Regardless of what Chris Jones did or didn’t do to get himself dismissed from the Louisville basketball team, the fact is that it happened and now it is over with and time to move on. There will surely be people for the rest of the season that play the “what if” game if the Cards struggle. “Well, if Chris Jones was still there….” and so on and so on. Bottom line: it doesn’t matter now. Chris Jones is not on the team. “What if” scenarios are for discussion and don’t mean much more than that. This team still has talent. Although Jones is very talented himself, it feels like this may be a case of addition by subtraction when it comes to the locker room and team chemistry. Because of that, I feel like a new season of Louisville basketball begins tonight at Georgia Tech.
It’s funny how differently people are now expecting the season to finish. Some think that Louisville may not win another game and will be stuck with an 8 or 9 seed and get knocked out of the NCAA Tournament right away. Now I am an obvious Louisville fan and optimistic for the most part, but I am also realistic. Even in saying that, I am one that believes this could be just what the doctor ordered for this basketball team.
The team seemed to be stuck in a funk. Even in wins, they weren’t overly impressive and sometimes it felt like they won based on talent more than team basketball. There have been multiple times where I saw this team and it just looked to me like they were ready for the season to be over. Coach Pitino sounded so frustrated at times that it felt like he was looking forward to next season also, when he could move on to guys like Quentin Snider, Anas Mahmoud, and Donovan Mitchell. It seemed like Montrezl and Terry Rozier had one foot out the door to the NBA and were just getting through the games to get them over with. They still played hard, but something was missing. Or perhaps, something/someone was there that they had hoped was missing. Hmm.
Louisville’s record technically stands at 21-6 entering Monday. I see it as 0-0. What remains is a 4 game regular season to prepare for the postseason. The next two games are at Georgia Tech (12-15, 3-12) and at Florida State (15-13, 7-8). Both games are very winnable of course, and they are both on the road, which I think is perfect. Let the team get away from town and not play at home and be distracted. On the road, teams tend to come together better. Now, Pitino can use the “us against the world” or “backs against the wall” motivation for this stretch run.
If this “new” Louisville team can win these next two games on the road and start their new season 2-0, they build up their confidence heading into the final two home games against Notre Dame and Virginia, two very tough teams. But if you are on that winning streak and playing well, you just never know. Not only that, but now the team will have time to practice together, unlike for the Syracuse game. The Cards never got in a practice with Quentin Snider as the starting point guard. They found out so late about Chris Jones being suspended that there just wasn’t time. Now they can practice together, hopefully pick up two big ACC road wins, and then you would like to think that they can win one of the last two, but both are very possible.
The Notre Dame game on March 4 could be key. If the Cards come into that game on a two game winning streak (technically three game including Miami, but two with the “new” season), the game with the Irish is huge. Notre Dame got blown out at Duke 90-60 and have struggled to beat some of the lower-tier teams in the ACC. They beat Georgia Tech twice, but once was in double overtime at home and the other was by only 3 points. So we will see how the Cards do tonight against the Yellow Jackets. You beat Notre Dame and then all of the sudden, you are 3-0 in this new season with Virginia coming to town on your senior night where you honor Wayne Blackshear and possibly even Montrezl Harrell (I doubt Terry Rozier gets to participate, just my thought).
If it plays out like that, Louisville can definitely beat Virginia to finish the season. You do that, or you even finish this stretch at 3-1, and you are looking at probably a double-bye in the ACC Tournament. If not, you are still probably the 5 seed, where you will play one game and then play the 4 seed anyway.
So that is my optimistic, but I think realistic, opinion of where this Louisville basketball team is at now. It is the perfect time for Pitino to get his guys motivated and ready for this final run. It is now a 4 game season to prepare for the ACC Tournament and the NCAA Tournament, where anything can happen. Do I need to remind you that UConn won the whole thing last year? ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN!
The new season for the Louisville Cardinals starts tonight at 7:00 in Atlanta against Georgia Tech. For tonight, this is the biggest game of the season. Time to rally together and start fresh.
Go Cards! Go Krogering! Beat Georgia Tech!