Last night in Louisville’s ACC
Big East bout against Pitt, I finally turned the corner. We heard all summer how Chinanu Onuaku vastly improved his skill-set and was moving up draft boards and primed for a great year. I didn’t buy it. I thought he looked good, but I was not feeding into the hype just yet. There were flashes this season, those games where you saw the potential but you also saw the frustrating travels and a fan favorite, the moving screen. I was a little skeptical of the Granny Shot Assassin and believed that if part of our 2015-2016 success relies on his abilities then we were in for a roller coaster of a year.
Then Pitt happened.
The numbers were there, 18 points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 4 fouls (still work to do), and a random 19 foot jumper that somehow went in. However, it was not just the numbers that stood out, it was the way he got there. Nanu was physically imposing. When Nanu caught the ball down low, he showcased that improved footwork and obvious strength on the way to a few easy and Trezl-like dunks as well as a couple soft hooks and jumpers. Honestly, how do you stop that consistently?
A Hall of Fame coach agrees with this assessment.
“Right now, if he plays 33 minutes we’re going to be tough to beat.”
-Coach Rick Pitino
It was not just on offense where Nanu seemed to come of age, but on defense. Those three blocks were impressive, but what was more impressive to me was again his footwork and dedication to staying vertical and in position. Pitt is ranked in the Top 25 for a reason and part of their skill-set is to draw fouls and get to the free throw line. This tactic is successful because they are also the number one free throw shooting team in the country at 80%. That formula spelled disaster in my mind heading in. I figured Nanu would get 2 quick fouls and sit the first half then come in to start the second half off with either another defensive foul or a moving screen. I could not have been more wrong. Nanu kept his position at the anchor of the defense, moved his feet, and kept his arms vertical all while keeping control of his body. The defense was stifling and the length of the team overwhelmed Pitt and kept them from the line as often as they were accustomed to.
On a night when one of Louisville’s best players, Trey Lewis, was having an off night and Damion Lee was effective in spurts, Nanu kept Louisville in the game at times and it bodes well for the future when all gears are clicking and the offense and defense both show up.
A common refrain for football season has been that the future looks bright. Well folks, Nanu is a sophomore and if he is still here, the prospect of Nanu, Mitchell, Q, Jaylen, Spalding, Adel, Anas, Mangok and some guy named VJ…it just is…well.. football isn’t the only sport around here with a bright future.
However, I do not want to get too far ahead and ignore the present. With the parity in today’s college basketball, this could be a truly remarkable year with a few tweaks. Maybe the growth of Chinanu can be that spark we need to put Louisville above the rest. 2016 will be a fun year and we should all enjoy this team as the season progresses, granny shots and all.