Question:, Whatever did Ralph Willard do for the program during his short but lucrative stint at U of L, while essentially covering his pal’s back during the Karen Sypher mess?
Answer: Russ Smith.
On several occasions, The Rick has admitted it was Willard, who saw the potential and possibilities for the diminutive guard, who has become Louisville’s sole dependable offensive weapon, heading into the meat of the schedule.
Actually, there’s also a secondary response to the query.
Kevin Willard. Ralph’s offspring, a former Cardinal assistant, is proving his mettle, having turned Iona and Seton Hall around in short order. If The Rick ever retires, and, frankly, I’m skeptical he ever will, Willard the Younger may well be one of TJ’s targets. Assuming, of course, that Jurich himself is still around, when Pitino finally hangs ‘em up.
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There is a predilection in these parts for the Big Blue acolytes and Cardinal diehards, when contemplating the state of their squads, to compare them first to the team down the road. Only after that, do they tend to take the broader view, and consider their beloved team’s status in their league and for the Dance.
As much as I loathe that myopic tendency, I admit it is the norm, and that I, too, fall into the trap.
By its very nature, this, The Day After, is when it happens most often.
Of course, it’s easier for the fans of the winner to move on in full gloat and anticipation of getting to work to hurl barbs at co-workers whose loyalties are a different color than theirs.
But, for the followers of the losing team, this is always Reality Check Time.
As has been the case since John Calipari arrived in Lexington, toting his magic recruiting wand, Cardinal fans awoke this morning, bleary eyed, battered and beside themselves, wondering “What the fuck?”
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It’s a might too easy for those of us who live and die U of L to immediately travel to the dark place.
What happened to Peyton Siva? Kyle Kuric? Isn’t he, after all, really just a walk on, masquerading as team savior? Etc.
I shall not list the entire litany of plaints I’ve heard in the last day.
A reasoned perspective is that this disturbing two game losing skein that ended 2011 not with a bang but a whimper came at the hands of two legit talented Top 10 teams. Twelve wins against 2 Ls is not a bad way to enter the heart of the league season. (Though you might opine 0-1 in the Big East with a loss at home is not optimal.)
The Cards are short-handed. Though that excuse is turning rapidly into a nettlesome old saw. There does remain a significant upside for this version of the Cards. I can’t believe the team’s offense can remain as stagnant, unimaginative and unproductive as it has.
But . . .
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. . . is this state of affairs acceptable?
The buck indeed stops with Rick Pitino. He’s the one whose image is front and center during those endless intro videos. He’s the one who says the program needed to be re-branded. He’s the one who is large and most assuredly and certainly in charge.
So, if the Cards must overachieve to be as competitive as they’ve been the last few seasons, whose fault is that?
UK is famous for giving nicknames to its championship teams. Well, this certainly isn’t a championship version of the Cards, but perhaps a moniker is in order.
How about The Afterthoughts?
Kuric’s a walk on. Chris Smith and Mark Jackson Jr. are walk ons. Gorgui Dieng was recruited only after the Cards lost a prep teammate of his and the Fab Melo recruiting battle. Russ Smith was a lucky roll of the dice. (Thanks again, Ralph, wherever you are.)
Pitino has been getting an inordinate amount of praise from the nation’s press this year, for the marvelous coaching job he’s done with his less than stellar squad?
Well, why is the squad less than stellar? Why hasn’t the coach, who is earning tens and tens of millions of dollars, brought in mo’ better, mo’ talented players with less obvious flaws?
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Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. I’m not sure I can recall a more monster game. 24/19. Six offensive boards. Big time. Big big time. (Is it true this kid’s from Camden? Say it ain’t so, Milt and Billy. Does that add insult to injury or what?)
Anthony Davis. 18/10. Six blocked shots that set the tenor of the whole game.
He was also 12/13 at the line.
Terrence Jones, for all the problems he’s having — Who knows what up with this baller? — still snared 11 boards.
Though rattled a lot, Marquis Teague had 5 assists.
John Calipari. His team didn’t play very well at all, was out of sorts for most of the game, but still won. Plus, he got all those talented players to come play for him. And, got Jay Z a courtside seat.
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As for the Cardinals . . .
. . . well, honestly, there was never a moment when it appeared Louisville had a legit shot at winning.
Though faint hope glimmered when Russ Smith’s FT tied it at 40 with 15:23 to play. Then, out of gas and overwhlemed by the longer, taller, more talented Cats, Louisville didn’t score on its next 8 possessions.
Louisville was outscored 14 at the free throw line.
Louisville was outboarded, 28-49.
More disturbing than Kyle Kuric’s, Chane Behanan’s, Gorgui Dieng’s and Rakeem Buckles’ paltry point totals were the minimal number of shot attempts UK’s length allowed them. That foursome took only 16 shots.
Louisville proved again, as it did against Georgetown, that its pressing defense when ratcheted to 11 can cause even really good teams problems, rattling them into errors. It also showed that, despite that asset, it won’t be enough to win games against big time competition.
Which brings us back to U of L’s surprising lack of offense. I’d love to be astute enough to offer a solution. I’m not.
But Rick Pitino is getting paid a lot of bucks for his acumen. Cardinal fans can only hope he comes up with the answer.
He’s sure enough getting paid enough money to do so.
– Seedy K