Down the stretch they come…

Down the stretch they come is the most exciting phrase in horse racing… In that stretch run, the athlete has to be at peak performance as this is the toughest part of the race. This Louisville Basketball team is coming down the stretch run of their schedule. It will be pretty exciting. And it will be the toughest part of the season for this group.

After tonight the final 10 games of the season will include a game with #9 UNC, #2 Duke, Two games with #3 UVA, a game with #12 VT, a game with #25 FSU… and game at Syracuse. Cuse isn’t ranked but there aren’t any easy ones at the Carrier Dome in late February. Folks this is a stretch run. We are going to really find out what this team is made of over the next few weeks.

Tonight will feature teams going in different directions in the ACC. Wake Forest has lost six of their last seven games and has been dismal on the offensive end of the floor shooting just 38% from the field in their last five games. It’s hard to make any kind of argument for the Demon Deacons in this game other than they have the home court.

In contrast, our Cardinals enter this game playing their best ball of the season and are shooting 46.7% from the field while winning by an average of 16.2 points during their five-game winning streak. Louisville is outscoring teams by an average of 10 points on the road this season. The Cardinals have won three of their last five road games.

I don’t know what is going to happen as this team faces the toughest part of their schedule after tonight. But it has been fun up to this point and I’d like to believe that Coach Mack has been building these guys for the stretch run. I’m looking forward to it.

Should be another big win tonight. Enjoy it, folks. Go Cards!


Cards Return Home as a Top 25 team

For the first time in a long time, our Cardinals have made their way back into the AP Top 25 as the 23rd ranked team in the country. They will play the 17th ranked NC State Wolfpack tonight at the Yum Center.

This Louisville team has been rolling thru the Conference Schedule winning 4 of their 5 ACC games so far by double-digits. They have done that with great offensive play. This Louisville team can score points in a hurry bringing back the ”boom” we had learned to love. They are currently ranked #46 in the country in scoring offense.

They have also done it by taking better care of the basketball. This team was a turnover machine during the first part of the season but have now become one of the better teams in the country at not giving away the ball. The Cardinals are ranked #68 in the country in Fewest Turnovers.

This group had to learn a whole new defense this season under Coach Mack and it has taken them a little longer to come together on that end of the floor. But during this current 3 game winning streak, they have seen those numbers come up. Now up to 105th in Field Goal % defense and 127th in Three Point Field Goal %. I’m excited to see this team when the lights really come on.

It’ll take a good defensive effort tonight against a good Wolfpack team. As a team, NC State is averaging the 6th-most points per game in the country, putting up 86.7 points per game, shooting 49.4% from the field, 38.1% from 3-point range and 69.8% from the foul line this season.

This NC State team is hard to defend 17th in assists per game and do a great job at giving themselves second-chance points. They hit the glass. They are ranked 10th in the country in Rebound Margin. They will get after the Cardinals on defense as well ranked 10th in Turnovers Forced.

It should be a great game between two well-coached and scrappy ACC teams. If this Louisville team plays as they have been they shouldn’t have any problem taking care of business. They can’t afford a slow start tonight either. Especially as efficient as the Wolfpack is on offense.

Enjoy it, folks! Go Cards!


Cards look to build off big ACC win

Our Cardinals came out as a team possessed on Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill. Might have been the best ”effort” game of the season. You could tell a big difference in that effort from the Cardinals road loss to Pitt. Especially on the defensive side of the basketball. I wrote last week that this team had hit a wall. That wall still very much exist from a competitive standpoint. It takes a lot to come out every game and give that performance they had on Saturday.

Don’t know if the Cardinals will match that intensity tonight but it is a good chance to build on the momentum of the last game. I’d like to think that this team is starting to heat up with the meat of the ACC schedule arriving. They have won 8 of the last 11 with only one blemish on the home court. They have shot 47 percent from the field while outscoring teams by an average of 15.5 points at home this season.

That doesn’t bode well for a Boston College team who has lost their last four games. They have lost two of their last three road games. The Eagles are shooting just 40.8 percent from the field during this losing stretch while being outscored by an average of nearly eight points. But as we have already seen this season its any given night in the ACC and BC does have three double-digit scorers and they do hit the boards averaging 34.8 a game. You score points and rebound you can win games.

I’d like to see the Cardinals come out tonight and take care of their business. It would be great not to see any kind of let down performance wise after the big road win at UNC. Now it’s about building on big wins and not taking steps backward. This team can’t afford to do that in a competitive conference like the ACC. They have to win the ones they are supposed to. And they should roll tonight.
Enjoy the game! Go Cards!


Cards have hit a Wall…

You might be able to relate more to this year’s team than you think… One of the most popular New Years resolutions is to start working out and going to the gym. I have made that resolution in the past. You start working out see some results but after about a month those gains slow down and so does the drive. You hit that wall.

This Louisville Basketball team had nowhere to go but up when Chris Mack and his staff got to campus. They were energized by the change and you could see some of the results immediately. The new season gets started and this team appeared to be making some great strides. They beat Michigan State, Seton Hall and demolished Central Arkansas. Then they take that trip to Bloomington. This is the game where I believe this team hit its wall. They haven’t played a really solid game since especially on the defensive side of the ball.

I’m sure it was exciting for the guys learning some new stuff and getting to do something new every day in practice. But the honeymoon is over. Now it’s all becoming more routine. The grind of a College Basketball season has set in. These guys are now competing against the opponent and themselves. Coach Mack mentioned the lack of effort on defense in his pre-game press conference today. It takes digging deep to play that slap the floor defense every trip down the floor.

In that solid three-game stretch I mentioned above the Cards averaged 3 blocks, 5 steals, 12 turnovers forced and 12.6 points off those turnovers. In the last three games they have averaged 2.6 blocks, 2.6 steals, 11.3 turnovers forced, and only 10.3 points off of those turnovers. You can see how those important defensive numbers have dropped off a bit. And the ”defensive kills” that Coach Mack preaches have also dropped off. They had 8 kills in that great win against Seton Hall I think they might have had 1 maybe 2 against Pitt on Wednesday.

This North Carolina team presents a match-up problem with most teams they play due to their length and athletic ability. The Cardinals are going to have to play great in transition defense and limit the Tar Heels in their fast break points. And they must have a good day on the glass just to be able to stay in this game. UNC has scored 280 points off turnovers and average 18.7 points a game off turnovers. They have 205 fast break points this season averaging 13.7 fast break points a game. That’s 32.4 points a game off of those opportunities. Cards have to limit these opportunities.

Even slowing that part of the UNC game plan they still have some pretty good players to stop. Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, and Cameron Johnson are one of the best trios in all of college hoops. They each have their names at the top of every statistical category at UNC. If these three guys have a great day it won’t be a good one for Louisville.

I’m not too concerned with this Louisville team on offense. I think we have enough firepower to compete with anyone. But this team has been too careless with the ball on the offensive end of the floor. In the games against Mich St, Seton Hall and Central Arkansas the Cardinals had 36 turnovers. They had 18 turnovers in the last game alone. The turnover bug has bit this team all season. If they turn the ball over Saturday they will get run…

All of this talk of walls in the news lately… The only wall I’m worried about is the one this Louisville team is facing. This team has done some things wrong but they have never given up. Not last year, not this year. I love this Louisville group. All of the adversity these young guys have faced and they stuck it out. I will be behind them win or lose.

Hope they can find a way Saturday. A lot of things gotta go right to win on the road. Especially at the Dean Dome. Go Cards!


Cards take a trip to the Zoo…

The name “Oakland Zoo” is used for the basketball student cheering sections at the Petersen Events Center. The Oakland Zoo has been noted as being one of the most formidable students cheering sections in college basketball. But over the years Louisville has turned it into a Petting Zoo on their visits. The Cardinal’s are 7-1 in that gym in a series they have pretty much dominated owning a 16-5 series advantage. The 12 game winning streak over the Panthers is one of the longest in the ACC.

In saying all of that I am cautiously optimistic for tonight’s game. Every dog or in this case Cat has their day. This is a tough schedule spot for the Cardinals with another road game at UNC to follow. This Pittsburgh program is starting to get some of its mojo back since the hire of first-year coach Jeff Capel. He has this Pitt team scrapping on the defensive side of the Basketball and they’ve been a competitive bunch this season.

About that defense… Pitt ranks third in the ACC and 11th nationally in field goal percentage defense (.378). The Panthers have held seven opponents below 40.0 percent shooting from the field. They’ve been an even better defensive team at home allowing 63 points on 37.6 percent shooting.

The Cardinals are going to need some of the offensive outburst they had in the last game tonight. They are averaging 79.4 points on 45.1 percent shooting coming into this one.
Jordan Nwora has been the most consistent offensive player we’ve had this season averaging 17.9 points a game. Think he is the difference maker tonight. Pitt is going to have a hard time matching up with him. But as good as Pitt’s been defensively Louisville has to have some other guys step up.

I think that Ryan McMahon could be a guy to watch tonight. He’s coming off a good game on Sunday and seems to have some of the confidence back. And think VJ is due for a good one. His athleticism could be really effective tonight, especially around the rim. Throw it up and if you miss let him go get em and put them back in. I think we are on to something there. Dude has putbacks like no other.

I like the Cards defensively in this one. I think things are starting to click more on that end of the floor. They were very active and communicative on Sunday. Especially in the second half. Five of Pitt’s top six scorers are newcomers with first-year players accounting for 67.2 percent (717-of-1066) of the team’s scoring on the season. So if our Cardinals lockdown on the young fellas they should be able to win the battle on this end.

Like I mentioned above. This one has me nervous. I think it ends up being a defensive battle. And on the road in those types of games advantage usually goes to the home team. I’m just hoping that the petting Zoo doesn’t bite back in this one tonight. Hoping for the win but really wouldn’t be shocked if it was a tough loss. This game is an important big picture game with a battle at UNC looming.
Enjoy Folks!

Go Cards!


Cards Kick off New Year with Conference Win

It wasn’t pretty early on but I will contest that playing just 3 games in fifteen days was the primary reason for the guys coming out flat. I even asked Coach Mack about it after the game. I knew it would take a bit for them to adjust to the bright lights but once that happened the Cardinals got to see some of that hard work in the gym pay off.

They were locked in towards the end of the first half and for most of the second half. They were playing like a team that has spent a lot of time in the gym together. Communicating, making the extra pass, crashing the boards and had five different players scoring in double figures. Everybody on the team was scoring. I mentioned in my Pregame post that this team needed other guys to step up and that happened in this game.

It’s great having a player like Jordan Nwora in a game like this. He put the team on his back in the first half scoring 18 of the 40 first-half points. That one-handed alley-oop dunk was next level. My dude Swag is next level…

Dwayne Sutton is the Junk Yard dog of this group. It was good to see him get some of his bark back on Sunday. He played physical got to the free throw line and scored at every level with 13 points. He also banged the boards and was 3rd on the team with 7 rebounds. This is the Sutton this team needs.

Ryan McMahon is such a great young man and such a team guy. All of these teams have scouted Louisville enough that it’s made it even harder for Ryan to get his shot off. With his size disadvantage, he has to earn it. He never hangs his head and instead uses that attention he draws to himself on that three-point shot to get his teammates opportunities. He had 9 assist in this game. So glad he’ll be around next season. Those freshman coming in will benefit having a player like him in the locker room.

Malik Williams has so much upside and Coach Mack is getting the best out of him. On Sunday he messed around and got a double-double with 19 points and 11 boards. He also had 1 blocked shot. He is a high-level shot blocker with great length and timing. After this game, he moved to #114 nationally in blocked shots. He can be a big threat on offense but his defensive presence means everything to this team.

I have lauded over ”CC” Christen Cunningham all season. Dude is a gamer. He is taking full advantage of his opportunity as a grad transfer and there aren’t too many grad transfers who mean more to their team than CC does. In the second half when Miami tried to make their own little run he was the dagger with a scoring flurry of his own. He finished with 11 points and 5 assists.

I’m only going to say this once. Leave VJ King alone. Stop saying he’s gonna eventually break out and stop with all of the lofty expectations. VJ is VJ. The young man is a great teammate and his peers are always praising his demeanor. The Louisville Basketball program has put this guy thru hell (3 different Coaches) and he hasn’t once wavered. Not once! So please spare us all of the ”fan” bullcrap. Cheer for VJ King and be happy for him when he has a good game. You don’t see his type of loyalty in young people often. Embrace that.

It’s great in so many ways to get that first win in conference play. It will help these guys carry some momentum with them on the road and good for morale after that tough loss to Kentucky. They can put that one behind them now. And so can we. It will be wins and losses in conference games like this one against Miami that could determine our Tournament chances come March.

I had a great evening inside the Yum Center. I love this team and I’m looking forward to the rest of the season. Go Cards!


Conference Play: The season within the season…

The College Basketball season is not a sprint but more like a marathon. Our Cardinals are about to hit the second leg of the marathon on Sunday afternoon in the Yum Center. I always looked at Conference play as the season within the season.

As a Coach and a fan, you hope that the non-conference prepared them for the grind ahead. Everything gets more physical, mentally challenging and premeditated in conference play. The team’s who play hard, smart and with great execution will prevail over the next couple of months. This Louisville team was challenged on all three levels during the non-conference schedule.

When I think of toughness I think banging inside and rebounding. The Cardinals toughness has been tested early on. Playing against some of the best rebounding teams in the country and holding their own. Michigan State, Tennesse, Marquette, Lipscomb, and Indiana all rank in the Top 50 nationally in defensive rebounding. While UK is among the Top 50 in offensive rebounding. Mich St, UK, and Marquette are all ranked Top 20 in Rebound margin.

In the last game, our Cardinals did bang the boards with a team ranked second in the country in rebounding margin at the time (UofL 33 rebs, UK 34 rebs) and won the offensive rebound battle (UofL 13 rebs, UK 10 rebs). UK came into that game third in offensive rebounding percentage. Hitting the glass is important in basketball but it’s crucial in conference play.

When I think about their mental toughness being tested I think about the game against Seton Hall on the road. That game was tied at 5 different segments and had six different lead changes. Louisville dominated the boards that day 42 – 28 and hit 11 of 12 free throws to win a close one. Cards were mentally tough that day but then lost some of that mojo when they played flat against Robert Morris and really lost the mental battle with Kentucky. They are a monkey on our back at this point.

When I think about this teams execution I think about the game against Indiana when they failed to execute down the stretch and think about the game against Michigan State where they controlled throughout and hit free throws down the stretch in that one. They executed well in the game against Kent State and did against UK to a certain point but was out-toughed on the offensive end of the floor.

This team is showing some promise heading into conference play and have had about everything thrown at them so far. The Cardinals are ranked nationally #87 in Scoring offense, #6 in Free-throws made, and #16 Free throw percentage. If this team makes a run it will be done as a result of great offensive execution and getting to the free throw line. The defense has been hit or miss with this group early on. Hoping this extra week helped them make up some ground there.

As far as individually Jordan with 17.8 points and 8.4 rebounds per game and CC with 9.6 points a game have been the most consistent players. While Sutton with 9.1 points and 5.9 rebounds per game and Steven Enoch with 8.8 points per game have had a few stand out performances. Really would like to see another guy get into the mix during conference play. VJ, Darius, Malik, and Ryan have to raise their level of play night in and night out.

I always enjoy the conference part of the schedule. We had some great Rivalries roll over into the ACC from the Big East days with Notre Dame and Syracuse and have formed a new one with Virginia. The ACC conference looks to be tougher than ever and I think this Louisville team can be right in the mix.

It all starts on Sunday with Miami. They are a team that will play solid defense on every level without fouling. A tough team in the paint. Our frontcourt will be tested in the conference opener. This Louisville team has exceeded most expectations and I think Coach Mack still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Looking forward to covering this game and looking forward to seeing what this Louisville team has for the ACC. Go Cards.