By Conner Farrell —
In Chris Mack’s first season as men’s basketball head coach, changes have been made and expectations have been exceeded. Consider the fact that Louisville was preseason picked to finish 11th place in the ACC. The way in which the Cardinals have competed with top teams, as well as the positive culture shift underway, is a testament to Mack’s helpful hands.
That being said, the month of February has not been kind to the Cards. They’ve lost four of their last five games with only one month remaining in the season.
Everything negative that has plagued this team came to a culmination Feb. 23, as No. 3 Virginia shook off a 12-point deficit for a 64-52 victory over Louisville. The Cavaliers have now won eight straight games over the Cardinals.
Let’s take a look at some problems Louisville faces with the ACC Tournament approaching.
Good…but not great shots
Louisville’s shooting has been sporadic in its seven-game February stretch. The team’s two highest percentages came in back-to-back games at No. 20 Virginia Tech and No. 16 Florida State, when the Cards shot a combined 47 percent from the floor.
Since then, U of L has only cracked 40 percent shooting twice. Those two games came against No. 1 Duke and Clemson, though both occasions saw the Cards shoot just a hair over that 40 spot.
This decline has been especially evident in Louisville’s last two tilts: 25 percent shooting in a 20-point defeat at Syracuse and 31 percent shooting against No. 3 Virginia.
Louisville’s shooting against the Cavaliers was heavily reliant on the three ball. They made 10 out of 16 three-point attempts in the first half, finding open shots and getting good looks. The second half was a different story, as the Cardinals only netted two of 17 attempts. This figure is not just a testament to Virginia’s suffocating defense, as the same open looks were available there in the second half.
Affinity with the three-point shot is evident across the past seven games, with U of L averaging 27.2 attempts beyond the arc and converting 9.7 of those attempts. The story within the numbers boils down to this: If Louisville is going to live and die by the three, they’ll have to find those makes, and especially in crunch time.
Weathering the Storm
In its seven game stretch, Louisville held double-digit leads against Florida State, Virginia and (now infamously) Duke. The problem is the Cards’ second-half performances, when they grow cold and fail to score as the time winds down.
While these collapses might call into question the mental fortitude of the squad, there are other reasons as well. U of L is finishing up one of the toughest schedules in the country against extremely talented opponents.
Another factor is simply fatigue. Louisville’s top players, Christen Cunningham and Jordan Nwora, have played nearly every minute of the past few games. Cunningham has played 90 percent of the team’s minutes and Nwora 85 percent of minutes during the span.
Louisville travels to face Boston College on Wednesday, Feb. 27 at 9 p.m. With tournament stock decreasing at every loss, the Cardinals must win two of their last three games to stay afloat.
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File Photo / The Louisville Cardinal