Well, that was…something.
If you’re a U of L fan and you had the uneviable experience of having to watch your team trudge through knee-deep mud in the Cards’ 52-51 win at Georgia Tech, you’re probably ready for cold beer or a warm hug…or both. This team has been difficult to watch all year, but the first 30 minutes against Georgia Tech has to be the low point. Just a day after starting point guard Chris Jones was dismissed from the team, Rick Pitino’s ball club was pushed to the brink against a Yellow Jackets squad that came into the game 3-12 in the ACC. A team that appeared to be peaking a few weeks ago has looked asleep for looooong stretches in their past few games. The players give off a feel that they’d rather be anywhere but a basketball court. For a team that had legitimate Final Four aspirations earlier this month, this has been a precipitous fall from grace.
While the past few weeks, and especially the last 48 hours, have been hard to process for fans of the nation’s winningiest program of the past three years, not all is lost. Don’t get me wrong, the loss of Jones is HUGE for a Louisville team that already struggles to score and has been uncharacteristically lackluster at generating turnovers this season. Louisville won’t come out of this ordeal as a better team than it was at the start of the month. But they can set themselves up for future success by giving Jones’ minutes to Quentin Snider and Shaqquan Aaron and letting them develop. And Pitino still has two future first-round picks at his disposal, in addition to being one of the best in-game coaches in the country. If Terry Rozier and/or Montrezl Harrell have a big game, this team can still compete with anyone in the country. It’s not as if a deep tournament run is completely out of the question. It’s just much less likely.
To be honest, though, the move to dismiss Jones was about way more than just this season. Pitino isn’t a guy that’s going to go all in on one season by allowing a locker room cancer to ruin his program’s culture for all the younger players. Watching this Louisville team compared to the previous few iterations, it was apparent that something had to be done. Did Chris Jones have to be dismissed for this team to come together? Maybe, maybe not (although his dismissal’s affect on the team is obviously secondary to his deplorable actions.)
All that is certain is that the way the Cards played the last 10 minutes against Georgia Tech showed that this is still a talented team that can make shots when it matters and bother teams with its pressure. Will this team be able to come together and write a storybook ending for their season? Your guess is as good as mine. But if I’m a Louisville fan, I just try to ride out this season by enjoying the last few months of Harrell and Rozier, hoping for the best in the NCAA tournament, and praying like Hell for UK to have unexpected transportation problems which prevent Cal and company from making it to their first tournament game, causing them to forfeit. Luckily for Cardinal fans, Pitino, Harrell, and Rozier will be doing more than just hoping for success in the next month–they will do everything in their power to make it a reality. The result may not be what we expected at the beginning of the season, but I’d bet by the time the Cards’ season does end, this will be a team that Louisville fans can be proud of. Finally.
*Section Photo credit to Joe Robbins, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Wilfredo Lee, Associated Press.