Louisville basketball down but not out with loss of big man Malik Williams

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 19: Malik Williams #5 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates from the sidelines against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Hank McCamish Pavilion on January 19, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images)
ATLANTA, GEORGIA - JANUARY 19: Malik Williams #5 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates from the sidelines against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at Hank McCamish Pavilion on January 19, 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images) /

Louisville basketball big man Malik Williams will be out for an extended period of time due to injury. Who will have to step up in his place?

With the unofficial start to the 2019-20 season just days away at Lousiville Live, the Louisville basketball program announced some not so great news today pertaining to their roster.

After a great summer and being named one of the team captains, Malik Williams was looking to have a breakout season for the Cards. The plan remains to do that, but it will have to come after the start of the season.

While appearing on the College Hoops Today Podcast with Jon Rothstein, head coach Chris Mack spilled the beans regarding recent reports of Williams wearing a walking boot at team shootarounds.

Mack told Rothstein that the junior big man will miss the next six to eight weeks while recovering from a foot injury. That timeline would mean that as long as the rehab goes according to plans, Williams would return ready to play for the Cardinals somewhere during the first four games of the season.

Williams was one of the handful of players who shined in his role last season under the tutelage of Chris Mack, improving in all areas on the floor, most notably in protecting the paint and scoring around the rim. Williams has a big role carved out in the Louisville offense for 2019-2020 as either the starter or backup center and could be one of the most improved players overall this season.

While the timeline leaves questions about whether Williams will be able to return for the season opener and conference opener against Miami, the good news for the Cards is the incoming freshman class along with the versatility of the returning frontcourt players should combine to provide ample depth in the meantime.

Last year we saw Williams or Steven Enoch on the floor at any given time, but never together at the same time giving Mack two formidable options at the center spot. That isn’t expected to change this season, at least as we know now, which means the rotations shouldn’t be altered much by the loss of Williams. In fact, it will likely be freshman Aidan Igiehon who slides into the role of Williams (as the backup five), and will be expected to contribute right away.

There’s no doubt about it, Igiehon is a promising player who physically will be able to contribute in some fashion for Louisville right away. With a college-ready body, he should provide quality rebounding and shot-blocking, as well as the ability to clean up around the rim as needed. However, we can’t expect the 6’10 freshman to be able to contribute at the Malik Williams level, even with the remaining time to prepare for the season.

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His offense will be a work in progress and the adjustments to the pack line defense could prove more challenging than expected. Coach Chris Mack has been complimentary of the “Irish Hulk” throughout the offseason work out programs but has mentioned on numerous occasions that he has a way to go to be able to contribute at a high level right away.

Behind Igiehon the frontcourt gets a little thinner, but having players like Ja’Lyn Withers, Jordan Nwora, and especially Dwayne Sutton provides Mack with versatility and unique pairings at the four and five if needed for small chunks of time. Sutton is a bruiser who has the physique and toughness required to battle with bigger players for short bursts, while Withers and Nwora would give Louisville and even bigger advantage on the floor with shooting but would struggle to rebound.

By no means is replacing Williams undoable.  Losing him is a blow to the program’s ability to mesh and gel on the floor as they add in seven new players in team practices, scrimmages, and exhibitions. But as far as long-term effects, there should be none that impacts the ability to make a run at an ACC Championship and potentially to the Final Four.

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The depth of Louisville is being challenged even before the season gets started, but the return of a veteran group highlighted by Jordan Nwora and six other incoming players being added in, Chris Mack has something special a lot quicker than we expected. Early tribulations could and should lead to long-term prospering.

**More to follow after the release of Chris Mack on the College Hoops Today Podcast.

Chris Mack had more to say about the loss of Malik Williams and the impact it’ll have on the early portion of the 2019-2020 season.

He said:

“It’s gonna be tougher on our team, it’ makes us a bit thinner. but generally, that gives other guys opportunities to garner minutes and when Malik comes back we’ll be a much deeper team. But I thought Malik took a big step forward both in his play on the floor and in his leadership both on and off.”

Mack went on to talk about the incoming freshman and their progress this summer. Talking specifically about Aidan Igiehon, who will be counted on more now than expected, Mack said:

“Obviously with Malik’s injury, Aidan Igiehon is going to be a guy we have to make sure is able to spell Steven Enoch at times and be a guy that we can count on running the floor, rebounding, finishing around the rim, and blocking shots. Aidan will get his opportunity, maybe even more so, than if Malik would’ve been healthy to start the season.”