I have always been one to give head coaches time to implement their style, players, and culture. However, Kenny Payne has overstayed his welcome and it is extremely evident that the Louisville Cardinals need to part ways with him before things get worse.
Payne was the so-called hometown hero for Louisville as he won a championship with the Cardinals as a player in 1986 under then-head coach Denny Crum. Payne then worked his way into college basketball as an assistant. His most notable jobs were being an assistant coach with Oregon, Kentucky, and eventually an assistant coach for the New York Knicks, until taking the head coaching job at Louisville. Payne was with Kentucky under John Calipari from 2010 to 2020, and from 2014-2020 he was the associate head coach at UK.
Payne had never had a head coaching job before taking over at Louisville and while fans and pundits were nervous about the hire, many were optimistic about what the future could hold for the Cardinals. What followed in the 2022-23 season for Louisville was one of the most disastrous seasons in Cardinal basketball history. Louisville ended up starting the season 0-9 and finished the season 4-28 (2-18). Payne did go to work, however, as he garnered the #6 recruiting class in 2023, and although the previous season was horrendous for Louisville, things were looking up.
Louisville started the season with a 94-93 win over UMBC, and if that doesn't scream "Well that was weird" then I don't know what does. What followed the next game was a 10-point loss to Chattanooga where the cards were down 21 at one point in the game. Okay, that may seem pretty bad (because it is) but maybe things can get better. What followed in the next 3 games was simply mesmerizing.
Louisville defeated Coppin State by 20 points at home, but if you watched the game you would know that Coppin State was running out of bounds and shooting the ball on the side of the backboard nearly the entire game. Things were not looking too good for Payne's squad as they headed off to New York to play Texas, but hey anything could happen.
Louisville ended up losing to Texas to a buzzer-beating fadeaway jumper, and everyone watching that game (especially Cardinal fans) was just baffled that the game was that close. Louisville just fought neck and neck to a top 20 team and the fanbase was just more confused than anything else. Louisville then faced Indiana and lost by 8 points, but again it was still a good performance by the cardinals who led most of the game. What was most concerning however was Payne saying postgame that Indiana "tricked him by playing zone".
Not a quote you want from your 2nd-year head coach, but hopefully Louisville can continue to improve. Louisville faced Bellarmine and New Mexico State at home in two very close games, including a come-from-behind overtime win against New Mexico State. Not the most impressive wins but they already matched their win total from last year! (I have to make these jokes or the real pain will start to set in).
Louisville's last 3 games have been all losses to Virginia Tech, DePaul, and last night's loss to Arkansas State. The loss to Virginia Tech is respectable as they kept in close in a road ACC game, however, Tech is not an ACC power right now and if you can't beat them on the road will Louisville ever be able to beat teams like North Carolina and Virginia on the road?
The loss to DePaul was a sign to even Payne's biggest fans that this wasn't going to work. DePaul was 1-7 going to the game and if the records were not shown then you might think the Blue Demons were atop of the Big East. They were getting open looks and the Louisville offense of getting fouled and making contested shots was not working at all. It was an outright embarrassing loss and it was one that even opened the biggest Payne supporter's eyes.
Then there was tonight's loss to Arkansas State. Louisville looked lost on offense with bad shot selection, no sets being run, and the game plan of getting fouled 35 times a game not working. The defense was also lackluster, as Arkansas State was getting to the rim with ease and players were not just wide open but were wide open with 5 feet to spare.
The Kenny Payne experiment has run its course at Louisville and I am not sure that the University of the Fans can take much more of it. The attendance at the Yum Center has taken a huge dip and athletic director Josh Heird needs to make a decision on when he is going to let go of Payne. It is now at a point of when than if for Payne and Louisville right now.
It is a marvel that things got this bad under Kenny, but the next few weeks at the University of Louisville will certainly be interesting. Especially if there is somebody else coaching the Cardinals in the new year.