Restoring Louisville basketball not expected to be easy for Chris Mack

Lots of ups and downs for Louisville basketball during the first season under Coach Chris Mack (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

The challenges confronting Chris Mack faces in returning University of Louisville to the elite ranks of college basketball were never more obvious than in the 89-86 loss to Pittsburgh. Those easy wins UofL fans were expecting in January are suddenly doubtful and elusive.

If 2018-19 was supposed to be a rebuilding season under the new Louisville coach, he is still frantically searching for the building blocks for the foundation. Though they never quit in Wednesday’s game, the Cardinals never really got started. Strongly resembling last year’s team,  struggling against an Atlantic Coast Conference bottom feeder.

Certainly not a good night for Jordan Nwora, the team’s leading scorer.  He appeared to be least likely player getting the ball with the game on the line. A poor shooting night, making only two of 14 field goal attempts, while making four turnovers. Many of his shots didn’t have a chance, some of them seemingly thrown at random.

Point guard Christen Cunningham again forced to provide the offensive leadership, recognizing what needed to be done. Fearless in going to the basket, taking the sensible shots, finding open teammates. He would score a team-high 23 points and make five assists, all without committing a single foul.

Cunningham actually contributing what his team needed most, a sense of urgency. Playing within the system, on a night when some of his teammates appeared unsure of their roles and how they fit within the system. Whether they can get it, recommit and get their collective act together, or if they are capable of getting better, remains to be seen.

If they are not paying attention to their new coach, if they unable to grasp what he wants them to do, or if there is just not enough talent to overcome these disparities, this season could easily become a placeholder until Chris Mack’s first recruiting class takes over next year.

Louisville seems content to hang around against Kentucky

A game Dwayne Sutton wants to forget, Louisville’s third leading scorer managing only two points for the day (Cindy Rice Shelton photos).

May be a while before University of Louisville basketball plays another Kentucky team so lacking in talent as was so evident on Saturday. But that’s irrelevant because UofL never posed a serious threat to the Wildcats.

Chris Mack gave his team a chance against Kentucky but was outmanned in his first game in the rivalry (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

Choose a reason — lack of focus, no consistency, little confidence, an absence of leadership, no visible will to win — any of these qualities were in evidence in a 71-58 loss to Kentucky. No perceived benefit either from the boisterous UofL diehards in the crowd of 20,882 at the KFC Yum! Center on Saturday.

A UofL team able to connect on only  five of 20 three-point field goal attempts. Not much better on close-up attempts, unable to finish, blowing uncontested shots at times. Seemingly content to just hang around, spotting UK 10-point-plus leads,  lacking the ability to hit two or three shots in a row.

The crowd of 20,882 was the largest at the KFC Yum! Center this season.

Credit Coach Chris Mack for keeping his team as close as it was, avoiding a second straight blowout to Kentucky. The offensive schemes were good, the 1-3-1 zone offense could have been effective. But not without booster shots of mental toughness and consistent focus.

If there was a bright spot, it was the play of Christen Cunningham, who almost singlehandedly kept UofL within striking distance in the first half. The 6-foot-2 graduate transfer from Samford University had three of Louisville’s five 3-point shots and a team-leading 20 points.

Jordan Nwora, the team’s leading scorer, accumulated 17 points but teammates Dwayne Sutton and Darius Perry managed only seven points between them. Sutton never took a shot during the first 20 minutes. Ryan McMahon couldn’t possibly get open, winding with two free throws.

Not a blowout at least, but not all that encouraging. Not with UofL hosting Miami next Sunday in the first game of a grueling ACC schedule. 

An early wakeup call, a reminder for Louisville fans to keep expectations in check for the rest of the season. Chris Mack’s work has only just begun.

Slideshow courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton.