The 2017-18 version of the Louisville basketball Cardinals finished the regular season at 19-12. They went 1-1 in the ACC tourney. Louisville had no signature wins other than beating #23 Florida State and ended the regular season with the worst beat I have ever seen when they surrendered at 5 point lead with 0.9 seconds left to Virginia. That resume was not good enough to get invited to the NCAA tournament. So Louisville was NIT bound where they fell just short of the final four.
Gone from that team are the head coach and 4 of the usual 5 starters. Included with seniors Quentin Snider and Anas Mahmoud, also not returning are their two best players, Ray Spalding and Deng Adel. Both are currently playing in the NBA. Deng (15), Ray (12.3) and Q (11.8) were the only three who averaged double figure points. VJ King would be the lone returning starter and he averaged 8.6 points per game. Also, there is no freshman coming in next season because they were all scared off because of the scandals.
No way this team could be as good or better than last years team, right? Especially with the toughest schedule in the history of the program awaiting them.
Enter new coach Chris Mack. He tried to fill the holes with grad transfers but the first several guys he goes after decided to go elsewhere. He finally finds a kid from Richmond and a kid from Samford. Not terrible players but never played at the power 5 level let alone faced a schedule like the caliber of the ACC. Coach Mack also inherits a guy who transferred from a poor UCONN team. Not 1 of the guys have ever run the pack line type of defense coach Mack runs and none of these guys were recruited to fit his system. And for VJ, it’s his 3rd coach in 3 season.
This ’18-’19 season appeared to be nothing more than a rebuilding year. At the beginning of the season, myself and many others said the just making the tournament would be a successful season and a huge step in the right direction for the program. If I told you that Louisville would go 19-12 and make the tournament, everyone would sign up for that without hesitation – no matter the seed.
Well, Jordan Nwora has gone from averaging 5.7 points and 2.2 rebounds per game to averaging 17.3 and 7.5. Dwayne Sutton, who transferred from UNC Asheville, went from averaging 4.3 ppg and 4 rpg to 10.6 and 6.9.
Early in the season, Louisville hangs tough with #5 Tennessee. 6 days later they would knock off #9 Michigan State. Suddenly, expectation rose. Then they curb stomped #12 North Carolina at Carolina. Expectations unfairly rose again – but it’s human nature.
As January concluded, Louisville found themselves at 7-1 in conference play and near the top of the ACC after being picked to finish 11th.
Expectation rose again as talk of a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA tournament began to be a common topic around town and nationally.
But the early success made people think that the daunting February schedule could be easier than first thought. The return game against # 9 UNC followed by #11 Virginia Tech, # 22 Florida State, #2 Duke, a trip to the Carrier Dome and #3 Virginia, yielded just 1 victory with 5 losses. Louisville has dropped to somewhere between 5th and 8th in the ACC with another game against Virginia to end the regular season.
The good news is that Louisville can lose the rest of their games and still make the NCAA Tournament. Going back to the preseason expectations that most of us set, this would constitute a successful season. We, as fans, need to remember where this team started and that this season is merely the first step in the return to prominence for this storied program.
I am a fan who didn’t change my expectations throughout the season. If you are a fan who raised yours, then it’s okay to adjust them back down. Want and hope for better but don’t expect it.
Be patient! Great things are coming. Trust the process.
As Always, GO CARDS!