By Spencer Laws
Any fan who thought this first season under first-year head coach Kenny Payne was going to be seamless was thinking unrealistically.
It seems Louisville Men’s Basketball has been able to run into every possible bump in the road in recent memory. These bumps have seemed to ensue from recent scandals that have set the program back in multiple aspects, including everything from postseason bans, recruiting restrictions, and most significantly, a vacated National Championship.
The fans have unquestionably been dragged through the mud since the first developments came out of the Katina Powell scandal.
A mission to restore the legacy of a program
This season seemed like the turning of a page, the spring of a new era for Louisville Basketball for the program and the fanbase.
The fans and the city got the consensus favorite to take over the head coaching position. Louisville alumni and national champion, Kenny Payne, would be given the keys to the program. Hopefully, he would eventually restore the legacy.
The KP hiring, along with the constant IARP ruling being held over the head of the program, has finally been resolved. The retribution the program will have to pay was considered minor in many regards.
The hope seemed higher than it probably should’ve been. However, can you blame a fanbase that has experienced what it has over the last decade? Different pieces were brought in this off-season as others departed. Former four-star Brandon Huntley-Hatfield was the most notable name to add to the Cardinal roster.
The issues start piling on
There was still one missing piece that KP and staff needed to address, though: a point guard. It seemed that Payne and his new staff struck out on high-level point guards in the transfer portal.
This should’ve been the first sign of another long season for Cards fans.
This issue resulted in Payne having to put senior El Ellis in the point guard position, handing him the responsibilities of facilitating the offense and handling the ball. Last year, we saw Ellis thrive in more of a shooting guard position. He worked off the ball, not having to dictate the Cardinal offense under his own power.
Reality set in from the start. Division II Lenoir-Rhyne came to the Yum and left with a 10-point win in the first scrimmage of the year for the Cards.
Payne and company were able to “bounce” back and win their next scrimmage against another division II opponent, Chaminade.
Like me, most fans had to look up where these schools were even located and what level of competition they even competed in before the games started.
And yet, they continue
After this, the regular season started and the nightmare began. It started out with laughable results of back-to-back-to-back one point losses. Tag on six more to go with the first three.
The Kenny Payne era was 0-9 starting out.
This is where I will reference the statement I began this article with — no fan with a realistic mind thought that the Cards were heading to the NCAA tournament much less the NIT this season.
However, no one saw it taking 10 games for KP to get his first win as head coach. When that first win finally came, it felt good for Card Nation. The squad was able to take down in-state Western Kentucky on December 14.
The team then doubled its total in the win column, this time overcoming Florida A&M on December 17. You could argue this was the last good thing to come out of the program up to this point in the season.
A fanbase left with questions
From that point on we have seen time and time again a team that really doesn’t seem like they want to compete. This team portrays little effort and grit in a lot of different circumstances.
The list of things wrong with this team goes on and on, but at what point does KP start to feel the heat? Does he get a pass this year because it’s his first year and the program was remodeled in the offseason?
The abysmal 2-17 record is something the Louisville fanbase has never had to experience on the hardwood, or really any Power Five fanbase has had to face. Back in 2002, Ken Pomeroy created a website tracking many different statistical aspects of college basketball. This season we have seen this team fall below any previous Power Five team statistically.
So we address the same question again: when does Kenny Payne start to feel the heat? Is his job safe after this atrocious season ends?
The notion lately has been that the generation of players and recruits don’t know or respect the legacy that truly is Louisville basketball. Kenny Payne played in the heyday of Louisville basketball; he helped form and create that legacy for those that came after him. So how does that argument hold up having one of our own lead the program?
The next argumentative point fans point out is that this team just doesn’t have enough talent to compete at a high level.
On paper, by 247Sports, the Cards don’t have a single player ranked above 132 coming out of high school, excluding Hercy Miller (who wasn’t ranked). Along with that statistic, the Cards roster consists of six players ranking outside the top 90 in their respective classes.
There are a few counters to this point: the current number-one team in the country, Purdue, lines up with an uneven roster in recruiting. While their squad looks unqualified on paper, Purdue has launched itself as a potential number-one seed come March.
I understand these two programs are in two very different situations. However, this point needs to be brought up and talked about.
The bottom line
It’s still hard to hear fans defend Payne past the point of, “it’s his first year”.
Fans knew this season wasn’t going to be the brightest in a lot of aspects, but many feel that more bad has been done than good.
Photo Courtesy // Spencer Laws, The Louisville Cardinal //