The Louisville men’s basketball team will hold its first intraquad Red/White scrimmage in front of their fans at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday at 1:00 p.m.
— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) October 15, 2021
Coach Chris Mack’s roster will look completely different compared to the one from a season ago. A myriad of newcomers make up a team with 14 scholarship players in total. With the season less than a month away, I have three big questions that I hope can get answered over the next few weeks.
1. How different is this offense going to look?
The offensive side of the floor was a major problem for Louisville last season. It played a major role in it’s mediocre 13-7 record and subsequent absence from the NCAA tournament. In 2020-2021, Louisville finished 11th out of 15 ACC teams in points per game. It was last in assists, made three-pointers, total three-point attempts, and three-point field goal percentage. According to KenPom, only 23.6 percent of the Cards’ points came from behind the arc, ranking 324th in the nation.
A lot of the struggles frankly had to do with personnel. Louisville was a frontcourt-heavy team. It had two elite guards who were not surrounded by shooting. Carlik Jones and David Johnson were forced to run a lot of iso. The majority of games were frankly slow and unexciting to watch in general, but especially so when the execution was consistently as poor as it was.
I will give Coach Mack credit. He knew there was a problem and made some major changes to address it in the offseason. He prioritized shooting on the transfer market and formed a roster that should be much better offensively. He also hired Ross McMains as a new assistant who has been tasked with developing a new offensive philosophy. McMains has a history of working in player development in the NBA, G-League, and internationally as well. His name has been mentioned at almost every preseason press conference. The players are raving about this new system. All eyes will be on this offense on Saturday during the intrasquad scrimmage.
2. Who is going to stand out and win starting minutes in the backcourt?
Unlike last season, Chris Mack will have his hands full this year trying to configure a rotation for this backcourt. Right now, there is not a guard who stands out as someone we should expect to start every game this year. Reports out of practice have indicated that Jarrod West and Noah Locke are the likely frontrunners to start out of the gate. You also have El Ellis and Mason Faulkner who should challenge for playing time. I primarily think of Dre Davis as a forward, but he even spent a decent amount of time at shooting guard last season. There is no definitive star, but there are a handful of really solid players who you could argue deserve minutes. Obviously in an intrasquad scrimmage you are not going to learn much about the depth chart, but I am eager to see what these guards look like on Saturday.
3. How healthy is Malik Williams?
Senior center Malik Williams played in just three games last season. He has battled foot injuries over the past two years and will be using his 5th year of eligibility in 2020-2021. There has been a visible difference in this team’s performance when Malik is on the court compared to the alternative since the start of the 2019-2020 season. Williams is one of the best interior defenders in the entire country and has been the anchor for the defense. He changed his approach offensively after his sophomore season and turned into an elite rebounder while wildly improving his efficiency as well.
Williams’ absence last season opened the door for Jae’Lyn Withers to get valuable starting minutes at center. Withers is more naturally a power forward and the assumption is that he will slide over to play along Malik in the frontcourt. Williams has claimed to be 100 percent this offseason, but he reportedly had a slow rehab process and it is unclear whether or not he will be a full fitness to start the season.
Malik Williams is the first three-time captain in program history. He is the Cards’ longest tenured player, the heart-and-soul of this team and arguably the most valuable man on the roster. His health is as important as any other factor when trying to determine the ceiling of the 2021-2022 Louisville men’s basketball team.