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Thursday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

When in D.C....

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—Spread check (football): Louisville by 4.

—The Louisville men’s soccer team opens NCAA tournament play tonight at 7 against Western Michigan. If you can’t make it out to Lynn Stadium, you’ll be able to catch the game on ESPN+.

—Kenny Payne said after Tuesday night’s loss that if his team wants to start winning it needs to start practicing better.

—Jeff Greer’s latest U of L hoops newsletter paints a pretty grim picture for the program both on the court and in recruiting at the moment.

Louisville’s current struggles, created in part by poor roster construction, only amplify the glaring recruiting misses this past spring while also putting significant pressure on the 2023 cycle. The Cards pursued a number of starter-quality guards in the transfer portal and whiffed on all of them.

Tyrese Hunter, Kendric Davis, Malachi Smith, etc., would’ve all significantly helped Louisville. There were gobs of minutes available and the chance to share the backcourt with El Ellis, who is clear and away Louisville’s best player so far this season. What happened in the recruiting process that Louisville missed on all of them?

To that end, I hear from a reliable industry source that it’s Texas as the favorite and LSU as the only other collegiate contender for top 2023 prospect AJ Johnson, who was for months the highly-rated alternative to DJ Wagner in Louisville’s recruiting hunt. He canceled his visit the week he was supposed to come to Louisville Live, and while some recruiting folks are keeping alive the possibility of a reschedule, I have my significant doubts that will happen. That leaves U of L with … which other guards in the 2023 class, exactly?

This is all to lead up to the biggest point of the day: A horrible start to the 2022-23 campaign for a staff hoping to build some momentum and start attracting big-time talent to Louisville is, well, far less than ideal. The good news is that college basketball’s recruiting safety net — the transfer portal — will flow once again this spring. If the past few months have taught Louisville anything, it’s that Payne and company absolutely, positively cannot miss on impact transfers for the 2023-24 campaign and beyond.

—The fourth-ranked Louisville volleyball team will celebrate Senior Night on Friday by shooting for some revenge (and potentially an ACC championship) against No. 7 Pitt. The Cards are 15-1 in conference play while the Panthers are a perfect 15-0.

—The 10th-ranked Louisville swim team is sitting in first place after the first night of the 3-day Purdue Invitational.

—Donovan Mitchell had 23 points and Jordan Nwora 21 in last night’s Bucks-Cavs game. The Bucks won, 113-98.

—Will Stein makes this list of college football assistants on the rise.

This story on Bronco Mendenhall reaching out to his players and the Virginia football community in the wake of this week’s tragedy is heartbreaking.

—The Louisville defense fell six spots (Athletic link) to No. 16 in stop rate after last week’s loss to Clemson.

—The future Cardinal is a bad, bad man.

—The first preseason top 25 poll for the upcoming Kentucky high school boys basketball season is here.

—The Starting 502 podcast reacts to Louisville’s 0-3 start here.

—Yasir Abdullah is in the midst of one of the best individual seasons we’ve ever seen from a Louisville defensive player. Here’s hoping he gets a proper sendoff on Saturday.

—For the second week in a row, Louisville’s Claire Chaussee is the ACC Volleyball Player of the Week.

—Louisville Report goes behind enemy lines with an NC State writer.

—Big Red Louie hands out player grades from the Appalachian State loss.

—Dan McDonnell runs The Prairie State.

—The visitor list for this weekend’s Louisville football game against NC State is quite large.

—The CJ gives us three things to know ahead of Saturday’s game against the Wolfpack.

—Eric Crawford writes about the challenge of covering losing seasons.

It will not be a news flash for Louisville fans to hear that they are going to see more of this kind of thing.

There are inexplicable parts of this. How Louisville’s players can come out flat when the program is seeking its first win leads to more questions than answers.

While most of my friends in the media are focused on some obvious mistakes in the game’s final 30 seconds (why not foul sooner?), many of my questions deal more with what happened in the first 32 minutes. How do you come out so flat? Why can’t you defend straight-line drives? How does your best player wind up with zero points or rebounds but five fouls?

Why is only one of your big men consistently getting any kind of post position, and why aren’t guards looking for him more?

How come so many possessions don’t get the ball into the paint?

Where are basic things like proper defensive stance, running the floor hard, block outs?

I’ve been in the business long enough, too, to know this: Often, simple basketball issues are linked to other issues that have nothing to do with the game. And, goodness knows, this group of players has every excuse in the book — rightfully — given what this program has put them through the past two years.

Whatever the reason, it seems to me that players haven’t bought in. It also seems to me that a great many fans haven’t bought in. Maybe 10,000 showed up for Louisville’s season-opener against Bellarmine. Maybe half that for the Cardinals’ exhibitions.

“Yeah, won’t be no more 6,000 people at the game,” Darrell Griffith told me when Payne was hired.

Except that’s exactly what it is. This is what Louisville basketball is right now: a program that draws poorly, that just escaped the NCAA shadow, whose talent level has dipped and that is badly in need of a shot of adrenaline. This is not the program that hangs in the rafters in the arena. It is the program of empty seats and last-second losses.

—A look at how Louisville players in the NFL have fared through 10 weeks.

—If Malik Cunningham can’t go on Saturday, Louisville players have faith in Brock Domann’s ability to get the job done.

—Louisville Report’s Matt McGavic will join me on this afternoon’s Mike Rutherford Show from 3-6 on 1450/96.1. You can stream the show here.

—And finally, beat Western Michigan.