Overachieving Louisville Basketball and late game meltdowns

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - FEBRUARY 12: Chris Mack the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals gives instructions to Christen Cunningham #1 against the Duke Blue Devils at KFC YUM! Center on February 12, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - FEBRUARY 12: Chris Mack the head coach of the Louisville Cardinals gives instructions to Christen Cunningham #1 against the Duke Blue Devils at KFC YUM! Center on February 12, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

The Duke game showed us the Jekyll and Hyde of this Louisville Basketball team. From opening up a 23 point lead on the then number 2 team in the country to 9 turnovers in the final 9 minutes to hand the Blue Devils the game. Then Clemson came to town and history damn near repeated itself.

With the Duke Blue Devils and their roster of future NBA draft picks came rolling into the YUM this past week I think the feeling of most Cardinals fans where feeling was this could be yet another test of just where this Louisville Basketball team is in year one under Coach Chris Mack and staff.

The YUM was really rockin’ and that crowd had no idea Mack and staff had came up with the ultimate game plan to knock Duke out early. The Cards were really firing on all cylinders and opened a lead that no one thought Duke was going to come back from, then the wheels fell completely off for Louisville.

When Duke switched to full court pressure defense Louisville just crumbled. I do not think I had witnessed a team so effected by ball pressure since watching my kids play grade school hoops. I never felt real comfortable in saying the game was in hand even as the Louisville lead ballooned to 23 in the second half.

It also helped that Duke starts 3 players that more than likely will be selected in the top 5 of the next NBA draft and Zion Williamson is the real deal. It is disheartening to see this Louisville have such a hard time handling pressure defense this late in the season and you have to be concerned that Duke gave teams the blueprint on how to reign Louisville in.

Okay, enough about the Duke game, let’s talk Clemson. I told you all last week I thought this Clemson match-up would probably be the last “sure thing” game of the season so of course it was another nail biter that again came down to the final seconds of the game.

This was a hangover game, Louisville was just flat in the first half mounting only 19 points. The talking heads have Clemson as a tournament team but really I was not impressed with them against Louisville. If Louisville was going to fall to the Tigers at YUM then you could blame the Duke meltdown because the hangover was massive.

The Cardinals came out for the second half mounted firmly on the back of point guard Christen Cunningham. CC scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half and pretty much single handily kept the Cards close allowing them to sprint out to a 56-49 lead with only 17 seconds left and then it damn near happened again.

Back to back Clemson 3 pointers with a UL turnover sandwiched in there for good measure had the entire city of Louisville on the verge of cardiac arrest. As Clemson’s Marcquise Reed pushed Dwayne Sutton to the ground (an obvious offensive foul right in front of TV Ted Valentine) under the Clemson basket and stole the inbounds pass with 3.5 seconds left, the game was secured for the Cards when Jordan Nwora left handed blocked Reed’s effort and the entire city of Louisville unclenched their butt cheeks as time expired.

The Good Times:

  • Jordan Nwora’s rebounding. Everyone knows Jordan can stuff the points column on the stat sheet but his rebounding has been a huge part of this Louisville’s team over achieving. 12 boards in the Duke game was a huge a part of the Cards game plan against Duke and while his numbers were down in the Clemson game a few of his 4 boards were very well timed.
  • The YUM environment was bonkers for the Duke game. Not only was it a Tuesday night it was also a later than normal 9pm tip-off but YUM was rockin’ from the The Ville’ns lit student section all the way up to die hards in the 300’s that was the loudest I had heard YUM for about 30 of the 40 game minutes.
  • Darius Perry is back. My 18 year old son Caleb and I attended an early game this season (I believe it was the Southern U game) and we both left there with the belief Perry was going to have the break out season that looking back it Dwayne Sutton is having. I am not trying to rag on Perry because I have no idea what he has been going through on or off the court but I am beyond thrilled to see him back on the court as a contributor. The more UL can get from the shooting guard slot the deeper this team gets and will only help them reach full stride for March.
  • All though he had a hard time in the Clemson game I have started to wonder if Dwayne Sutton is the captain of this team? Everyone knows Sutton as Mr. Dependable, the swiss army knife, or the glue that keeps the team together but I think we need to seriously upgrade all those notions to team leader or captain because outside of the Kentucky and Clemson games Dwayne has been a stat stuffer that has really helped this Louisville team overachieve as much as they have.
  • Speaking of Kentucky…they have a new high profile fan that us Louisville fans could not be more happy to have gotten rid of. BBN welcome Papa John to fold. Please keep him and his wannabe 50’s Elvis hairstyle down in Lexington.
  • The Ali uniforms were amazing but the throwbacks Louisville wore against Clemson to honor the Cards first ever Final Four team from 1959 are now my favorite throwback or special uniforms the Cards have worn. Adidas is really stepping up their game this year, now if only they would produce enough of them and put them out for purchase.

The Bad:

  • So yeah meltdowns are bad and in no way good. Like I said earlier, this is not the time of year you expect to see three straight games end in Louisville blowing nice leads. Luckily they held on against Clemson and gutted out a win in a game that was at this point in the season about as much of a must win as you can get.  Let’s hope whatever the mental block is in closing out games is resolved soon because no one wants to see the inability to close out games cost this overachieving team an early exit in March.
  • Turnovers at a high clip. I am going to beat this dead horse weekly until it is corrected. Turnovers also are the main ingredient in the meltdowns but 17 turnovers handed Duke 19 points. The turnovers were down to 12 against Clemson but the untimely late game turnovers is what nearly handed Clemson a win. I would love to see this number get under 10 as Louisville ramps up for tournament season.
  • I think the YUM crowd was also hungover from the Duke game. The atmosphere went from amazing for the Duke game to as flat as the on court performance for the Clemson game.
  • Zion Williamson is really good as basketball. Good for him but bad for opposing teams. I think Zion as the most can’t miss NBA prospect college basketball has witnessed in a long time. He a difference maker in so many different aspects of the game that I do not think the ESPN love fest is overshot at all. He is going to be a very special player at the next level.

In closing as scary as it is for the Cardinals to be having these late game issues so late into the season, the turnovers have been a problem all season and that is where the changes need to be made. Big picture the Chris Mack Louisville era is well ahead of schedule from where this team was expected to finish this season.

Next. Cards rally and escape with last second win over Clemson. dark

They are overachieving at a high clip so the fact we can say they held a 23 point lead over what many say is the best team in college basketball may be a bigger deal in the grand scheme than the fact they let the lead slip away. A big week is coming up for Louisville as they travel up to New York for a matchup with another overachieving team in the Syracuse Orange then closing out the week on Saturday hosting top 5 Virginia at the YUM. Until next week L’s Up and Go Cards!