Louisville basketball: Error, Team 105 not found due to 2-3 Zone

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The Cards had a chance to firmly grasp the fourth spot in the ACC, but the zone defense and hot shooting of Syracuse was too much for Louisville basketball to handle.

Well, I’ve had more than 12 hours to sit (sleep) and reflect on Louisville basketball’s worst performance of the season, and it still sucks just as much now as it did last night. While I don’t see this as being a major issue moving forward (I’m probably in the minority on that train of thought) I do think there are some questions that need to be answered, and fast, if this Louisville basketball team has a chance to make the Sweet 16 run I know they are capable of.

Things really never got going early for Louisville, as Jordan Nwora was the only player to have any resemblance of an offensive rhythm due to the 2-3 zone of Syracuse. Going into the game, there was a lot of talk about how the Cards would handle the zone defense that they had only seen (performed at the highest level, at least) one time this season, which came in the second half against Duke (we know how that went).

Well, last night went about the same.

The 2-3 zone offers up quite a few looks from deep that to a team like Louisville could easily be called a trap. The Cards shot the ball from deep over and over and over again, building a house with all the bricks in the process. Behind leading scorer Jordan Nwora (9 at the half), Louisville finished 1/13 from 3, while making just six total field goals and turning the ball over 8 times. Syracuse’s tough defense even held Louisville’s offense to 2 points over the course of nine minutes to finish out the half.

Much like last season, the Cards struggled to stop high scoring wing’s Tyus Battle and OShae Brissett, while also allowing ECU transfer and sharp shooting guard, Elijah Hughes, to combine 26 total points.

The second half was no better. Chris Mack elected to leave Dwayne Sutton at the free throw line, after he struggled to close out the half there, on the offensive side of the floor in response to the zone. Sutton, who arguably played his worst game of the season, went 1/10 from the field – scoring 5 points and coughing up 2 turnovers.

Syracuse continued to dominate Louisville defensively in the second half, forcing another 7+ minute scoring drought that allowed them to build their lead as high as 24. Whether you want to blame Chris Mack, or Louisville’s players for their poor decision making and lack of effort – there has to be credit given to Cuse. The Orange came in with a great game plan and did everything they needed to get a big win for them.

The Cards now sit in 6th place in the ACC, falling two spots behind Syracuse and Florida State in the process and have their work cut out for them if they have any chance of reclaiming a top four seed and double bye in the conference tournament.

Louisville fans were extremely upset during most of the game and after the conclusion of the 69-49 loss for a number of reasons. Many felt Chris Mack didn’t do the necessary scouting and game planning necessary to defeat a team like Syracuse on the round, while others felt like he didn’t make any in-game adjustments to move Nwora or a big man to the free throw line when Sutton struggled. There were plenty of fans who had criticism for the players, whether it was for bad shot selection (UofL finished the game shooting 25% from the field and 21% from 3), sloppy play with the ball, or lack of effort. All were right in some sense.

However, to the fans who believe the sky is falling, R-E-L-A-X.

It is not uncommon for teams to go through rough patches in conference play, especially in a league as difficult as the ACC. Yes, blowing leads against FSU and Duke were tough and while the team picked up a win against Clemson, it didn’t necessarily come in a confidence building performance.

But to believe that Louisville has peaked or can’t beat quality teams to that I say – poo poo. This group, one that was picked to finish 11th in the ACC, has exceeded expectations all year and has shown for 3/4 of the season that they are capable of doing what it takes to win. To think that all of that is gone because of a meltdown at Duke is crazy, and to count the Cards out is even crazier in my opinion.

Syracuse was a horrible matchup for the Cards due to the length, athleticism, and the 2-3 zone that prevented Louisville’s guards from being able to 1) penetrate the lane 2) see over the top or 3) get the ball inside.

The Cards still have four games left and the ACC tournament to get turned around and my confidence is still as high as it’s been all season for that to be accomplished.

MVP: There really was no MVP for Louisville. Aside from Khwan Fore, no one was efficient on offense especially on the wing. With the length inside Louisville couldn’t get the ball to Enoch or Williams in the post, which led to bad shots from deep. Chalk up the poor performance to lack of patience, understanding of the zone, and the length of Syracuse.

LVP: Dwayne Sutton at the free throw line was not a great game plan for Chris Mack and the Cards when it came to breaking down the 2-3 zone defense. Dwayne Sutton is not the least valuable player of last night, lets get that straight. But the decision to leave him in the middle of the zone throughout most of the game was a decision that didn’t work out for the Cards. Sutton is at his best when he can attack and cut to the rim, not play the middle man and be relied upon for consistent play making.

X-Factor:The Slender Slovakian” aka Marek Dolezaj and Buddy Boeheim gave Louisville fits all night on both sides of the floor, and aside from Battle & Hughes’ scoring – it was the biggest reason they won, IMO. Dolezaj wasn’t phased by the likes of Khwan Fore, Dwayne Sutton, and Steven Enoch – three guys who can strike a lot of fear into opponents. He outhustled anyone and everyone who guarded him, and wasn’t willing to let a lose ball go by without at least doing everything he could to get it. The two combined for 20 points and 13 rebounds off the Syracuse bench.