Louisville Men’s Basketball has an interesting season lying in front of it. Yes, there’s an ongoing pandemic to deal with, but it’s also the fact that the roster is relatively inexperienced. Last year, Coach Chris Mack relied heavily on upperclassmen, including grad transfer Fresh Kimble.
While Coach Mack did bring in two excellent grad transfers in Carlik Jones and Charles Minlend Jr, there’s a lot of sophomores that will be getting significant minutes in back up roles. Unfortunately, outside of David Johnson and Samuell Williamson, we don’t really know what we will get with them. However, if Louisville really wants to have the kind of season the players, coaches, and fans want and expect, they are going to need the entire Super Six to live up to their billing.
To me, it starts with Aidan Igiehon. He’s the key because he will likely be the primary backup to senior C Malik Williams. Malik is going to need rest in this very long season that will surely be beset with pitfalls. Igiehon was unable to play much last season. When he did, he brought energy, strength, and power. However, his inexperience showed both offensively and defensively. It was definitely noticeable that he was thinking a lot rather than reacting defensively.
Offensively, there were flashes, but you could see he sometimes didn’t know where to be in certain sets and when he had the ball on the block, he didn’t always know what to do to get a basket. It was obvious the speed of the college game had an effect on Igiehon.
Defensively, he had issues understanding how to hedge and move his feet on the perimeter. He did prove to be an able rebounder in his limited minutes, though. He must become an excellent rebounder to truly be the player down low we need.
The hope is that with more seasoning this off-season, the game will have slowed down for Aidan and he will be able to be a big contributor on the boards and defensively. Offensively, I think he will likely still be growing. So, I expect they will try to get him the ball in situations where he can use little bunny hooks, dunk it, or allow him to be a force on the offensive board with putbacks. Defensively, it will simply be about being in position, moving his feet, and walling up. Regardless, for Louisville to have hope of making any kind of NCAA Tournament run, what they truly need from Aidan Igiehon is for him to be the Irish Hulk on the boards; especially on the defensive backboard.
The next guy that really has to step up is Samuell Williamson. We saw in small quantities what he can do when he’s got it going. Williamson is a scoring threat at all 3 levels when he’s on. However, defensively he sometimes got lost. What Louisville needs from Samuell is for him to become what Jordan Nwora was for this team offensively. They need Williamson to truly reach his potential as a scorer.
That begins with him becoming more consistent from beyond the arc. Williamson’s shot is smooth and the mechanics are nice. There’s no reason he can’t be shooting around 40-percent from the 3-point line. He needs to be aggressive and attack the rim more, using his size and athletic ability to finish or get to the free throw line. One thing I always raved about Williamson when seeing him as a recruit was his ability to move without the ball and find open space against defenses for wide open shots and layups. He displayed some of this last season, but it needs to be utilized consistently this season.
Defensively, he needs to be more aware and move his feet. Often, he would get beat on back door cuts because he had a tendency to ball watch. I think this was just freshman growing pains more than anything and you won’t see this as much this season. You can’t see it as much because for the Cards to get where they want to be, they need Samuell Williamson to be the star many believe he is.
David Johnson has to be the leader of the backcourt at the point. As a point guard, the main responsibility is making sure the offense is running efficiently. Johnson is going to be the primary ball handler because of his ability to understand what the offense is trying to do and make the right move or right pass. Johnson has a knack for finding the open man and he must continue to do so. Where Johnson needs to grow is in his shooting and defense. David has to be able to hit open shots from the perimeter or defenses will look to play off of him. They will opt to allow him to shoot from three-point range while not allowing him to penetrate. If he does penetrate, they will look to force him into mid-range shots and cut off passing lanes. Johnson must shoot in the mid-to-high 30-percent range from the arc to truly grow into the ultimate offensive weapon we expect him to be.
Defensively, Johnson has shown a great proclivity to get steals when playing off the ball. Unfortunately, as the point guard, he will be asked to play a lot on the ball as the player he will be guarding defensively is likely going to be the other team’s primary ball handler. Johnson got beat a lot last year when he was in one-on-one situations defensively. He must have quicker feet and react more quickly defensively. The Mack defense is predicated on keeping your man in front of you and Johnson struggled at times. He’s going to get beat sometimes, but it must become a rare occurrence.
Consistency in his shooting and on-ball defense are key for David to become arguably the best guard in the ACC. If he develops consistency in those two traits, he will be an All-American candidate and the Cards will be a sleeper Final Four pick.
Josh Nickelberry is going to be relied upon much more heavily this season than last. In spurts, he showed capability as a spot-up shooter and a driver while defensively he was able to harass the opponent. However, he was susceptible to being beat by a good first step and he would often times hang back offensively. They need Nickelberry to be aggressive on offense in the minutes he will get and defensively, as with Johnson, they need him to be better at moving his feet. It’s really offensively that they need Nickelberry to contribute. He has the tools to be a valuable scorer off the bench from the 3-point line and as a driver. The Cards need him to consistently assert himself offensively when he gets his minutes this season.
Quinn Slazinski is a guy that has a great deal of skill offensively. We got to see it in his limited minutes last season. He can pass, he can shoot, and he can drive. He needs to be stronger this season offensively. When he decides to drive, he needs to be a better finisher around the rim. Slazinski should be getting some and-1 opportunities. Defensively he must improve massively. He struggled to keep his man in front of him and struggled rebounding defensively. His tremendous offensive skill set must be matched with better play defensively. He will be a backup, but I anticipate he will be getting more minutes, provided he can improve sufficiently defensively and at finishing around the rim and through contact.
Last, but certainly not least, is Jae’lyn Withers. He redshirted last season so we did not get to see much of what he has to offer. Mainly, it was to allow him more time to get acclimated and get stronger. Athletically, he may be the most gifted of the Super Six. Standing 6’8 and weighing now around 230 lbs, he can jump out of the gym and glides on the court. His high school highlights show a skilled F that can play the 3 and 4. With his size, he could even be utilized as an 5 in certain situations. Withers was a good ball handler in high school and is a good passer. He can also shoot from all 3 levels.
Defensively, he could guard the perimeter or post and versatility defensively is something Coach Mack loves. With his length and athleticism, he should be able to block some shots and make it difficult for the man he guards to shoot, pass, or drive.
The hope is that he used his redshirt season to become stronger and more acclimated to the mental aspects of basketball at the collegiate level. To me, if Aidan is still struggling with the learning curve, Withers must step up. Hopefully, he can be UofL’s version of an opponent and player we all remember well in Deandre Hunter of Virginia.
Of all the players, it can be argued Withers has the most potential upside of any. Hopefully, he doesn’t have to realize his entire potential this season, but we must see a growth throughout and he must become a significant contributor towards the tail end of the season. If he did reach his full potential, however, Louisville could be unbelievably good.
The Super Six has to live up to the name in 2020-2021. Louisville brought in some talented grad transfers in Carlik Jones and Charles Minlend Jr and have a talented senior C in Malik Williams. However, for the Cards to be a team capable of making any kind of NCAA Tournament run, the Super Six must step up. They need to deliver on their potential. David Johnson and Samuell Williamson must continue to evolve from solid starters to stars. Aidan Igiehon must become a solid contributor. Josh Nickelberry must become a major scoring threat off the bench. Quinn Slazinski must provide more defensively to match his offensive skills. Jae’Lyn Withers must unleash some of his potential when the opportunity is given to him by Coach Mack. My hope, my belief is that, by the end of the season, the Super Six will live up to the hype.