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Some belated thoughts on Louisville’s win over Georgia Tech

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Thought No. 1: 3-0.

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 02 Louisville at Georgia Tech Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No intro. Let’s roll.

—It’s still early enough in the season for some elements to change dramatically, but my suspicion is that the team we’ve seen in these first three ACC games is pretty much the one we’re going to see in the next (fingers crossed) 17.

There will probably be a couple of games where this team uncharacteristically shoots out of its mind from deep and a couple others where it can’t make a layup, but for the most part, this team is going to need to rely on its defense and scrappiness to stay in games, and then it’s going to need to make a few key plays on offense down the stretch to secure victories.

I’ve loved the fight through the first couple weeks of conference play, and obviously I’ve loved the three wins, but there is still a significant amount of progress that needs to occur over the two months ahead if this team wants to hear its name called on Selection Sunday.

It bears mentioning that the three teams Louisville has beaten are a combined 1-7 in conference play. The Cards remain 1-1 in Quad 1 games and will have fewer opportunities in this conference season than in any since they joined the ACC in 2014-15.

The second half of the league schedule is also (once again) much tougher. Ken Pom currently forecasts an 8-1 ACC start for Louisville, and then a five-game losing streak between Jan. 24 and Feb. 9. He also predicts an overall record of 18-12 with a league mark of 12-8 for U of L. That’s not going to be enough to get the job done.

Keep getting better. Keep stacking dubs in the process.

—There’s not much I can say about Malik Williams that hasn’t been said already, but I can try.

His value to this team as a leader and as a defender has never been a question. What has been staggering has been just how terrific he has been on offense, especially in recent weeks. For the last 23 years (or however long he has been here), running layups have not been Malik’s friend. When he’s had an opportunity for a score with all his momentum moving towards the basket, the odds of him breaking the backboard with the layup attempt have been greater than him actually finishing the play. Now, suddenly, he’s finishing everything. He’s dunking, he’s executing finger rolls, he’s finishing through contact; it’s all astounding to watch.

Toss in some much-improved passing and a heightened sense of where everyone is supposed to be in halfcourt sets, and you have a player who is at or near the center of just about everything good that Louisville is doing right now.

—I must admit that when the news broke Saturday night that Josh Pastner was bringing the face shield back for this game, I put our chances of winning at about negative 3 percent.

Not only is Face Shield Magic a real and otherworldly phenomenon, but it was starting to feel like this entire college basketball season was a manufactured conspiracy against me and this website. The November home winning streak went away, DePaul Day died, the UK game got canceled; Pastner bringing back the shield just in time for our game in Atlanta felt a little too perfect.

If we had lost by 25, I wouldn’t have been surprised. Thankfully, it seems as though FSM (what the kids call Face Shield Magic) died in Greensboro last March.

—This is not Ted Lasso. This is Michael Scott.

—Even though Michael Devoe scored slightly above his season average, I thought Jarrod West did a tremendous job down the stretch of slowing down the ACC’s leading scorer.

The guy is an absolute bucket, and he has a few inches on West, so for Jarrod to not let him torch the Cards when the stakes were the highest was outstanding.

I still was 99% sure his potential go-ahead three in the final minute was going in. I was blessed to be wrong about pretty much everything during this game.

—Props to Chris Mack and company for having the team fully prepared to attack Georgia Tech’s zone. After Locke and Cross got loose early, Pastner adjusted to prevent the open looks from the corner, and Louisville promptly started drawing fouls and getting what it wanted to inside.

There were still some stretches of rough offense, but the gameplan was great.

—The Jae’Lyn Withers thing is what it is at this point, and I’m not really sure what else to say about it except that I can’t remember a more puzzling failure to launch situation in what was widely anticipated to be a breakout year for any Louisville player. Maybe Wayne Blackshear’s sophomore season, but even then, we didn’t have nearly as much data from Wayne’s freshman year as we had from Jae’Lyn’s redshirt freshman run.

I really don’t think it’s primarily an effort issue, Withers just simply looks lost for virtually every second he’s on the floor. I see it, you see it, I’m sure even Jae’Lyn sees it during film sessions.

The only advice I think anyone should be giving Jae’Lyn right now is to attempt to work your way out of whatever it is that’s going on here. Do what Sam Williamson did in the second half of last season: Focus on busting your ass on defense, on the glass, and finishing around the rim. Let every element of your offensive game come naturally from there.

While the potential for Withers to emerge as an All-ACC caliber player this season seems to have long gone out the window, there’s still a chance for him to have a productive 2021-22 ... but that door certainly seems to be more than halfway closed and still moving.

—Jordan Usher is very good.

Jordan Usher’s Princess Leia hairstyle is very bad.

You’re a good looking dude who’s going to be getting paid to play a game pretty soon. You don’t need to do this, man.

—Score of the game before Mike Monaco name-dropped me on the broadcast: Georgia Tech 47, Louisville 43.

Score of the game after Mike Monaco name-dropped me on the broadcast: Louisville 24, Georgia Tech 17.

The Cards went on a 10-0 run immediately after it happened, and Georgia Tech went a whopping 4:49 before it put the ball through the hoop again.

Changed the whole damn game.

Also, Monaco joins Jay Alter as my co-favorite play-by-play guys in college basketball. I’ve never been shy about the fact that I am very easy to win over. You know what you need to do if you want that top spot back, Dan Schulman.

—Dre Davis is currently shooting 22.2 percent from three, but that number skyrockets to 87.9 percent on threes that completely shift the momentum of games. If you have a comfortable lead or you’re in the early stages of the first half, an attempted three from Dre is more than likely drilling the side of the backboard. If it’s a three-point game deep into the second half and it feels like your opponent is starting to seize control, Dre is going to momentarily turn into Klay Thompson.

I had no doubt his seemingly ill-advised trey from the wing was going to rip the net and tie the score at 57.

This was a monster bounce-back game for Dre, who probably played his worst game of the season against Wake Forest last Wednesday. He scored all 13 of his points in the second half, and the lion’s share of that total came at key moments when it felt like the rest of his teammates were struggling with their own offensive games.

As always, No. 14 is a dog and I’m glad we have him on our side.

—You and your mom locked down the dub, Lauren. Don’t let anyone tell you any differently.

—After going an abysmal 9-of-26 from two against Wake Forest, Louisville went 19-for-31 inside the arc against Georgia Tech on Sunday. The 61.3% shooting was the highest two-point average GT has allowed in a game this season.

They’re an impossible bunch to figure out, I’ll give them that.

—Matt Cross was really good for most of this game, but it was his steal in the waning moments that provided his biggest impact.

Cross read the situation perfectly, and dropped down to intercept a pass that I’m not sure any other player on this team would have adequately defended. If he doesn’t see that pass coming a second before it happens, Louisville might not win this game.

Very glad to have him back (seemingly) near 100 percent.

—Does Noah Locke’s release remind anyone else of Taquan Dean’s? It’s so low and so effortless, and every time he has a clean look I think it’s going in.

After a rough stretch to start December, Locke has now hit 11 triples in Louisville’s last three games.

—Sam didn’t have a great offensive game, but I also thought he did a good job of not forcing the issue, and his four assists matched Jarrod West for the most on the team. I also liked that he pulled the trigger on a three for the first time since the Navy game on Nov. 15. It went halfway down and came back out, but it was still nice to see. He has to be willing to take that shot when he’s wide open if he wants to keep opposing defenses honest.

—We did a good job of not letting Usher or Devoe take the last shot of the game, but Kyle Sturdivant still got a wayyyyy too clean look at the basket. I’m a foul up three guy, but we’re 2-for-2 on playing it out so far this season, so I guess let it ride.

—From an aesthetics standpoint, this may not be the team we thought we’d have to start 2022, but I love the heart and the pride they’ve played with these last two games since the embarrassment in Bowling Green. With those two elements in place, it feels like they at least have a shot.

Keep working, keep winning.