Cardinals 94, Thorobreds 45.
Frankly, the score is deceiving. The exhibition wasn’t that close.
But — and it really should be an all caps BUT — BUT perspective is called for. Mandatory.
It’s not like prime time Travis Grant was going to enter the game for State.
For those who know their Commonwealth hoops history, Grant was the sharpshooter, who led Lucias Mitchell’s T-Breds to three consecutive NAIA titles in the early 70s.
No insignificant feat, that. The tourney was a 32 team, win five games in a week slog, in one gym in Kansas City, with teams from all over the land, that didn’t have a lot of scouting reports on each other.
Grant famously hit ten straight shots in his first game as a freshman, scored 60 something on Eastern Michigan’s George Gervin in that post season bash. Finished his career with most points ever to that time in college at any level.
Nor were the Cardinal bigs going to be challenged underneath by The Ejector, Elmore Smith. He was Grant’s 7-0 runnin’ podner on two of those title teams.
OK, enough of the history lesson, what about the game? Keeping in mind, State was kinda like a Tuesday Night at the Y contingent.
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Much has been made of the new look Cardinal offense. More about that aspect in a moment.
Let’s talk Defense.
At his Media Day presser, Chris Mack debunked any thoughts U of L might press more this season.
Hmmm. They went Full Court, for awhile anyway, from the opening tip. They turned the visitors over in the backcourt after the Cards tallied with their first possession with the rock.
They weren’t full court D the whole game. But periodically. At least until the tilt was totally out of hand. Which didn’t take long.
In the half court, the D was super intense, significantly more than in recent seasons. Two blocks and a steal, the first time they were defending their hoop. Trapping. Often along the sideline.
Led by the energy of Jarrod West, who appears to be U of L’s best on ball defender since Peyton and Russ wore the Red & Black, winning a natty.
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Which totality of team energy, one guy’s opinion, is an offshoot of the Ross McMains effect.
And, make no mistake, Mack’s prevarication notwithstanding, the international traveler is Offensive Coordinator. Which has been confirmed by several observers, closer to the program than me.
Such is the passing, cutting, darting, backdooring (Is that a verb?), drives to the hoop, and one pass, one dribble threeball launches, this is obviously not the Mack Era Cardinals of yesteryear. Like, you know, last year, and the season before, etc.
As good as Carlick Jones was for U of L, indispensable really, how many times did I scream, “Pass the Damn Ball.” Correct response: A lot. When West or El Ellis might hold the ball on the bounce for, oh, 4-5 seconds, it seemed an eternity in context of Extreme Offensive Makeover Cardinal Basketball.
Remembering the lack of talent by the opposition, here’s what I really liked.
Offensive Rebounding. The abundance of Louisville boards — 62 — doesn’t really matter. What does is that 23 of them came off missed Card shots. Malik Williams had five, three of which came by the first media timeout of the game.
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The starters were Noah Locke, Dre Davis, Jae’Lyn Withers, West and Williams.
The replacement unit — I hesitate to use the 2d team — was some combination of Ellis, Mason Faulkner, Matt Cross, Sydney Curry, JJ Traynor and Sam Williamson.
Sam seemed a bit lost and out of sorts before halftime. But, after hitting a nice floater, and making a great dish to Curry in the 2d, he found his mojo.
It’s a good thing.
Mike James Babe Wiznitzer are injured. The only squad member who played, but isn’t quite ready is Roosevelt Wheeler. To be fair, he didn’t play at all last season because of an injury, and his school shut down because of the COVID.
What U of L has, that they have not recently had, is depth.
There’s not much drop off.
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I believe this group has a chance to be better than the fretting fanbase is wont to believe.
What could very well derail early season improvement is Chris Mack’s suspension. How rotations will play out, who is on the court with whom and fits together, is still to be determined.
Mack won’t be at practice or on the bench to get a feel for that until Sparty in East Lansing. Ouch.
I’ve said it before, and I shall reiterate. Understanding it may just be my inner lifelong fan speaking, I think this team has a legit chance to turn out to be pretty good. A conference contender.
I also think, all factors considered — New O, New D, New Squad, Mack’s Suspension — the jelling might not show until mid January.
— c d kaplan