One of the main reasons I have this website is to be able to voice my opinion and have a forum to do it on. Rather than send 50 tweets or make a Facebook status (which I rarely do about sports anymore) about a particular game, it is easier to be able to make a post on here, where I have all the room that I need. If people choose to read it, then that’s great. If not, well I still survive so it’s OK.
I was lucky enough to be able to attend the Louisville-Kentucky basketball game on Saturday afternoon. Like I did a few times during football season, this will be a post of thoughts from me without watching the replay yet on TV. It is always different being at the game or watching at home, where you can hear the announcers and probably have more information. I am not sure I will watch the game again, but these are just 5 thoughts that stick out just from being at the game and seeing it only once.
1) Absent Anas – It became clear about midway through the first half that Anas Mahmoud was not going to see the floor against the Wildcats. Coach Pitino kept going back and forth between Chinanu Onuaku and Mangok Mathiang. So right away, I figured the reason was probably that Anas is just not physically ready for this game. He would likely get pushed around underneath.
In his post-game comments, Coach Pitino confirmed that. He said that Anas had a bad three days of practice and when they simulated how Kentucky played underneath, he just kept getting pushed out of bounds. So I guess he didn’t feel like Anas was ready for that kind of physical play.
While I understand that thought process for sure, I would have still liked for Anas to at least get a chance and see if he could do anything. Were Onuaku and Mathiang playing so well that they were clearly better options? Not to me. Onuaku looked to be just a big body and Mathiang wasn’t much better. They combined for 0 points on 0-5 shooting and 10 rebounds.
So maybe put Anas in there and if he just looks completely over matched in a couple of possessions, take him out and be done with it. I would just rather see that happen and know that he wasn’t ready for this game, rather than being left to wonder. I never question a coach’s decision and especially not one of Rick Pitino. He sees them practice everyday. My only thing is, just give him a shot for a couple minutes and see what happens. He couldn’t have given you less than the other centers in this game for the Cards.
2) Thanks, NCAA, for Shaqquan – Louisville only played 8 guys yesterday. One of those was Quentin Snider for 1 minute. So they basically played 7 guys. Freshman Shaqquan Aaron was another sub that played, and he only got 10 minutes of action. Kentucky played 9 guys and all of them played at least 10 minutes. So depth was clearly at the advantage of Kentucky.
While Shaqquan Aaron was in the game, he did show flashes of how athletic he is and it just makes you wonder what his potential will be. He made a big three pointer in transition and also grabbed a rebound while in the game. All that came to mind for me after this game about him was “Thanks a lot NCAA.” I am not one to make excuses, but it took them months to investigate something that happened with Aaron from back when he was a freshman in high school. Because it took so long, he ended up missing the first 9 games of the season. Nine games in which he could have been getting experience that would have paid off in this game. He certainly could have helped and played more than 10 minutes and given a break to Wayne Blackshear, Terry Rozier, or Chris Jones, who all played at least 35 minutes.
There was one possession in particular that I remember he just looked completely lost on defense. He will improve that with experience. And I guess that will happen during ACC play since it was too late to help with this game. Just an unfortunate situation for him to be put in. He could have been a big player in this game if he was playing all season.
3) High praise for Ulis – Sometimes you just have to tip your cap. It isn’t always about what your team did or didn’t do. Sometimes the other team just has someone that wasn’t going to let them lose. Yesterday, that player was freshman guard Tyler Ulis. The 5’9 guard absolutely owned the second half. After scoring in double figures once all season, he scored 12 in the second half and 14 for the game. The Harrison twins were pretty much non-factors until late when they hit a couple of big shots, but those wouldn’t have mattered if Ulis didn’t carry the team in the second half.
He was 5-8 from the field and made two big three pointers in a game where points were hard to come by. Kentucky came in with their starting guards both standing at 6’6 and Louisville’s at 6’1 and 5’10, yet it was the 5’9 Ulis who controlled the game for the Cats. Sometimes you just have to give credit where it is due, and Ulis was great on Saturday.
4) Stars that looked average – There were a lot of big names out there on the court yesterday. And a lot of them came away looking just average. I will start with Kentucky. Howie Lindsey had a good tweet yesterday. He said that the Louisville guards made the Harrison twins look like they will be juniors next season for the Cats. They combined for 10 points on 3-16 shooting and 7 turnovers (6 by Andrew). Willie Cauley-Stein was in foul trouble for most of the game and other than getting 6 rebounds, he didn’t do too much. He played solid defense on Montrezl for the most part, I will give him that. But if you are a junior and you play for Kentucky, you should probably be more of a superstar than a role player.
Marcus Lee continued to show that he is a dunker and that is it. He had 2 points in 10 minutes and it was on a tip dunk. Not sure I have seen him ever do anything else. And he will probably be a first round NBA draft pick because he is tall. Dakari Johnson only played 11 minutes and had 2 points. However, he did have 9 rebounds, so not sure why he didn’t play more.
For Louisville, Terry Rozier showed up to play and that is about it. If we are going to say that the Harrison twins looked like they will be juniors, then we have to be fair and say that Montrezl Harrell looked like he will be a senior too. We know that probably won’t happen, but if you are going to be consistent, you have to say that. Playing against guys with NBA size that he would see at the next level, Montrezl was nothing more than average. When he did get the ball on the block, he scored or got fouled, except for maybe one or two times. But I remember one play he was posting up and before you know it, he was a couple feet from the three point line, and still posting up asking for the ball. You can’t let someone push you that far off the block.
Now he did battle, and battle for all 40 minutes of the game. He went for every rebound against two or three guys that were bigger than him. I never question his effort. But I am just trying to be fair. All the talk coming into the game from Louisville fans was that we had the best big man on the floor. Well he was decent. The problem was Kentucky had about 5 guys his size or bigger that they kept throwing at him, and that won’t change in the NBA.
5) Just make a shot – There are all kinds of ways that you can break down a game and stats you can look at and say “well if we did this or that” it would have been a different outcome. Sometimes it is just as simple as making shots. Like I said, I haven’t watched the game on TV, and I don’t have a shot chart in front of me, but it just felt like the Cards missed so many shots from around the free throw line. In games like this, you just have to knock those down, or at least most of them.
A lot of people will point to the fact that Louisville had 1 assist, and that is a big stat. Well, if they hit some of those shots, that assist number is bigger. Kentucky went for nearly every single head fake, then usually the Louisville players would take one dribble in and have a 15 footer. They just didn’t knock enough of them down.
There weren’t too many forced three pointers from what I remember. They had a good number of looks that were from the inside-out or off of an offensive rebound. Those are the ones you just have to make. And this is your home floor.
Some credit goes to Kentucky’s defense. They are great for a reason. I can’t say I have ever played against a team with that size, so I don’t know how it is out there. I can only speak on what I see. And what I see is they play great defense on the ball and at the basket. But after that head fake, you can take one step in and you are pretty open. Maybe the key to beating this team isn’t making threes or scoring in the paint. Maybe it is the mid-range game. Sometimes it is just nothing more than knocking down shots. Louisville hits a few open shots yesterday, it is a different outcome.
Overall – I left the game yesterday with a similar feeling as leaving the Final Four game in New Orleans a couple years ago. It just felt like Kentucky was the better team that day. It is frustrating to know how close it was and if you do a couple of things differently, you could win. But that is a very, very talented team.
At the same time, to hold a team of stars like that to 58 points is also pretty impressive for Louisville. Even after that game, Kentucky is averaging 75.3 points per game. One thing you can always count on for the Cards is defense. If your shot isn’t falling, you can always play defense. Because of that, Louisville will always be a contender and I am not counting them out at all to make a run this season and possibly get back to a Final Four.
If you have paid attention to any team that Rick Pitino has had at Louisville, you know that their best basketball is ahead of them. They never peak in December. They improve in conference play in January and then ramp it up even more in February to get ready for a run in March. It is frustrating to lose to Kentucky again, I get that. But this team still has games against Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, and more. It could be a great season.
As always…Go Cards and Go Krogering!