As the current college basketball season is less than two months from March, many fans of this year’s Louisville Cardinals have been expressing disappointment, frustration, and anger at the team’s unimpressive 11-4 start that appears to have them on a path closer to the NIT than the NCAA Tournament.
The harsh reality, however, is that the signs of such a season were all clear and present the moment the news broke that Rick Pitino would be fired (of which he was rightfully so). The inconsistencies, poor team ball, embarrassing losses, and closer-than-comfort wins over teams like Omaha, St. Francis, and Albany that have been on display this season should not exactly blow one’s mind.
Fans, more often than not, will choose optimism when forecasting their team’s season, and this goes double for a fanbase accustomed to winning and winning big. Therefore, fans who expected more than what is currently being put on display should not be faulted. The media, both local and national, though, inexplicably regarded this team as a top-20 squad entering the season.
Take into account the following: (1) the dishonorable removal of the team’s Hall-of-Fame coach just a short time prior to the start of the season, (2) the departure of star player Donovan Mitchell to the NBA, and (3) the likelihood and later reality that Brian Bowen, the recruiting class headliner, would not play. When these three scenarios became realities, there was little logic in considering Louisville a top-25 team, but a week prior to the season, there they were in both polls.
Even after losses to Seton Hall and Purdue, sloppy performances in victory more than a few times, and the lack of a true go-to player, optimism remained. In fact, it was baffling seeing just how many members of the media (both national and local) picked Louisville to defeat rival Kentucky in Lexington. There was just nothing that had taken place to that point in the season that suggested Louisville had what it took to beat the Cats at Rupp Arena.
Sure, Kentucky looked and has continued to look far inferior to their lottery-pick stuffed teams of the past, but nothing Louisville had done should have inspired much confidence. At best, Louisville looked like they could have kept the game within 10 points. More likely, they would have kept it between 10 and 15 points. At worst, they would get drubbed by 30 points. There’s no need to recap which of those scenarios occurred.
Following the loss at Kentucky, the voice of discontent amongst the Louisville faithful grew louder and louder among message boards, social media, and radio call-in shows. When the question was presented as how they could be so disappointed with an extremely inexperienced coach leading a group of players likely distracted by the constant scandal discussion, the answer always seems to be the same: “This is the last chance Louisville had for a while to make a run.”
Unfortunately, that is simply not the case. The cold, hard truth is that the second David Padgett was elevated to interim head coach, any shot Louisville had of having a memorable postseason run was eliminated.
Before going further, it should be reiterated that Padgett’s failure to coach at the same level of his Hall-of-Fame predecessor should not be something that is criticized. Padgett is the equivalent of a hungry young up-and-comer working as an administrative assistant who saw the c-level suite of executives he worked for fired over corruption. He was then put in short-term charge of that company because he was the only one left who knew how payroll worked. That is something that can work short-term, but that’s not the guy you typically want running the company.
It’s nice the players lobbied for him, but players will always lobby for the guy they know and like. It doesn’t mean it is the right decision. Given the amount of heat those in power were already taking, though, it’s tough to criticize them too much for throwing a bone to those at the center of the scandal who had nothing to do with any wrongdoing.
Now, no one could have predicted just exactly how Padgett would do. Maybe he was a genius coach incredibly advanced for his age who would be a blessing in disguise. Or maybe in a much more likely scenario, he would coach like a hungry, but inexperienced, guy who still had much to learn. It didn’t take long to realize it would be the latter.
Louisville was already without Mitchell and Bowen, and neither the returning players nor the rest of the incoming freshman class offered anything in the form of a surefire star player that could take over games. Without a true head coach and no game-changing type of player, it was tough to buy into the idea that this season was going to be something special.
Fans may have hated it should it have taken place, but hiring someone like Tom Crean, John Thompson III, or Thad Matta almost certainly would have produced a more optimistic season to this point. None of the three are on the level Pitino was, but each has several years of coaching experience at a high level and has taken teams to the Final Four. They are also likely carrying chips on their shoulders and are motivated to prove themselves after being fired. Regardless, it is a moot point now. Louisville has who it has.
“So what should we do?” some may be asking. “Should we just abandon all hope and just quit caring about this basketball team?”
No. This is not an “abandon all hope ye who enter here” post. The season, though, is what it is. Whether what has happened thus far has been expected, a disappointment, or a turn off, Louisville basketball will live on. Just know that despite what some will try to sell, things will get better. This is a band-aid season, nothing more.
This is a hard idea to sell, though, especially for those who hold the belief that following the season, no reputable coach will even consider the Cards.
The only people who believe this are Jurich/Pitino backers masking as insiders on message boards spreading propaganda, people who don’t understand the history, tradition, and resources of Louisville basketball, and people who just like complaining.
Yes, Louisville can and should hire an established coach who has the resume to keep Louisville playing at a high level. At the moment, it may be hard to believe that, especially after the local media has spread around the idea of Kenny Payne, the former Louisville player/current Kentucky assistant with no head coaching experience and plenty of Calipari/World Wide Wes stench. However, the more likely scenario is that those in charge understand the value of the basketball brand and the money that comes with it. Whether it’s Vince Tyra or someone else, they won’t mess around with the hire. Therefore, worry not about Kenny Payne.
No, it almost definitely won’t be Jay Wright or Billy Donovan. Oh darn. However, Chris Mack (who’s not-so-secret infatuation with the job has been widely discussed since strippergate) of Xavier, Bobby Hurley of Arizona State, Buzz Williams of Virginia Tech, and others are all viable, attainable candidates. Why would they want this mess?
Easy. Double the salary, double the resources, add in the tradition, the facilities, the fan base, and the ACC in Mack and Hurley’s case, and three to four years of limitations can be tolerated. Especially with an extended leash due to the incoming circumstances. If Penn State football, riddled with a far nastier scandal than what Louisville is dealing with, could hire Bill O’Brien followed by James Franklin, there’s no reason Louisville can’t have the same hiring success. Brand names with short-term damage still carry weight.
Yes, things are bad now. Yes, things aren’t going to magically go back to the way they were next season with a new coach. Yet, as the old saying goes, the night is always darkest just before the dawn, and with a new coach, a new era will commence, and a sense of direction will be in place. There is no quick fix, but despite the current state of things and how some may think, things will, in fact, get better with time. Both on the court and in terms of perception.