The first half of the matchup against Duke may have been the best half Louisville basketball has played to date. Fast breaks, ball movement, and dominant rebounding against a team as hungry for a win as Duke was simply remarkable.
A move to slot Malik Williams in at center was beneficial to the entire team. Guys like Jae’Lyn Withers were thriving being able to live on the perimeter a little bit more while Williams could man the inside as an elite defensive presence.
Well, it seems that opportunity was short-lived after Williams re-injured his foot against Duke that forced him to miss most of the second half and now much more.
The latest timeline for his injury would, in theory, allow Williams to return around Elite 8 time in the NCAA tournament at the earliest. We can probably go ahead and peg the season as likely over for the senior forward after just three games played.
The loss of Williams puts a cap on the team’s potential
We’ve seen plenty of limitations with this team without Malik Williams in the lineup. A lack of a true big-man presence on the interior is the most notable of those issues.
The unfortunate news likely leaves Jae’Lyn Withers forced back into playing center, a position that clearly is not his best fit.
It’s not a coincidence that Withers was playing some of his best basketball from the power forward position the last two games. It’s a fit that allows for him to play freely. Now Withers will have to be pigeon-holed again due to a lack of depth at center.
The lineup gets smaller as Samuell Williamson moves back to a small-ball power forward and a 6’5″ Dre Davis likely slots back into the starting lineup at small forward.
Williams will be missed greatly. But the chain of reactions that follows his injury is just as important of a development.
The 2020-21 team not being able to hit their peak as a complete team is a very unfortunate development. Williams’ foot problems are starting to become an extremely worrisome trend that continues to plague him as his Louisville career potentially comes to a close.
Malik could return next season
We don’t know what Williams’ plans are as a graduating true junior, but there is potential for him to return to school next season. He’s a high character player that the staff would likely welcome back to the program with open arms should he choose to do so.
The Cardinals have one incoming recruiting signee center with Roosevelt Wheeler out of Virginia joining the fold for the fall and having Williams stick around would be extremely beneficial to his development in the program.
However, it’d be a very reasonable decision for him to look for a new home elsewhere as a graduate transfer to give himself a fresh start after a nightmare four years struggling with injuries at Louisville.
The development for Williams is very unfortunate for himself and the team as a whole moving forward. Because of that, this team’s ceiling has no doubt been capped.
No lineup Louisville fields now will be able to top what was on the floor in the first 20 minutes of action against Duke.