By Lee Mueller

Things only seem to get worse as the Louisville men’s basketball program continues its losing streak. Struggles continue to loom on the recruiting front, with the program losing its opportunity on two five-star prospects.

Maui Misery, and Big Ten Blowout

Louisville is now a humbling 0-7, far below Card fan’s previously optimistic expectations. During their games at the Maui Invitational, the team finished the game 54 – 80 against the No. 9 Arkansas Razorbacks, took a beating by No. 21 Texas Tech who worked the Cards over 70 – 38, and finally lost 62 – 81 to the Cincinnati Bearcats. In the ACC/BIG Ten challenge, the team collapsed against No. 22 Maryland, 54-79.

During their game against the Razorbacks, the team allowed a whopping 22 turnovers and only four assists. In the Texas Tech debacle, Louisville again struggled to move the ball and find shooters besides El Ellis. Relying solely on Ellis – arguably the team’s most reliable, valuable player – has proven to be problematic for the Cards, leaving them continually behind in scoring, rebounds, and assists. The squad showed some playmaking improvements- JJ Traynor and Kamari Lands continue to get more comfortable, and stepped up during the Bearcats contest- but with 15 turnovers, they’re not playing like this historic team.

Maryland again exploited the Cardinal’s double-digit turnovers, scoring 21 points off the teams 13.

“But nobody, any opponent that we play is not going to feel sorry for us and give us a W. They are going to come in here and try to beat us by 30 or 40 and we have to have pride and understand what it is,” Payne said post-game.

Recruiting Struggles

The ever-increasing losses are darkening the recruiting side of things as well, with Payne losing out on two five-star recruits.

First, Louisville lost out on A.J. Johnson, a guard ranked No. 15 in the nation, and the number 2 combo guard in the country. Johnson would have been a huge win for Payne and Louisville, but instead chose Texas.

In another heartbreaker, Louisville lost five-star recruit D.J Wagner to archrival school Kentucky. Wagner’s grandfather, Milt Wagner, was hired at U of L as an assistant coach to the men’s basketball program. Many believed there was hope that the younger Wagner might choose the Louisville team as his collegiate pick. However, DJ Wagner’s father, Dajuan Wagner, was a star player for John Calipari at Memphis. Those ties, combined with the upward trajectory of the UK’s program, ultimately led DJ Wagner to go with the Wildcats.

With a rough start to the season and the ACC play about to begin later this year, the road ahead will be a fight on all fronts as the Cards face Miami on Sunday at 1 p.m ET. Head coach Kenny Payne is realistic, understanding the team’s challenges as they rebuild their entire program from shootarounds to practices, from offense to defense, and everything in between. In an interview with the Courier-Journal, Payne said that his team record should not deter a recruit from coming here.

It may not be an easy season to watch, but hope lies ahead… there’s nowhere to go from here for the Cards but up.

Photo Courtesy // Adam Creech, Louisville Athletics //