Best time of the year for basketball junkies, but not for UofL

By Ed Peak

As the night went on, my eyes are bloodshot from watching all the bouncing basketballs.  Bounce, bounce, bounce. I couldn’t leave the television for sleep.

I love baseball. I love football. But this IS the best time of year. Basketball. Basketball. Basketball.

North Carolina seemed to toy with the University of Louisville basketball team, building a 10 point lead in the first half. Somehow the Cardinals  were able to cut the lead to three points in the second half. Carolina would revert, however, to its devastating speed and quickness for easy layups to quelch the threats. Another easy win.

Louisville had to work for every basket it scored mostly from the outside and the three point line. Malik Williams and Steven Enoch did provide some inside scoring punch. Not enough, however. Louisville didn’t play close to the way it played in a win over the Heels in January. 

Okay. Move on. Out of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament to the NCAA Tournament. Here are my number one seeds Sunday: Virginia, Gonzaga, North Carolina, and the winner of the Tennessee-Kentucky game. 

No, there will not be three No. 1 seeds from the ACC. The talking heads have lost any sense of objectivity when it comes to this. Case closed.

Malik Williams quietly efficient, Louisville downs Notre Dame

Christen Cunningham wrapping up his one and only season but always a Cardinal with 14 points on Senior Day (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).
Malik Williams bringing his game on defense against Notre Dame’s John Mooney. Turning in his best game of the year with his third double-double (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Malik Williams has had more than his share of criticism  of a perceived lack of quality at the center position. An issue taking a toll on the fortunes of  University of Louisville basketball.

There was little for anyone to find fault with Williams’ performance in UofL’s 75-61 win over Notre Dame on Sunday. None of those questionable shots, none of those awkward turnovers, no reason to throw up one hands in frustration.

Pretty much going unnoticed while turning in what may have been the best game of the 6-foot-11 sophomore’s career. Playing within the system, turning in his third double-double of the season, contributing 16 points and 13 rebounds.  

V. J. King with an encouraging performance, with 10 rebounds, 6 points and 2 assists (Cindy Rice Stephens photo).

Connecting on six out of seven field goal attempts, none of them flirting with NBA-type distances behind the 3-point arc. Making all of his free throws, four of four from the foul line, thank you.

Letting the game come to him while enabling Jordan Nwora and Christen Cunningham to do their things. Nwora with his own double-double of 20 points and 11 rebounds, and Cunningham with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists.

Also showing welcome signs of progress was V. J. King. The 6-foot-6 junior bringing it on defense and contributing a career-best 10 rebounds to go with six points and two assists. No turnovers either in a performance that had to be personally encouraging for him. Not to be overlooked was Darius Perry with nary a turnover to go with seven points and two rebounds.

Not one of those epic UofL-Notre Dame games, often resulting in multiple overtimes. Not a great Irish team to be honest. But a good game for the Cardinals, something to build on for a change.

Nice to be back in the win column, support players being supportive, making noticeable differences, playing their roles.

Senior Day images from Cindy Rice Shelton.

Letdown coming at worst time for Louisville basketball

By Ed Peak

Maybe it was the small crowd that showed up. More people show up for high school games than were at Conte Forum. Maybe it was the food in the pregame meal. Maybe it was the weather in Bean Town. Doesn’t matter, the University of Louisville basketball team was flat. Little emotion. No fire. Just weak.

Chris Mack was frustrated. His assistants were perplexed. University of Louisville fans on the post game radio shows asking what everybody is asking, what has happened to this team?

UofL looked like it was just going through the motions in a listless first half. Then the Cardinals rallied to take a lead deep into the second half, only to watch Boston College come back. The last five minutes were an implosion, with Cardinals going down to a 66-59 defeat.

Boston College is a bad team playing out the string just trying to get to the end of the season.  Look at all the missed shots, the defensive lapses. Louisville didn’t take advantage. The Eagles were without one of their top players in freshman Wynston Tabbs who averages 13.9 points. The Eagles are 4-9 without him.

Card Nation is slowly coming to accept the fact that this team is toast. This is not the same team that beat Michigan State, North Carolina, Virginia Tech, led Duke by 23 in the second half and played its next opponent as if it’s life depended on it. Where has that spark, the toughness, the swag gone?

UofL fans was lulled into a false sense of confidence by all the early success. Call it Duke hangover, call it what you want. Louisville has done enough to make the NCAA tournament. But losses in the next two games and an early exit from the ACC tourney and Louisville is quite possibly a bubble team — or an eight or nine seed at best.

“Sickening to watch,” said Mack to the Associated Press following the game. “I mean we’re just not making winning plays. Not making winning plays on either end of the floor. I’m sitting there thinking like we have everything to play for. And you wouldn’t be able to tell that in the last five minutes of the game.”

Rock bottom is where UofL lives right now. Notre Dame (13-15) comes to the Yum Center on Sunday afternoon. Irish coach Mike Bray will have his team ready. Can Chris Mack recharge this Louisville team? The odds aren’t very good.

Louisville basketball needs to provide proof of life

By Ed Peak

Where have they gone, those guys who were on fire a month ago?

If this University of Louisville basketball team wants a decent seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, it’s time to get back on track. Now. Not next week, not the ACC Tournament. Now.

Louisville has lost four of its last six games. Any edge the Cardinals had from playing a favorable early conference schedule is gone. Missing is that toughness, grit and determination that helped this team beat Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech and Pittsburgh.

Card Nation keeps waiting for something positive. After the 23-point melt down against Duke came the teeth gnashing win over Clemson. Against Syracuse, Louisville didn’t look anything like the team that shot its way to a big lead against the Blue Devils.  Or even the one that had Florida State on the ropes for nearly 40 minutes before losing in overtime.

After getting off to an impressive start, Chris Mack’s team badly needs to get back in the win column (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Now we need to see if Chris Mack can turn this team around. That old nemesis known as the No. 3 ranked Virginia Cavaliers comes to town Saturday. Coach Tony Bennett’s team has only two losses, both to Duke. Virginia puts fans to sleep, but is a consistent winner. They are not invincible, however. Remember that No.1 seed losing to 16th-seeded Baltimore Maryland-County in the NCAA Tournament last season?

Continue reading “Louisville basketball needs to provide proof of life”

Blowing leads not encouraging for Louisville as season enters stretch

Ryan McMahon down the middle again but he rarely scores around the basket (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

By Ed Peak

This thing with the University of Louisville basketball team giving away leads late in the game is taking a mental and physical toll on everyone, the coaches, players, and the fans.  At the worst possible time, with March rapidly approaching.
 
The Cardinals almost folding again over the weekend. The turnover problem rearing its ugly self when it matters most, at crunch time when teams are pressing, locked in defensively. UofL loses focus and confidence, seemingly hoping to be rescued by the clock.
 
When Louisville inbounds the ball, it’s usually from the corner, and Christen Cunningham winds up getting trapped. He is only 6-foot-2 has trouble seeing over bigger players waving their arms. For starters, they may want to get it to the middle for better spacing.
 
One can’t blame Cunningham for all the drama, however. Had it not been for his layups and the big 3-pointer on Saturday, the Cards would be saddled with a three-game losing streak.
 
Teams are forced to pay close attention to Jordan Nwora. The sophomore averages over 17 points and close to eight rebounds. He’s arguably the team’s best player but his ball handling is random at best. He leads the team in turnovers with 63, including six of them against Clemson.
 
Dwayne Sutton’s game seems to have fallen off a bit, scoring four points in Saturday’s win. He has played solid defense but his ball handling against the press also leaves much to be desired.

Ryan McMahon is dead on behind the 3-point line when he gets the ball on the fly, but that becomes a tough proposition in the closing minutes.
 
Inside players Malik Williams and Steven Enoch have been up and down as well. They both come up short offensively and defensively against opponents their size or larger.
 
This group of players has shown signs of potential greatness at times, beating quality opponents like Michigan State, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, and building a 23-point lead over top-ranked Duke in the second half. But the recent downturn in their fortunes may be taking a major toll on their collective psyche at a time when they need to be getting better.
 
The season only gets tougher from this point. Not the time to be going backwards.