After starting the season 0-3 with 3 losses by one point, the Louisville Cardinals departed for Maui, where they unfortunately endured another 0-3 stint with losses coming to Arkansas, Cincinnati, and Texas Tech. These three losses now bring the Louisville Cardinals record to 0-6 on the season.
With the conclusion of this tournament, let’s look at the main takeaways from the invitational and what expectations look like for the team moving forward.
Turnovers Continue to be a Massive Issue
Throughout the early stretch of non-conference play, the Cardinals struggled to take care of the ball, and that continued during their stint in Maui. Through the three games in Maui, the Cardinals accumulated 55 turnovers to only 19 assists. This has been a problem at every position on the floor for the Cards.
El Ellis has had issues with amplified perimeter defense and on-ball pressure, which has resulted in poor decision making and issues handling the basketball. He finished with 13 turnovers through three games. His teammate Jaelyn Withers has also struggled with the same circumstances, accumulating 8 turnovers over the three games.
What both Texas Tech and Arkansas did to make Louisville uncomfortable handling the ball was amplifying the on-ball pressure and constantly digging on drives and forcing the ball to the baseline to trap. If the ball went to the middle of the lane, help defenders would dig on drives and cause steals.
If the ball went baseline, Texas Tech, especially, made it a priority to trap. A lack of decent ball-handlers has really been detrimental to this team so far and opposing teams will continue to use these types of defensive coverages against Louisville as the season goes on. If Louisville stands any chance to be competitive in games, taking care of the basketball will be a massive priority.
Lack of Half-Court Offensive Execution
With Louisville’s offense predicated on a lot of dribble-drive type motion and drive and kick action, high quality playmakers and shot creators are needed to make that style of offense useful, and so far, that has not been the case. Louisville has struggled to shift defenses and beat opponents off-the-dribble to create open looks for shooters or driving lanes for their guards.
Since Louisville lacks playmakers, teams are doubling the post and forcing kick outs to the perimeter. With perimeter players that struggle to get into the lane besides Ellis, opposing teams can help and recover with ease.
In addition to that, Louisville didn’t provide quality shotmaking during the whole invitational, which made double teaming even more beneficial for teams due to the lack of perimeter shooting. Throughout the three games, the Cardinals shot 10-43 from three-point range, which is 23.2 percent. The Cardinals must find ways to manufacture more offense in all facets of the game, whether it is in transition or in the half-court.
One way they tried to do that in Maui is through pressing more in order to force turnovers on the opposing teams and create transition offense. Towards the end of the game against Texas Tech, Louisville did find some success with full-court pressure, and even showed some looks early on against Cincinnati.
Don’t be surprised if the Cardinals try to speed the game up more going forward with full-court pressure. However, they may not be able to do this as often as they would like due to the lack of depth they have, especially in the backcourt.
More Discipline Needed Defensively
Another issue has been the execution defensively, where the Cardinals have had struggles protecting the rim and closing out on perimeter shooters. Here are the shooting percentages for each team they faced: Arkansas shot 56.9 percent, Texas Tech shot 43.1 percent, and Cincinnati shot 53.2 percent.
Each team was getting whatever they wanted offensively and Louisville had a lot of trouble guarding in basic pick and roll coverage. Rotations on the backside of the defense were poor as well, whether it was closing out to shooters or helping down on dump passes to bigs. Overall, the defense was very poor in the half-court and also in transition, where they gave up 29 fast break points to Cincinnati in their last game, according to Matt McGavic.
Louisville’s bigs were constantly exposed on switches, especially Huntley-Hatfield and Traynor. Overall, the defense as a whole really struggled. It’s a shame too because the defense was decent against since Cincinnati in the first half, with them only shooting 43 percent, but the Bearcats went on to shoot about 62 percent in the second half, which led to the downfall for the Cardinals in that contest.
From a player perspective, there were some positive developments. A pleasant surprise in Maui was freshman Kamari Lands, who hadn’t made a field goal before the start of the tournament. Initially brought in as a guard to help with shot making and floor spacing, Louisville desperately needs production from him offensively to take pressure off of Ellis.
Lands scored in double-figures in two contests, having 13 points against Arkansas and 10 against Cincinnati. He also looked improved defensively, averaging 1 steal per game in the three contests. He also has all the athletic traits to be a good defender, but is understandably going through the freshman learning curve defensively and playing against higher level competition. The Indianapolis, Indiana native has the potential to be an All-Freshman caliber player, especially with the playing time available and his shot-making ability.
From the frontcourt, there were flashes from both JJ Traynor and Brandon Huntley-Hatfield. Huntley-Hatfield showed his offensive upside against Cincinnati, where he was getting to the free throw line and scoring around the basket with his touch in the post. He also hit a face-up mid-range jump shot in the contest as well.
It is all going to come down to consistency with BHH, and Louisville continuing to emphasize post touches for him. For example, against Cincinnati he had 15 points and shot 7-8 from the free throw line. However, against Texas Tech and Arkansas, he had a combined four points.
He has all the talent to be a very productive player, with his size, shooting touch and athleticism, but he must be more consistent and needs more touches due to his unique skill set and mismatch ability against other bigs.
Defensively, Hatfield needs to be more consistent as a rim protector and help defender. He was often out of position on drives and pick and roll coverages.
On the other hand, JJ Traynor was active on the glass throughout the whole invitational. He attacked the offensive glass very well and showed energy both as a reserve and as a promoted starter in the third game. With the continuous lack of production from Sydney Curry, Traynor has an opportunity to carve out an even bigger role within Louisville’s frontline rotation.
Traynor also showed flashes offensively with him hitting some jumpshots, but he needs to improve as a finisher around the rim, especially on putbacks. The Bardstown, Kentucky native must continue to make strides defensively as well, especially since he is playing the four and has to switch onto guards. He also has struggled with physical bigs, as Texas Tech took advantage of that multiple times with Kevin Obanor using his strength against him in the post.
After finishing 0-3 in the Maui Invitational, the Cardinals get some days off. But the upcoming schedule does them no favors. They will face Maryland on November 29th in their next contest, followed by Miami at home and then on the road to face the Florida State Seminoles.
They are set to be underdogs in the majority of their upcoming games, according to Louisville Insider Matt McGavic.
Coach Kenny Payne is still seeking his first win as a Head Coach and Louisville fans are going to find out how much fight and toughness this team really has over the next few weeks. Especially after facing high-major teams in Maui and over time they will have more of a sample size to evaluate, it will be crucial for the coaching staff to adjust accordingly on what evaluations they have done thus far personnel-wise and scheme-wise in preparing for their upcoming opponents.