The Cards defeated Clemson on Wednesday night by a final score of 58-52. For most of the game, it wasn’t pretty. But pretty or not, Louisville now finds themselves 14-1 and 2-0 in the ACC. Here are my 5 quick thoughts from this game…
1. Montrezl foul trouble hurts
With 14:36 left to play in the first half, Montrezl Harrell picked up his 2nd foul and went to the bench for the rest of the half. With 1 foul already, Harrell made the unwise decision of trying to take a charge. Even if it was a charge, you are putting a 50/50 call in the hands of the referee. Picking up that charge is probably not worth the other side of the coin, which is you sitting for the next 14:36. For what it’s worth, it was the correct call as a block and it wasn’t really close. You just can’t put yourself in that position if you are Montrezl.
So what did we learn while Trez was out? The Cards really, REALLY struggled on offense. Not that they light it up all the time with him on the floor, but there is absolutely no offensive threat when Trez goes out and Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku are the replacements. Those two combined for 4 points in 49 minutes of play. The defense doesn’t have to double team anybody in the post, which then makes the guards have to work harder to get the offense going.
With Louisville playing in Chapel Hill this Saturday, you just hope that Montrezl doesn’t pick up two quick fouls and take himself out of the game, much like last year when these two teams met. Harrell is from North Carolina and was too amped up for that game. If he is like that again and is forced to sit, it will only hurt the team. And this time, they won’t be playing Clemson.
2. Terry and Chris play a LOT
Terry Rozier played 39 minutes. Chris Jones played 36 minutes. Those two aren’t getting many breaks at all this season. Quentin Snider played 4 minutes and Anton Gill played 6 minutes. So for the time being, there isn’t depth at the guard spot. There are players, but if they aren’t doing what Pitino wants them to do in order to see the floor, then having the bodies doesn’t do much good. Coach Pitino said after the game that those two (Snider and Gill) had chances, but they both messed up on defense. So if they don’t improve their defense, they won’t be playing much.
Hopefully those subs can develop rather quickly so Rozier and Jones don’t wear down as the year goes on now that we are in ACC play. For the season, Rozier is playing 31.1 minutes per game. Jones is playing 28.1, but that includes a 9 minute performance against Long Beach State, the first game after Kentucky. He has logged 36 minutes in each of the last two games.
3. Chris Jones hit big shots again
While playing all of those minutes against Clemson, Chris Jones did hit some big shots for the second game in a row. He started the game looking like he had the same gameplan as the Wake Forest game, and that is to work the ball around. He started to force things a little bit, but in a game where the offense was struggling so much, someone had to be aggressive and take shots, and Jones did just that.
He finished with 22 points on 6-17 shooting and was 3-6 on three pointers, including two in a row midway through the second half to push the lead from 4 points to 10 points for the Cards. Those were big shots that Louisville definitely needed. He also had 5 steals and 4 rebounds for the game.
4. Struggles at Center
One of the spots that continues to get limited production is the Center position. With Anas Mahmoud missing the game due to migraines, it was up to Mangok Mathiang and Chinanu Onuaku. As I said before, they combined for 4 points in 49 minutes of play. The one bright spot was rebounding, where Mangok Mathiang led the team with 9 and Onuaku had 6.
For the season, if you add Mahmoud in the mix with those two, they are averaging a combined 8.2 points, 12.7 rebounds, and 4.5 blocks per game. So when you look at it like that, those are really good stats if it were one player. But even with it being three guys, it shows that the Cards are at least getting defense out of the five spot. It is on the offensive end where the struggle has been consistent. And when Montrezl Harrell has foul trouble, the entire front court becomes offensively challenged.
5. Be happy with 2-0
The people who expect blowouts everytime we play anyone not named Duke or North Carolina in the ACC will be pretty disappointed basketball fans. Conference games are expected to be battles. Louisville will have their share of games where they put teams away early and it’s not close. But when they are close games, sometimes you just have to accept that that’s how league games are. Not to mention it’s a 9:00 pm game when you also face North Carolina in a few days. You may not want them to look ahead, but remember they are college kids, which makes them human.
It wasn’t a pretty game for the most part, but at the final buzzer, the Cards found themselves 2-0 in the ACC. Wake Forest took Duke down to the wire, which makes Louisville’s road win over them look even better. Sure, Louisville struggled on offense and only scored 58 points last night, but they also only gave up 50. That is a solid defensive effort.
If you expect Louisville to be at their best at this point in January, you haven’t been paying attention to every season that Rick Pitino has been here. His teams improve throughout the season and work out the kinks in January and February to gear up for a run in March. By now, it should be expected. But some people still expect the team to be at their very best right now. I would rather them peak in March, but maybe that’s just me. That National Championship team a couple years ago lost 3 games in a row at one point in conference play, and that still turned out alright. So just be patient, enjoy watching the team improve, and be happy with being 2-0 in the ACC.
Go Cards! Go Krogering! Beat North Carolina!