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Thursday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

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It certainly feels like this is going to be a long winter.

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NET Rankings Update: No. 106 (down 20).

—The second-ranked Louisville women’s basketball team returns to action tonight with a home game against Syracuse. Here’s a preview.

—The only good thing that happened on the Yum Center floor last night was a fan making a full-court putt to win a 23-year-old bottle of Pappy.

—Jeff Greer writes what all of us already know: Last night’s loss to NC State felt different.

But here I am writing this, well past midnight, because any other use of this newsletter would neglect my mission to be fair, level-headed and clear-eyed for TFST readers. I’m thinking about something many people, either with proximity to U of L’s decision-making apparatus or with deep knowledge of the Louisville men’s basketball program and the coaching industry, didn’t think would happen this year. U of L doesn’t have a permanent athletics director or president right now. Those two factors, according to sources I really trust on this, made parting ways with Mack after this season highly unlikely. (Perhaps those factors still make it highly unlikely.) And unless his contract (see it here) has been updated since 2018, Mack’s buyout stands at $12 million, which is a lot of money.

There are also 14 more conference games, and maybe there is a way back to tournament contention with this team. Maybe the lack of permanent university leadership buys Mack more time past this season to find the right mix of players he can develop and motivate into a winning team, provided the interim leadership believes he can do that or doesn’t want to make moves ahead of a permanent AD hire.

All of those factors matter. Still, I keep coming back to the inescapable feeling Wednesday night. Fans booed the home team in the Yum Center, a sign this is no longer just a Twitter, sports radio, message board, diehards thing. The frustration is widespread and significant, to the point that every possession feels like a tight-rope walk. That is a difficult environment to operate in. And in a lot of ways, the loss to NC State felt like the moment when a camera filming fast-approaching stormwaters gets overtaken by the rough waves.

—The mood over at Backing the Pack is predictably jovial.

—The mood over at the latest Card Chronicle Podcast episode is not jovial.

—Mike Bush was all of us last night (and today).

—Air Force’s defensive coordinator appears to be headed to Virginia, so we’ll get to see more of that guy, which is nice.

—Yasir Abdullah season highlights are here.

—Pete Thamel is making the jump from Yahoo to ESPN.

—Really needed this today.

—Hoops Insight looks at some rotation trends for the Louisville basketball team.

—TNIAAM previews tonight’s matchup between the Cards and the Orange.

—Pro Football Focus ranked the 101 best players of the 2021 college football season and had Malik Cunningham at No. 73 and Caleb Chandler one spot behind him.

73. QB MALIK CUNNINGHAM, LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Cunningham was a quality level passer when tasked with play-action concepts — 92.3 grade with play action, 65.9 without it — but he cracks this list mainly for his rushing ability. His 90.3 rushing grade trailed only Sam Howell for the highest among Power Five quarterbacks. He racked up 20 touchdowns, 51 broken tackles and 38 explosive runs on 108 designed carries and 50 scrambles.

74. G CALEB CHANDLER, LOUISVILLE CARDINALS

Chandler played near-flawless football in the second half of the season. From Week 6 on, he earned pass-blocking and run-blocking grades north of 90.0, which is something no other Power Five guard accomplished. He allowed only three pressures and earned a 92.6 overall mark in that span.

—You can read what Chris Mack, Noah Locke and Sydney Curry had to say after last night’s game right here.

—BCSNN recaps the “whoopin’” NC State handed out to Louisville.

—Romeo Langford’s old point guard from New Albany High School is getting some attention from U of L.

—There could be more snow on the way for the region.

—Inconsistency is the only consistent thing about this Louisville men’s basketball team.

—Pack Insider says that Ernest Ross changed the entire game for NC State Wednesday night.

—Someone step up and coach the Doss baseball team.

—Louisville track and field is set for the Blazer Invitational.

—After the fall sports season, U of L currently sits at No. 25 in the Directors Cup standings.

—Eric Crawford has three thoughts on the current state of Cardinal basketball.

3). DO SOMETHING UNEXPECTED. On Jan. 22, the university will hang the jersey of Russ Smith in the KFC Yum! Center rafters. If you thought, the day Smith walked onto campus, that this day would ever come, you were the only one. Smith did things no one expected him to do here. He achieved far beyond his original abilities. He improved, pushed himself, allowed himself to be pushed.

I think that’s what fans aren’t seeing from Louisville right now. The Cardinals have good players. There’s some ability there. They just aren’t improving or transcending or coming together to the point that the whole is better than the parts. It’s just a bunch of parts, to this point, and has been for a little while.

There are a lot of reasons for that. All the blame, of course, falls on the head coach, but let’s be realistic. He’s had plenty of teams and players who developed and got better and were greater than the sum of their parts. Just about every team he coached at Xavier, in fact, did just that. He didn’t forget all that when he drove down I-71 to coach here.

But there’s an intangible that is missing right now. How’s that for analysis? Something is missing, but don’t ask me what it is.

Mason Faulkner said he thought the team lacked intensity on defense in the first half at Florida State. And maybe intensity is the best word for it.

I just know if you miss enough opportunities like Louisville did Saturday night, it’s tough to find that quality moving forward. But this team still has a chance. It can build momentum over the next couple of weeks. It can sort itself out, and Mack can do some more sorting. It can finish the first half of its ACC schedule at or near the top of the league, as it prepares for a much tougher second half.

And it can surprise people in the second half. But I don’t think there are many people around here who expect it. What have they seen to make them expect it? And that, frankly, is the problem. Fans don’t feel like there’s much point in hoping, or that they’ve been given much reason to hope. And that’s a far bigger problem than just losing games.

—Rick Bozich recapped the loss for WDRB.

—And finally, the Mike Rutherford Show is back from 3-6 this afternoon on 1450AM/96.1FM. Should be a spirited three hour discussion. You can stream it here.