When Louisville was upset by Syracuse at home, one might be prone to think that the team would be humbled by the loss, especially with the way it ended, and the team would come out the next game hungry and focused. Last night could not have been further from the case. The Cards came out flat, careless, unprepared and at times just appeared like they did not want to play. It was a tough game to watch and arguably the worst performance by Louisville since last season’s Providence debacle. It was reported that after the Syracuse loss, the players were handling well in the locker room and were adamant about getting past it and focusing on the next game. Maybe they should have taken the loss a little harder. Syracuse could and should be credited with outplaying the Cards. They are an elite team and were just the better team that day. The Cards still played hard and just got beat in the final minute. Last night’s loss was a different monster altogether. The Cuse loss stung, but it was a loss to a great team. Last night’s loss was to a likely NIT team who was blown out by Alabama on a neutral court. This Louisville is still the same team with national championship aspirations as it was a week ago, but the road there just got a lot tougher as the Cards have dug themselves a nice little hole.
Peyton Siva. Siva had one of his best games all season last night, and his teammates just could not back him up. He was outstanding, scoring 15 points and dishing out 13 assists. He could have had 16 assists had Chane Behanan not horribly bobbled and given up three straight passes (THREE!!!) in the paint. It is a shame that one of Siva’s best games as a Cardinal came during one of his team’s worst performance. He was one of the two lone bright spots for the Cards last night. Oh, he was also 4-4 from the free throw line.
Wayne Blackshear. Just like Siva, Blackshear too played one of his best games in a Cardinal uniform. He was 5-8 from three-point land and finished with a team-high 17 points. Now, it is important to note that he will not always be that hot from outside, but he played with more aggression and was not afraid to put the ball on the floor and create space for himself. He still is not all the way there, but there is no doubt that he needs to be on the floor far more than Luke Hancock.
Stephan Van Treese. He only played 7 minutes, but for those 7 minutes he played harder than the rest of the frontcourt combined for the entire game. When Dieng, Behanan, and to a lesser extent, Harrell all struggle the way they did, I do not see why giving more minutes to SVT would be such a bad thing.
Russ Smith. This is not even debatable. That was Russ Smith’s worst performance of the year and it was downright difficult to watch. He just looked like a completely different player than what he has been this season. Not that any individual performance is more important to the team’s, but he did serious damage to his Player of the Year candidacy last night. He was making uncharacteristic mistakes as he missed free throws and was dribbling right into defenders rather than around. He lost control of the ball multiple times and his confidence appeared shot. Hopefully this will serve as a humbling experience for Russ and he will come back better from it. He was nearly speechless after the game and spoke of some calls that did not go the Cards’ way. Sorry Russ, but this is not a game where you can point to the officials as the problem.
Gorgui Dieng. While the stats show a solid stat line of 10 points and 9 rebounds, those who watched the game know just how off he was. I am not sure if it was his wrist affecting him mentally or what, but he was just not there last night. He bobbled several passes and rebounds, missed some easy shots, got outmuscled multiple times despite going up against smaller competition. Just looking at his facial expression, the frustration and unhappiness in his game was obvious. He is just in a rut right now, and if he has to be in one, better now than in March.
Luke Hancock over Wayne Blackshear. It is difficult just to put Luke here. After all, this is not his fault. What is he supposed to do when Pitino puts him in? Sit down in protest? No, he is the team captain for a reason. Yet, while he may have a high basketball IQ and leadership abilities off the court, he just does not produce when he is on the court. At this point in the season, he is showing no sign that he is anything like the player Pitino described in the offseason. He occasionally hits open threes, but gets beat on defense too much and does not show much else on offense. Not only is it questionable for him to get minutes over Blackshear, but I am not so sure he should be getting minutes over Ware. Speaking of Ware…
Kevin Ware. Ironically enough, the two players we heard Pitino rave about the most this offseason were Hancock and Kevin Ware. Maybe they are just practice superstars because we have not been seeing the play out of these two that Pitino was seeing. However, with Hancock, he just lacks the speed and athleticism. Ware has arguably more of each than anyone on the team. Yet, he just cannot put it together on the floor. He does not lack confidence. He shoots when he is open and will take it to the hole if he sees a lane. He just cannot finish. We have seen far too often this year Ware get to the bucket only to miss an easy layup or short jumper. His talent is so obvious, but he just has not found the proper way to utilize it in a game situation.
Free throw shooting. There is no excuse for going 12-24. None. Without Siva’s 4-4, this team is 8-20. Just lack of focus. Nothing more.
Chane Behanan. Definitely the worst performance we have seen from Chane in some time. He was possibly the most mentally absent player on the floor last night. He quickly picked up 2 fouls in the first half and ended up playing only 20 minutes. He took only 2 shots, making 1 of them. He then went just 3 of 9 from the free throw line. He allowed Jayvaughn Pinkston to have his way with him. It was just not Chane’s night. Then there was possibly the worst sequence of the game where 3 trips in a row, Siva found Behanan open under the basket and delivered a bounce pass to him. Chane bobbled it and gave it up. Every. Single. Time. He talked after the game how the team just needs to shut everyone on the outside out. It sounds like he may be a bit mentally distracted.
Bob Menzel. Seriously, this game was already a pain to watch. It did not need to be made any worse by the worst color commentating I have ever listened to. He was worse than the game itself, and that is saying something. Acting overexcited any time a shot was made, pretending he is Bill Raftery. You are not Raftery, Menzel. You are just a miserable wannabe and please stay the hell away from Louisville and college basketball as a whole. How guys like him and Jimmy Dykes have the positions that they have is simply baffling.
Storming the court. I mean, seriously Villanova?? Seriously, what does beating the #5 ranked team at home signify for your program? Just that you have accepted that you are now college basketball mediocrity? The last time Louisville won a national championship was 1986. The last time Villanova won was 1985. 99.9% of Louisville fans would not even give rushing the court a second thought. It is without question beneath this fan base and no fan would even consider it. Does one year make that much of a difference? I am someone who believes that if you have a national championship and have been a contender recently, you do not storm the court. If you are Akron and you beat Duke? Go for it. This is different, though. This is a prestigious program with championship history, and they just embarrassed themselves. Not as much as the Louisville basketball team, mind you, but embarrassed nonetheless.
Bottom line: this was a bad loss. It will make the path to a 1-seed in the tournament an extreme uphill battle now and this was not exactly a Villanova team led by Scottie Reynolds or Randy Foye. This was a likely NIT-bound team that Louisville allowed to walk all over them. The good news? It’s January. Not March. For whatever reason, the past few years, Louisville just cannot get it going in January. It is a frustrating trend, but nothing to hit the panic button over. If last year’s team could overcome the embarrassing Providence loss last year to win the Big East and get to the Final Four, just remember that this year’s team is better than last year’s. Was this a shameful performance for this team? Yes, but back off the ledge. There is no reason to think that this will somehow be the game that derails the Cards the rest of the season. None whatsoever. However, this upcoming game at Georgetown will show a lot about where these players’ heads are at. Right now, this is all between the ears. They are just in a mental rut. Do not give up hope just yet, as this is still an excellent team. Even excellent teams have their off nights. See IU and Duke for reference.