Help your case of the Mondays with a review of the Red-White Louisville basketball scrimmage

Inside: Thoughts on Louisville's pace and space, plus grades for each position group.

Thanks for reading The Floyd Street Tribune! Missed the previous newsletters? That’s OK. With a paid subscription, you can access all of ‘em here. Last week, I returned to Louisville practice to offer observations on players I hadn’t seen the previous week.

How about a surprise Louisville basketball newsletter to fight that case of the Mondays?!

Louisville held its annual Red-White scrimmage on Saturday and gave the public the first glimpse of a deep roster and a revamped offensive system. I took a bunch of notes as the three 10-minute periods played out, so let’s get right into some takeaways.

Pace and space

With the obvious caveat that playing against your own team can be difficult and favor the defense — these are teammates who are learning the same offensive system day in and day out — there is a noticeable uptick in Louisville’s pacing and spacing.

Jae’Lyn Withers, Matt Cross, Samuell Williamson and other wings and forwards have license to initiate transition off defensive rebounds instead of searching for an outlet pass. In the first segment alone, the 6-foot-9 Withers started the break on his own three separate times, and on another secondary break, he arrived at the top of the key as the trailer and splashed a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer. Whoever was off the ball did a solid job of getting to good spots on the perimeter, too. On pick-and-rolls, the floor feels a lot more open for the handler, which is a welcome change from last season.

Another aspect that stuck out: Louisville is looking for that early shot in transition. The shooters on a few occasions lost their defenders in transition. Cross even got upset when he did exactly that and wasn’t rewarded with a pass that would’ve gotten him an open 3. Louisville won’t just hoist up a bunch of 3s willy-nilly, but the Cards are going to get a lot more looks from long range this season because of this transition offense.

Grading the guards: B

I tweeted this, but I’ll repeat it here: El Ellis makes plays no one else on the roster can. He dropped two excellent assists off drives, and his athleticism is eye-catching. With its experience, frontcourt and depth, Louisville has a relatively high floor (an NCAA Tournament team at minimum). But the ceiling can be a lot higher if the dynamic Ellis puts it all together. He was 2 of 11 from the field and 1 of 7 from 3, and as Chris Mack pointed out, Ellis still has work to do on the defensive end from an aggression and communication standpoint. How well Louisville does this season may well ride on whether or not he clicks on all cylinders by February and March.

No doubt Jarrod West and Noah Locke are the experienced backcourt guys. They look confident and comfortable. Mason Faulkner is back in practice and working his way back from foot surgery, but as I noted in the previous newsletter, Louisville wants to ease him back into the mix.

West statistically struggled a tad, going 2 of 6 from the field with four turnovers and no assists, but honestly those numbers didn’t seem right after watching him play. He has great feel and defensive anticipation (evidenced by his two steals) and he did pull up for two 3s that showed off his shooting touch.

I will keep on saying this: Locke is going to be a major factor in Louisville’s offense. I would not be surprised if he was the leading or second-leading scorer. He took some time warming up, but he finished 5 of 14 from the field with two 3s, plus five rebounds, one steal and an emphatic transition block he pinned on the glass. The Florida transfer is also better on the ball than I anticipated.

Grading the forwards: A-

Cross and Withers stood out the most on Saturday. Williamson’s length is still there and effective on the glass. JJ Traynor still has hops. And Dre Davis has been underrated this entire offseason.

Start with Cross, who totaled 11 points and three rebounds. Not a great shooting day for the Miami transfer, who shot 40% last season but was 0 for 4 from long range on Saturday. He did, however, get into the mix inside, scoring in transition and showing his combination of athleticism and physicality with a few nice finishes at the rim.

Withers is going to be a matchup nightmare this season — and he is in line for an All-ACC-level campaign if he keeps a competitive edge and consistently plays hard. On Saturday, he made 12 points (4-8, 2-4 from 3), 13 rebounds, three steals and two assists look easy. He has a pull-up jumper in his bag, and he can create for others, too.

Williamson has an edge about him in practice, but that didn’t quite come through Saturday at the Yum Center. Still, to steal a soccer phrase, he grew into the game after starting slow. The good thing about the 6-7 wing is that he rebounds and impacts the game in other ways now if his shot isn’t falling, an improvement from when he was struggling offensively early last season.

Traynor was an efficient scorer, going 4 of 7 from the field, while grabbing five boards. He will have a role on this team. Same goes for Davis, who just does a little bit of everything and gives Louisville some real toughness. The Indianapolis native collected six points from only four shots, plus four rebounds, four assists, one steal and one block.

Centers: B

Here is the best news of the weekend for Louisville fans: Malik Williams was back in uniform and moving really well. In fact, the fifth-year senior center looked as spry as he ever has at Louisville. He still loves the 3-ball a tad too much (0 for 4 Saturday), but he finished with eight points, six boards and two assists, showing a nice passing touch from the post.

When I see Sydney Curry, my first thought is how good of an offensive tackle he could be. He just moves people. Louisville won’t play 13 guys in February and March games, but this may be a situation where he doesn’t play for a few contests and then gets 10 or 15 minutes because the matchup calls for it. He had six points (3 of 3 from the field) and three rebounds.

The two youngest big fellas, Roosevelt Wheeler and Gabe Wiznitzer, have work to do, but the potential is so clear. Wheeler (zero points, three rebounds) will be a nice piece as a rim-runner and offensive rebounder, but he is still catching up on defense. Wiznitzer (two points, six rebounds, three assists) has completely overhauled his body and is much closer to where he needs to be as an ACC center. He’s a good passer. He, like Wheeler, still needs time to catch up on defense and adjust to the physicality and fitness level required at this level.

Summary

In all, Louisville fans got a nice glimpse of where their team is midway through preseason workouts. The Cards are the quintessential “they have some good pieces” team — there is a lot to like — but the question about how (and if) everything fits together will only be answered with games and time.

I have a feeling the transition game, especially what could be a lethal secondary break, should overwhelm some nonconference and lesser conference opponents. But it’s the spacing and understanding on offense that will help the most in the more difficult matchups.

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