The Floyd Street Tribune: A Thanksgiving reader Q&A an eighth of the way into Louisville's season
Inside: Answering reader questions as Louisville heads to the Bahamas.
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. In the previous edition, we discussed how Louisville has statistically changed early this season.
Happy holiday season, from the one-man team at The Floyd Street Tribune! Thanksgiving is a favorite of mine, so I hope you enjoy your Thursday and long weekend as much as I hope to.
The hoops season is already one-eighth of the way through, with Louisville a rocky 3-1 out of the gates and a big, big matchup Thursday (tonight!) in the Bahamas. These are the final two games without Chris Mack on the sidelines, and they are two vitally important games for the Cardinals. Results are critical — we’ll be talking about these two games on Louisville’s NCAA Tournament resume the rest of the season — but every Louisville men’s hoops observer wants to see more intensity and edge from this group, and (in theory) the uptick in competition level should bring that out.
In the spirit of the holiday — aka we sleep in and play on our phones all day — I thought today’s newsletter would be a perfect time to bring back the reader Q&A. I’ll have a video-heavy review next week, but for now, let’s sift through the burning questions on the minds of Louisville fans.
This is a great question. Before the season, I made 20 observations and predictions about this team. Here are a few I’m happy with and a few I’m a little wobbly on:
Defense is a work in progress. Louisville may struggle defending drivers, which is why Malik Williams staying healthy is really important. He is the primary shot blocker on the team and can erase or alter shots at the rim. This is perhaps where some of that token pressure can help create some turnovers and rush opposing offenses a little more, too.
This is still true, though I am concerned about Williams and his shot-blocking presence on the back end. If he can get closer to 100%, or any of the backup centers emerge as shot-blockers, Louisville’s defense can get better. Getting Mack back in practices and film sessions will help Louisville start to find its defensive form. Don’t undervalue his voice and teaching.
Noah Locke and Jae’Lyn Withers will lead the team in scoring. I’ll say two things about Noah Locke: (a) Every shot he takes looks like it’s going in, and (b) he is going to get plenty of looks. I’m going to try to snag him in my ACC fantasy hoops league. (Yes, that’s a thing.) As for Withers, this is his breakout season. He will have some ups and downs, but he’s my pick to lead the team in scoring.
I feel great about this Locke prediction, and while I still think Withers will find his scoring touch and be a major contributor this season, Matt Cross and Sam Williamson both seem like real contenders to finish second on the team in scoring.
Louisville first loss is in the Bahamas. I think either Maryland, Richmond or Mississippi State ends up being Louisville’s top nonconference win, not far behind Furman and Western Kentucky. (Sorry, DePaul.) But there’s certainly a chance for an early-season stumble at a quality tournament like this with no Chris Mack.
I would like to change this prediction.
Louisville’s regular-season record is 21-10. I have a 13-7 record in the ACC with losses at FSU (1/8), at Virginia (1/24), vs. Duke (1/29), at Syracuse (2/5), at Notre Dame (2/9), at UNC (2/21), at Virginia Tech (3/1). If that happened, Louisville would lose four of five in that Jan. 24-Feb. 9 stretch, with two pairs of losses sandwiching a home win over North Carolina. This would also mean Louisville went 4-4 in its last eight games. Can’t imagine that would be talk radio fodder or anything.
I’m going to withhold complete judgment of this team in terms of wins and losses until Mack returns. If things continue as they have, I do not at all feel confident about 21-10 overall and 13-7 in the ACC. But I have a hard time seeing them continue in this manner with Mack back to work.
The other part of this is how bad the ACC looks so far. Outside of Duke, everyone else still has a lot to prove in these coming weeks.