.
You can find more stats like this with Josh Marks’ handy U of L stat tracker app.
On the flip side, the Cards bucked their trend of starting the second half slowly. They got two easy baskets right out of the break and forced Jim Christian to call timeout less than a minute into the half. They only ended up winning the first segment by a point, but it was still a far cry from some of the sleepwalking opening second half segments we’ve seen not just this season, but the last two.
5. Jay Heath and Wynston Tabbs (even though he didn’t play particularly well on Saturday) are both really good guards that would be major contributors on any team in this conference.
Having an elite backcourt tandem isn’t a rare thing for Jim Christian at Boston College. In addition to these guys, Christian has had Ky Bowman, Jordan Chatman, Jerome Robinson, Eli Carter and Olivier Hanlan. He’s ridden those elite scoring guards to a 25-88 ACC record over seven seasons.
Maybe that’s why Christian was calling timeouts, having his guys foul, and doing anything else he could to extend an already out-of-reach game in the final minutes on Saturday: He’s just trying to milk every possible second he can out of his final ACC run.
6. Quinn Slazinksi has talked multiple times over the last year about how much he learned from Dwayne Sutton and how much he tries to emulate Sutton. That’s showing up in at least one major way: Slazinski has inherited Sutton’s role of being the dude who hits the three right when the opposing team seems to be on the verge of seizing every bit of a game’s momentum. It happened against UK, and it happened again on Saturday.
Everyone needs a rally killer. Happy to have Quinn as ours.
7. You have to love the fact that on an afternoon where Carlik Jones was 3-of-13 from the field (I still thought all but two or three were good shot attempts), he still finds a way to score nine points from the free-throw line and also lead the team in rebounding (9) and assists (6).
We’ve still got a few months to go, but I’m not sure there’s going to wind up being a more valuable player in the ACC than Jones.
8. I still really like what Josh Nickelberry is bringing to the table right now. He’s not hesitant to pull the trigger from the outside, which is great, and he’s living up to his recruiting billing of being a top-knotch on-ball defender.
He made perhaps the biggest play during the first half sequence where Louisville seized control of the game for good, forcing a steal and then drilling a no hesitation triple on the other end.
There are plenty of reasons to feel better about Louisville potentially finishing in the top three or four of the ACC than we were in early November. Nickelberry’s contributions since getting back to 100 percent is certainly one of those reasons.
9. The Dre Davis three-point shooting era is back on. Please keep it locked here for further developments on this matter.
This was a really solid overall game from Davis, who played terrific defense against everyone he was matched up with, never forced the issue offensively, and wound up with a perfect 5-for-5 day from the field. After a more cold than hot performance against UK, he was back to playing his role seamlessly on Saturday.
10. Part of Boston College’s plan for this game was pretty clearly to try and speed Louisville up. Even when they were able to get Cards going, it backfired. As has been discussed ad nauseum over the last three years, U of L is no longer going to be an “up and down” team stylistically, but when this group does choose to get out and run a little bet, they’re pretty good in transition. It makes sense. You’ve got an NBA caliber fast break guard in Johnson, a terrific decision maker, ball-handler and passer in Jones, and outside of the three true big men who come off the bench, you’ve got a roster full of guys who can handle and pass it well enough to play a key role in any press break or transition opportunity.
While a high possession game is likely never going to be the centerpiece of a Chris Mack gameplan, it’s nice to know that if this team is forced to speed things up because they’re behind by a lot or just being pushed by a pressing team with a ton of athletes, they should be able to find success.
There was so much talk about Louisville’s ACC schedule being backloaded when it was first released, but now the Cards are staring down a two-game week that seems every bit as daunting as anything February or early March is going to throw its way. Virginia Tech is nationally ranked and has the best overall record in the conference, and Georgia Tech appears to finally be playing up to the potential of its roster.
We should be in for a pair of big-time battles inside the Yum Center this week. Can’t wait.