“Sometimes we create our own heartbreaks through expectation.” – Anonymous
Being a Louisville Men’s Basketball fan, especially a loyal one, is not for the faint of heart. In fact, it can be and has been all of the following over the past 5+ years….
- A colossal dose of reality
I’m quite positive I experienced all the aforementioned emotions Sunday evening when the final NCAA Tournament Regional bracket was unveiled and Louisville’s name was nowhere to be heard. It was a punch to the gut and a smack to my already snarled face. But if I’m being honest, it wasn’t a complete shock. After watching the Cards get manhandled by an average Virginia team and sleep walk through the majority of their ACC Tourney first round loss to Duke, I started to worry in the back of my mind that UofL could get left out in the cold on Selection Sunday. Nearly all the bracketologists had Louisville IN, but we as Louisville fans know that karma hasn’t exactly been on our side as of late.
And, here we are.
The smoke has cleared from Sunday’s massive letdown. But, the pain and anger are still pretty prevalent.
Perhaps the question should finally be asked, “Is Louisville Men’s Basketball cursed”? Personally, I’m not a tin foil hat wearing kinda guy, but I’m starting to seriously ponder the question to some degree. When I look back on all the things that UofL Basketball fans have had to endure over the past 6/7 years, its mind boggling, surreal and frankly enough to make a grown man cry. Cardinal fans have had to endure more shit than a Churchill Downs infeld porta potty during Derby.
So just where and when did this insidious downfall of UofL Basketball originate?
For me, it all started in Syracuse, NY. Specifically, it began with a point-blank bunny putback being missed by Mangok Mathiang (yes, he was fouled) that would have very likely sealed an Elite Eight win over Michigan State and locked up yet another Final Four berth for Rick Pitino. Instead, as we all now know, Mathiang missed the front end of his two free throws, somehow made the second, and Louisville lost in overtime.
That loss was brutal as hell. It would mark the end of Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell’s careers as Cards. It would also be the last NCAA Tournament game that Rick Pitino would ever coach at Louisville that actually had high stakes. In other words, it’s the last time UofL was relevant in late March.
History would go on to show us that the following season would involve even more heartache with a sprinkling of bullshit – the Katina Powell scandal and a self-imposed post season ban. In other words, seemingly endless months of embarrassment and shame for one of the most loyal college basketball fan bases in the country – the same fans that had to conveniently swallow a gut-wrenching pill by watching Damion Lee and Trey Lewis (and teammates) find out they wouldn’t be playing in the Big Dance despite that being THE very reason they chose to attend UofL as graduate transfers.
In the following season (2016-17), Pitino’s last at UofL, the Cards DID manage to find a way to win an NCAA Tournament game. It was nothing glorious, but hell it was SOMETHING. The excitement was short lived, however, as UofL was bounced in the 2nd round by Michigan in front of overly healthy dose of UK fans who were nestled in Bankers Life Fieldhouse waiting to watch UK play Wichita State.
Three months later, the NCAA charged Rick Pitino with failure to monitor the UofL basketball program as it related to the sex scandal. He was then suspended for the first five games of the upcoming ACC season – a season he would never experience.
And just when the UofL faithful had the onions to think things were about to begin dying down, another bombshell hit. In September (2017) NY federal prosecutors unveiled that UofL was under investigation as it related to the Adidas “pay for play” scheme. It was at this moment as a UofL fan where I damn near lost all faith in the program. Then, one month to the day, Rick Pitino was fired as the head coach at UofL. Louisville Basketball had only known two head coaches in the past 46 years and now this. It was a confusing and depressing time for Louisville fans. It still is even today.
Soon after the controversial firing of Pitino, Louisville fans AGAIN found themselves in unfamiliar and uncomfortable territory by having a former beloved player in David Padgett named as its interim head coach. One of our own was gonna have to take the arrows on behalf of Pitino and his staff, and that he did diligently.
On Feb. 20, 2018 UofL lost its appeal as it related to maintaining it’s 2013 NCAA Title banner and was forced to remove it from the Yum Center. Only nine days later, the team’s post season aspirations were all but put to rest by the most improbable comeback in UofL Basketball history when top ranked Virginia banked in a 3 with no time remaining leaving UofL fans with another delicious shit sandwich to enjoy.
After losing in the NIT, Padgett quietly exited stage left and a temporary glimmer of hope was injected into the Cardinal fan base – the hiring of Chris Mack. I’m not interested in summarizing everything Mack has accomplished or failed to achieve since arriving at Louisville. You as the reader are well aware of it all. We all know that his first season as head coach flamed out with an uninspiring first round NCAA Tourney loss to Minnesota. But it would only be fitting that the loss would come to Rick Pitino’s son, Richard. And, it would only be fitting that now that Richard Pitino has been fired his lone win in the NCAA Tournament came against…..Louisville.
OF COURSE, IT WOULD.
In Mack’s second season, UofL did win its way into a #1 ranking but as the season waned, the team began to sputter. We as fans, as we almost always do, remained optimistic that Mack & Co. would right the ship and make a decent run in the Tournament but those hopes would be put to bed by a pandemic.
Another opportunity lost while questions remained unanswered.
The summer of 2020 would bring even more negativity, some of which was expected. The NCAA essentially scoffed at UofL’s attempt to get out from under the Adidas scandal despite having fired all of the individuals associated with said clusterf*ck. And before the season could get under way, fans learned that Malik Williams had suffered a foot injury that, unbeknownst to Card fans at the time, would cost him nearly the entire season and leave a gaping hole at the center position.
Fast forward to the completion of arguably the most annoying basketball season in UofL hoops history, and here we sit as Louisville fans looking back over the carnage that has been left behind in recent years and the uncertainty of what lies ahead. And instead of watching UofL play this weekend, Card fans will have the opportunity to watch Rick Pitino and his Iona Gaels compete – another tough pill for a lot (not all) of Louisville fans to swallow.
How the hell did we get here?
Granted, there are plenty more details from the last five or six years per se that I left out for brevity sake but I think you get the picture – Louisville Basketball has seen far better days. Life as a Louisville Basketball simply isn’t what it used to be.
The head coaching position at UofL is a destination job, period. Louisville’s rich history and long list of accolades in the world of college basketball is irrefutable. The backbone to this wonderful program is and always will be the fan base. You’d be hard pressed to find a group of fans who are as passionate and as well-schooled on the game of basketball. But in these dark times, this once proud fan base appears to be perfectly divided.
On one side you have fans that continue to show staunch support for Chris Mack. They point toward COVID pauses and injuries as to the reasons that the Cards got left out of the field of 68 Sunday evening. The same fans are quick to remind you that Coach Mack inherited a mess after replacing David Padgett – a program limping around with a dark NCAA sanctions cloud having squarely over its head.
On the other side of the aisle, you have Louisville fans who are flat pissed off. They find it inexcusable for a Louisville Basketball team to not make the Big Dance. In addition, they find Chris Mack’s style to be uninspiring and his recruiting efforts less than stellar. Lastly, they are likely to point toward a lack of toughness and lackadaisical performances as the cornerstones toward their argument that Chris Mack’s seat shouldn’t be warm, but hot.
Regardless of which side you fall on as a fan, just know that you as a loyal fan deserve better. You are worthy of a program that you can be proud of, not one that constantly makes you want to hide your head in shame. Louisville fans are now taxed with finding something they can get behind, something they can feel united about. The only thing that is likely to produce that unification is Chris Mack getting Louisville Basketball back to a place it should be – playing winning basketball and being competitive in the post season.
Unfortunately, more adversity awaits as it’s almost a certainty that the Cards will get hit with a one or two-year post season ban in the coming year. Embracing more imminent bullshit isn’t easy but personally I’m coming to terms with it. In other words, the sooner the better as far as I’m concerned.
At some point the string of negativity and heartache has to end. In the end, we as Louisville Basketball fans will be better for it all. The recent journey has been nothing short of a nightmare. Hopefully we will all soon wake up and realize that brighter days truly lie ahead. Until then, Go Cards