By Derek DeBurger

Louisville lost their ACC season opener against the Virginia Tech Hokies.

Louisville jumped out to a big lead early, going up 10-2. The Cards held onto that lead for most of the first half, but the Hokies clawed their way back to make it a back-and-forth affair for the rest of the game.

Louisville did a lot of good things in Sunday’s game. Ty-Laur Johnson played early and often, paint touches for Brandon Huntley-Hatfield were prioritized and this offense spread the ball around in an elite way. Five different players scored in double digits, with JJ Traynor just shy, chipping in another eight points.

The Cards even showed some positives on the defensive side of the ball, coming away with six steals and four blocks, but overall the defense is mostly what we’ve seen before—medium to low effort coupled with inconsistent strategy.

When I said this game was back and forth, I mean the two teams traded leads with almost every bucket. It wasn’t until there was 4:19 left in the game that the Hokies were able to push their lead to six. There was still plenty of time, and six points was just a two-possession lead, but the Cards were not able to do the little things to make the comeback. The offense was almost entirely iso-ball, with the occasional Huntley-Hatfield look in the paint. The defense would start strong yet got more lost the deeper into the shot clock they got.

The Cards were able to cut the lead to one on a couple of free throws from Huntley-Hatfield, but the defensive woes continued and the offensive woes began.

Virginia Tech would win 75-68.

Anyone who says this Cardinal team didn’t improve over the past year is simply not watching the games, but the improvement is almost entirely on the players and not the coaching staff.

Basketball is a unique sport where even the best coaches can only change the game so much, meaning the majority of a ballgame comes down to what the players can do—and choose to do—on the court. Where a coach shines is their pregame preparation, making sure their players are prepared for any situation that could pop up. It feels like once a game there’s a moment or two where our players look like they’ve never even conceived what the other team is doing was possible.

The talent and the effort are miles higher than last year, but as long as this team comes into games unprepared it doesn’t feel like much will change until something changes.

The Cards are now back to 0.500 on the year at 4-4.