By Conner Farrell —
Last week proved a huge turnaround for Louisville men’s basketball. The team defeated two conference opponents at home, making for a five-game win streak, and found themselves tied for first place atop the ACC.
Preseason polls predicted U of L would finish 11th place in the conference. Comparing then to now, it’s safe to say the Cards have exceeded expectations with one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
“We knew when we first started practicing that we could be a lot better than people thought we could,” graduate guard Christen Cunningham said. “Here over the last five or six games, we’ve really bought in to how we need to play.”
Louisville continued turning heads by returning to the national rankings for the first time since Nov. 2017. Head coach Chris Mack and his team clocked in the AP poll at No. 23.
The Cardinals skyrocketed to No. 12 in the NET rankings, as well, due to their superb performances against ranked opponents in the conference.
“I would be lying if I said it didn’t mean anything to us,” Cunningham said about the team’s AP ranking. “Everybody wants to be in the top 25. It really just means there’s more work to be done. We feel like we can be higher, we feel like we’ve let some games get away.”
On Jan. 24, the team squared off against No. 21 NC State and won 84-77 in a high-scoring affair. U of L overcame an off-night from sophomore Jordan Nwora, who usually leads the offense in scoring, speaking volumes to how the entire team has progressed.
“We’re together,” graduate guard Khwan Fore said. “We always got each other’s back. [Nwora] is bound to have a game like this. We’re always here to pick him up with the amount of scorers we have on this team.”
Heading into the matchup, NC State was No. 27 in the NET rankings and trailed the Cardinals in the ACC standings. For Louisville to beat a highly ranked opponent at home already made the week a win for the program.
Mack’s squad hosted Pittsburgh two days later on Jan. 26. The Panthers got the best of the Cards in their previous matchup at Pittsburgh.
In the rematch, U of L flipped the script and overcame a low-scoring performance to beat Pittsburgh 66-51.
Louisville’s second half defense held the Panthers to just 18 points.
The low scoring was due in large part to U of L’s second half defense as the Panthers only scored 18 points. Pittsburgh is No. 60 in the NET, which qualifies Louisville’s victory over them and NC State as Quadrant 1 wins.
“Our team played incredibly hard in the second half,” Mack said. “I thought our defense was as good as its been all year.”
With a five-game winning streak in the conference, U of L has advanced to No. 15 in the AP poll. Difficult opponents, like Duke and Virginia, approach on the schedule and provide Louisville with chances to top the ACC outright.
Next up, the Cardinals travel to face Wake Forest on Jan. 30. The Demon Deacons are No. 176 in the NET rankings. U of L also has a rematch with North Carolina, who will certainly be looking for revenge following the Cards’ previous victory at Chapel Hill.
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Photo by Adrianna Lynch / The Louisville Cardinal