United They Stand, and Now They’ll Ball

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It’s been a rough day for everyone who loves, supports and is involved with the Louisville Basketball program. We’ve enjoyed a lot of good times over the past 10 years but it seems now that all of that is coming to an end. We all know that our basketball program has been under the cloud of a dark scandal most of the season. Today we started to see the consequences unravel from that scandal. Unfortunately our basketball program has placed a self-imposed ban on any post season participation which means that our great Conference and NCAA Tourney run will come to an end.

This news is devastating on many levels but probably the most to those student athletes who have sacrificed and given so much of themselves to chase that ultimate prize of being a champion. Especially in the case of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. These two young men decided to finish their college careers at the University of Louisville so they’d have a chance to compete in the NCAA tournament. With the news today these guys are now facing the last 9 games of their college basketball careers and for them there won’t be a “one shining moment” not in the NCAA tournament anyway.

So what now? My father always tried to teach me to relish in the great times and prepare myself for the bad. Now granted we aren’t talking about some of life’s greatest tragedies here and sports stuff is really trivial in the big picture of things. But nevertheless it is something that can be very frustrating and disappointing. We all follow our teams and enjoy their success in order to escape some of those real life issues. Right now we have to prepare ourselves for the bad because this NCAA post season ban is not going to be the end game. We are in for more ahead.

We can also relish in the good times that we have left. Damion Lee, Trey Lewis and the rest of our basketball team have 9 games left and we must celebrate them. It’s easy to be a fan when things are great but its times like these that show a person’s true loyalty to the team they support. We must sell-out the remaining 4 home games and the KFC Yum Center should be loud from tip to time. We owe it to these student athletes to make their efforts all worth it. We’ve had a saying all season… I’ve got Your Back… Well Cardinal fans it is time to have this programs back. Good, bad and worst we need to rally around it. They can break our hearts but they haven’t and they never will break our Cardinal Spirit. It was here before us and will be when we are long gone but it is up to us to keep it alive and moving forward.

My son and your children will be able to look back on this moment in our programs history as a minor hiccup and they won’t ever give it a second look. This program is headed for a rough couple of years but we will come out on the other end much stronger than we were before. Seeing Damion and Trey up there in that press conference today so composed and thoughtful in their time of woe was amazing. Seeing guys that age value their friendships and relationships over everything else is something to marvel over.

Damion Lee: “There are silver linings to every storm.”

Trey Lewis: “I truly believe good is going to come out of this.”

There are a lot of adults who could learn from these guys. I know that I wasn’t that grounded in my college years. Trey and Damion are going to be fine and if this is the worst thing that ever happens to them that would be incredible. They might not win an ACC Tourney Title or a NCAA Title but they are well on their way to winning the game of life. That’s the most important of all. This Louisville basketball team is united and now they’ll ball. Let’s support them. Go Cards!

Cardinal Football Recruiting Class 2016: Signed, Sealed, and Celebrated

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Wednesday night was the third recruiting class that the Cardinal Nation has celebrated under the 2nd term of Bobby Petrino. The first year he did a really good job at salvaging a class put together by the last regime. Last year he started to build the team around his wants and needs for his system landing a very talented QB in Lamar Jackson. In this 2016 class you can really start seeing Coach Petrino’s vision coming together and it includes 23 Signees who fit his system nicely. Congratulation goes out to Coach Petrino and his staff for all of their hard work.

The Cardinals 2016 Class really shines on the offensive side of the ball.  In 2016. Coach Petrino landed a raw but very talented quarterback in Jawon Pass. He is considered one of the best quarterbacks in this class and some think the best. Louisville also has a pair of four-star receivers in the fold in Chris Taylor-Yamanoha and Seth Dawkins. A third pass-catcher in the class is Des Fitzpatrick. These guys will assure that the rich tradition of great wide receivers continues at the University of Louisville.

This class also has its bright spots on the defensive side of the ball. Four-star linebacker P.J. Blue was a big flip from South Carolina in December. Defensive End Michael Boykin committed in July and might have the highest upside in the class. Junior college corner Ronald Walker and defensive tackle Chris Williams are expected to make an instant impact. This class finished ranked 36th ESPN (6 Four Star,15 Three Star), 37th 247Sports (2 Four Star, 20 Three Star), 37th Rivals (3 Four Star, 14 Three Star), and 40th Scout (3 Four Star, 19 Three Star).

When it comes to college sports it’s not like the rankings don’t matter at all because they do. But it isn’t the be all end all predictor of future success. We have seen many three star athletes go on to have successful NFL careers from the University of Louisville and our season records and bowl record thanks to three star recruits is among the best in college football. I think there are a lot of solid players in this 2016 class and do believe they could be the foundation towards getting Louisville to that college football playoff. I love the direction of the football program and the future sure looks bright. I can’t wait to get out to the practice fields on April 16th at 1:00pm to see these guys. Go Cards!

Coach Petrino welcomes Card Nation to Louisville Signing Day Party 2016:

Coach Petrino talks about the 4 returning Juniors, Des Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins:

Coach Grantham talks about 2016 Signees London Iakopo, Mike Boykn and Gary McCrae:

Coach Kolby Smoth talks about his “Dogs on the team” Dae Williams, Malik Staples and Malik Williams:

Coach Tony Grantham talks about Austin Johnson, Tobias Little and Tabarius Patterson:

Coach Klenakis talks about OL Robbie Bell, Derek Dorsey and Austin Cummins:

Coach Keith Heyward talks about PJ Blue, Lamarques Thomas and Ronald Walker:

Coach LD Scott talks about Kordell Slater, Chris Williams and Caleb Tillman:

Coach Garrick McGee talks about Chris Taylor-Yamanoha, Keion Wakefield and Jawon Pass:

Cards Adapt and Overcome Against the Hokies, Seem Poised for a Strong Finish

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Going into this game Coach Pitino had his guys ready for a very unorthodox Virginia Tech style of play. The Cardinals who had used their defense to their advantage for the past couple of weeks had to adjust due to an aggressive style of offense played by the Hokies. They thrive on getting fouled and they do this by throwing their bodies into the defender. The Hokies came into this game 4th in the country in free throw attempts and 9th in free throws made. They certainly lived up to that tonight.

With the Cardinals having to play a less aggressive style of defense they would have to use an offensive burst to win this tough road game. And what a burst it was… The Cards scored 91 points which is the highest point total in ACC games this season. And they hit 12 three point shots thanks to some nifty shooting from Damion and Trey. Those guys really showed up when needed and with our best low post threat Chinanu compromised with foul trouble we needed them.

I really love how every week a different front court player steps out to have a big game. Last weekend it was Anas and tonight it was Jaylen Johnson who came through with a big performance. MATZ also stepped in and got some timely baskets. I get giddy when I think about our front court at full strength when Mango returns in a couple of weeks.

The college basketball season is a marathon and in a marathon a runner usually makes his kick towards the finish of the race. In the racing world, kick refers to sprinting towards the end. It involves a combination of physical and mental preparation. February is usually the time of the college basketball season when a team wants to make their kick. It also takes a lot of physical and mental preparation.

Our Cardinals have grown and matured throughout and we have seen player development at every position on the floor. They find a way to win and the execution of the game plans has been impressive. This team is ready to make their kick towards the finish line of conference play. We will face the toughest part of our schedule and our guys appear to be peaking at the right time as most Coach Pitino Louisville teams have done. I’m looking forward to the next couple of weeks. Go Cards!

COACH PITINO POST GAME:

JAYLEN JOHNSON POST GAME:

TREY LEWIS POST GAME:

DAMION LEE POST GAME:

(Video courtesy Jeff Greer of the Courier-Journal)

Luke Hancock Still Making A Difference

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Luke Hancock was awarded the Final Four Most Outstanding Player and his clutch shooting played a major role in Louisville’s NCAA title run. There isn’t a person in the country who doesn’t know that. What athletes do on the court or field of play is always well documented and sometimes too much. A lot of times it’s what these athletes do when they’re not making three point shots, touchdowns or home runs that gets overlooked.

Luke Hancock was the underdog for most of his basketball playing days and overcame some long odds to get to the level he finished his basketball career. He was an outstanding basketball player but what people should know about Luke is that he’s an outstanding person as well. When he wasn’t in the gym working on his jump shot or in the Yum Center making three point shots he was always out trying to make a difference in the world or trying to make someone else’s day better.

He no doubt left his mark on the Louisville basketball program but it’s the mark he has left on the world and the Louisville community that matters most to Luke. Tonight Luke knew about a little boy named Brody who had just lost his father in a car accident. Luke being Luke took the time this evening to make this little boy smile and forget just for a second of the tragedy in his life. What a remarkable gesture by a remarkable man.

Luke was recognized during his playing days in an article written in the New York Times. The article was written to thank those in the sports world for doing great and inspirational things in a sports year dominated by those who had done just the opposite. The title of the article was “Here’s to the Better Angels of the Sports World.”

Here’s to one of the many Angels in the Louisville sports world Luke Hancock. It’s awesome that we have a young man like Luke Hancock still representing the University of Louisville Basketball Program with such dignity and grace. He has and continues to make a difference and make us all very proud. Hey Luke thanks for being AWESOME! Keep doing you…

Thoughts and Prayers to the Trabue Family.

From 0-3 to Oh Wow, The Beak looks back Cardinal Football 2015

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Now that there have been a couple of days to process Louisville’s gutsy win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl, it seems like a good time to start taking a look back at the Cardinals 2015 football season. The Cardinals would start the 2015 season after losing one of the winningest senior classes in college football. The gamble to bring back a proven winner to the program has paid off and Coach Bobby Petrino was able to lead this Cardinal team to 8 wins and another trip to a bowl game in his second season back. What makes this second year back even more impressive is that he did it with a roster full of so many young players and a completely rebuilt offensive line. Might be one of his best efforts as the Cardinals Head man.

OVERVIEW

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Let’s take a look back at the Cardinals 2015 season from a birds-eye view (pun intended). I can’t think of a football season in my lifetime that I had been more excited about than this one. A big reason why is the Cardinals had some big-time games on the schedule that included a football season opener against SEC powerhouse Auburn. Gone are the days of playing schools with little or no football tradition. We continued to embark on a whole new journey with this team.

Louisville’s season would start with a Bobby Petrino homecoming in Atlanta and it was obvious in the first game against Auburn that this would be a season defined by a youth movement. The Cardinals played seven true freshman in the season opener Lamar Jackson, Jaire Alexander, Traveon Samuel, Geron Christian, Devante Peete, Jaylen Smith, and Kenny Thomas. 82% of Louisville’s receiving yards went to guys playing their first Louisville game. Peete had 60 yards, Smith had 34 yards, Samuel had 22 yards, Crum had 19 yards and Savage had 2 yards. And there was the true freshman QB Lamar Jackson who came in and took over the game. He reeled off 100 yards through the air and 106 yards on the ground with 1 touchdown. It was tough to lose that first one but most Cardinal fans came away optimistic.

That optimism would quickly turn to skepticism as the Cardinals would lose their next two games against Houston and Clemson to start the season 0-3. The offense was brutal at times for the Cardinals during this stretch, as three different quarterbacks were shuffled in and out behind a poor performing offensive line. The search for any kind of offensive consistency was on. Cardinal fans hadn’t experienced a losing streak like this since the failed experiment that was Kragthorpe and the naysayers were out in full force.

We knew then and we know now that there was no shame in losing to Auburn, Houston or Clemson. All of these teams are very well coached and have solid athletes on both sides of the ball. The shame is in how our team lacked the passion and intensity at times in these games. The sting of a 0-3 start had filtered down and these young guys needed a win. They would get that Morale building victory against Samford. Guys on both sides of the ball really went after it in this game and you could see the switch turn on for both units. The defense made stops and the offense made plays. It was good to hear the roar in that Louisville locker room for the first time of the year.

Louisville started 0-3 before the romp against Samford, and Lamar Jackson had set a school record for rushing yards (184) by a quarterback in that one. Then against NCState to avoid a 0-2 conference start he rushed for 203 yards against the nation’s No. 3-ranked total defense at the time to help him set the program’s single-season rushing mark for a quarterback after just five games. Now the Cardinals had won two straight to build some momentum, and a star was emerging in the Cardinals backfield.

The Cardinals carried a lot of positive momentum into the big showdown with Florida State but it was quickly doused as they were routed in the Doak by a score of 41-21. Two big turnovers derailed any fight the offense had in them and Dalvin Cook had two touchdowns, including a 54-yard score where he broke four Louisville tackles breaking the Cardinals defensive will on the opening drive of the third quarter. Several players including Devonte Fields were vocal after this loss and allowing 510 yards. They were disgusted with their lack of effort vowing it wouldn’t happen again for the rest of the season.

The defense made true on their pledge in the next game winning against Boston College holding them to one third down conversion in 14 attempts, just 79 yards of total offense and sacking them 8 times. The Cardinal offense also started to come around in this game with players like Jamari Staples and Javonte Bagley coming into their own. Reggie Bonnafon also took kindly to his new role. It was obvious after this game that effort would not be an issue moving forward.

The Cardinals would cruise to 3 more wins over Wake Forest, Syracuse, and Virginia becoming one of the ACC’s hottest teams. It would take a total team effort to do so. After the win over Wake Forest Lamar Jackson would be sidelined for a few games with injury, and Kyle Bolin would again emerge as a savior for Louisville posting a great outing against Syracuse with a season-high 362 yards and three touchdowns. The receiving attack cam alive with Staples, Quick and the Tight Ends posting over 400 yards. The rushing attack would also come to life during this stretch with Brandon Radcliff rushing for a career-high 146 yards and two touchdowns against Virginia.

That hot streak would come to an abrupt halt in the ACC finale against Pitt it was an obvious brain fart for the Louisville football team in the first half of that one. What had looked like a well-oiled machine at times during a four game winning streak all of a sudden looked like my grandpa’s 76 Ford Pinto. All you can really say about this game is that Louisville got beat.

That Cardinal brain fart continued through most of the first half of the Battle of the Bluegrass game against arch rival Kentucky but they came out of it pretty quick after the half as Lamar Jackson would emulate young Teddy Bridgewater in 2011 just completely romping over the Wildcats with 316 yards and three touchdowns leading the Cardinals erasing a halftime deficit with 31 unanswered points.

Jackson and the Cardinals carried this momentum into what was one of the best weeks of the football season the Music City Bowl. College football got a glimpse of what we have seen all season and got put on notice that this young, gutsy, resilient, and talented football team will be a force to reckon with in 2016. The Cardinals capped off a 0-3 start with an Oh wow moment beating Texas A&M claiming another Bowl trophy to go into the case. After taking Cardinal Fans on an up and down ride the Cardinals finished the regular season 8-5 and 5-3 in conference play.

BEST MOMENT

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I went back and forth on this one for a while. I had such a great time in Nashville during the Music City Bowl and it was great seeing our Cardinals perform well in front of a National Audience. Beating a great program like Texas A&M will go down as one of the best moments of the programs history and it will propel this young group into the 2016 season, but for me it was the second best moment. The best moment for me in 2015 was beating Kentucky for a 5th straight season in Commonwealth Stadium. Their fans are the biggest blowhards in college sports and when we were 0-3 to start the season they couldn’t talk about it enough. They were convinced like they have been for 5 years now that their pitiful program would finally be able to beat Louisville. But nope! It was just awesome how it happened spotting them 24 points and being there to see their faces as the Cardinals mounted the comeback. We ran their fans out of their own stadium faster than a hurricane evacuation (Hurricane Jackson). Hearing the band play the Alma Mater and watching as Cardinals fans celebrated in a Red filled Commonwealth stadium was as good as it got this season. It is also pretty special that a young Teddy Bridgewater started the current winning streak and freshman Lamar Jackson made sure it continues.

WORST MOMENT

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I kept telling myself during the three game losing streak that the Cardinals total margin of defeat was just 13 points and that it was lower than any three game losing streak in school history. We had not been blown out and had been in every game with a chance to win. We’ve got an exceptional group of freshman and they are the foundation of what will eventually be a good football team. But no matter how hard I tried I was really down. That 9 day period from the last loss to Clemson to the game against Samford was rough not only for me but every Cardinal fan that I knew. There has been a winning culture established in the Louisville football program. Losing 3 straight games now is unacceptable, and it was the worst moment of the 2015 season.

SURPRISE MOMENT

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Even though I knew going into this season that the offensive line would struggle I really got down on them at times. But I never wavered in my faith that Coach Klenakis would get the issue resolved. He has proven time and time again that he can develop talent. The guy has coached 21 offensive linemen who have advanced to the NFL. Before coming to Louisville Klenakis was at Iowa State and in 2013 he had six different starters miss at least one game. He was forced to use nine different combinations that season. They ended up having two consecutive 500 yard games of total offense and the Cyclones finished the season with the 10th most points in school history. He has built offensive fronts at every coaching stop in his career and he will figure this out. I know he had to use at least nine different combinations this season but the hard work and effort finally paid off in the Music City Bowl when the Louisville Offensive line was responsible for several big holes that led to big plays and even a few touchdowns along with 307 yards rushing. On the Brandon Radcliff 27 yard gallop at the 14:51 mark in the 3rd quarter you could have drove the team bus through that hole. And even though Lamar Jackson looked like Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson that night it was the offensive line that helped him get loose. My surprise moment for 2015 was watching our line have that great outing in the biggest game of the season. Kudos to those guys and to Coach Klenakis.

OFFENSIVE MVP

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There were a lot of gutsy performances this season on the offensive side of the ball for the Cardinals, but nobody had more of them than Lamar Jackson. When you are blessed with a great player like Teddy Bridgewater you become very spoiled. We really missed not having that type of athlete on the field. And while they are different players Lamar Jackson has given us back that Teddy feeling again. When Hurricane Jackson tucks and takes off look out. He is just flat out electrifying when running the ball. He had four games this season in which he ran for at least 100 yards and threw for at least 100 yards, tied with Clemson’s Deshaun Watson and SMU’s Matt Davis for the most such games in the FBS. Three of these games came against the mighty SEC. He threw for 100 and ran for 106 against Auburn, threw for 130 and ran for 186 yards to lead Louisville to a comeback win over Kentucky, and threw for 227 yards against Texas A&M while running for 226 yards. He became only the third player in NCAA history to run and throw for over 200 yards in a Bowl game. His 960 rushing yards leads the team despite not playing on a full-time basis. He appeared in 12 games and started just seven of them. He finished second in ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year voting and is on his way to being a superstar. Looking forward to watching this kid for the next two years and he is my offensive MVP of the season.

HONORABLE MENTION

As soon as the rest of the nation found out about UAB getting rid of their program coaches and assistant coaches from all over the country started to reach out to their players. Louisville’s offensive coordinator Garrick McGee didn’t waste any time in reaching out to Jamari Staples. That was a wise decision. Jamari missed the first four games of the season with an injury but didn’t waste any time establishing himself in the offensive scheme when he finally got his chance. His biggest game of the season came against Wake Forest when he had 133 yards with two touchdowns. He finished the season as the top receiver on the team with 638 yards and 3 touchdowns despite missing those first games and he moved the chains at critical moments many times. Glad he found another home here with our Cardinals and looking forward much more.

DEFENSIVE MVP

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The only thing I love more than seeing a young man get a second chance is that young man taking that second chance and making the most of it. That’s exactly what Devonte Fields did this season at the University of Louisville. Fields had to learn the Louisville playbook on the fly, but even tougher than a crash course in Granthamology was catching up to the speed of the Louisville workouts. He had played a year of junior college before becoming a Cardinal but Fields was out of shape. He didn’t get any time in the Louisville off-season program, so Devonte essentially had to play his way into shape. And that’s just what he did. Over the final six games of the regular season, Fields racked up all 7.5 of his sacks and 15 of his 19 tackles for loss. In the Music City Bowl he had 8 tackles, 3 sacks and 2 pat downs. He finished the season with a team leading 10.5 sacks and 22 tackles for loss. He is 10th in the country in sacks and 1st in the country in tackles for loss. I’m personally very proud of this guy and he is a shining example of how you can turn your life around with the effort. He is my defensive player of the year and I hope I get to cheer for him in a Cardinal uniform for one more season.

HONORABLE MENTION

One half of the bash brothers Keith Kelsey was a valuable leader on and off the field for the Cardinal defense. He served as a great ambassador at the ACC media days this season and is just one of many guys that has been more than just a football player to the Cardinal program. But he is a great defensive player. He finished this season with a team leading 107 tackles. After the other half of the bash brothers James Burgess got cheated out of his Bowl game by a bogus targeting call he helped rally his team in Music City Bowl with 7 tackles and 1 pat down. Another player I hope stays around another year and my honorable mention for defensive player of the year.

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When Charlie Strong decided to leave the program Tom Jurich and other members of the Louisville administration were faced with a difficult decision. They had the choice to find a coach who was an up and coming unproven in the college ranks or go with the guy who had won here before. The second choice would bring a splattering of skepticism. The program had come too far since the last failed experiment of an unproven coach and Tom Jurich knew what he had to do to maintain the level of excellence that had been established. He did face a ton of backlash from the skeptics, but after watching his program win 17 games the last two seasons while facing their toughest schedules in years and becoming bowl eligible for a 6th straight season he has had the last laugh. I think he made the right choice and the excitement for Louisville football is at an all-time high. We have a lot of momentum heading into year number three of the Bobby Petrino sequel. We will possibly sign the best recruiting class in school history in February and should march another top 25 team on the field in April. I can’t wait to attend the signing day party and can’t wait to attend the first day of spring football practice. GO CARDS!

Cards lost a Battle, but have the weapons to win the war

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On Saturday in Lexington the 49th chapter of the Battle of the Bluegrass was written. For the 34th time it was Kentucky who walked away with the victory. The Wildcats now lead the all-time series 34-15. The Cardinals are now 1-8 against their rivals since John Calipari was hired as their coach and a big reason why is because Kentucky has always done a good job of making sure they win the home games in this rivalry. They did that again on Saturday and to them go the credit.

Our Cardinals lost the battle yesterday and it was a battle, but proved that they do have enough weapons to go to war in the ACC and make a run in March. One and done is always in the discussion when you play Kentucky, but on Saturday it was a done and one who was the best player on the floor. Damion Lee has led the Cardinals all season averaging around 18 points a game and on Saturday he led all scorers in the game with 27 points. In one of the toughest places to go into and perform he outperformed everybody. That last shot didn’t fall but a lot of them are going to this season.

Lee is a great weapon to have going forward but there is also plenty of other ammunition at Coach Pitino’s disposal. The other done and one guy Trey Lewis has also been a big scoring threat this season for the Cardinals. He’s averaged around 15 points a game this season and had 15 on Saturday. The poise and maturity is what stood out the most. At times early in the game on Saturday you could see that deer in the headlights look in every player on the court for the Cardinals except for Lewis. He held things together while everyone else settled in. Having a guy on this team with so much composure is going to be huge down the stretch. Some of those gyms in the ACC are going to be just as loud as or louder than Rupp Arena.

Rebounding is vital especially when you go on the road and in tournament play. Chinanu Onuaku has led the Cardinals in rebounding all season averaging around 8 a game. And he out-rebounded every player on the floor on Saturday with 10 helping the Cardinals out-rebound Kentucky 39-29. Onuaku was clearly a force down low in the game and had his way when he fought for the position. If Onuaku decides that he wants to be elite then he will be. The pedigree is there and the ability and talent are as well. The only thing that can hold Chinanu back is Chinanu. I really believe he will be one of the best big men in the country before this season is over and who doesn’t love that granny shot.

The Louisville bench had scored over 350 points going into the game on Saturday and outscored UK’s bench 19-18. Donovan Mitchell was excellent and was the spark plug that ignited a comeback from 16 down. He was making big-time plays on both the offensive and defensive side of the floor. He is a superior athlete and proved he is ready to give quality minutes in big games moving forward. I was also really impressed with Jaylen Johnson. He keeps getting better. He ran the floor well and has that big man passing ability that coach Pitino loves. And you just can’t say enough about the development of Matz Stockman and Anas Mahmoud. These guys will be two of the premier big men in the ACC next year if they continue down that improvement path. And they will provide quality depth this season moving forward.

There are other guys on the roster that didn’t really bring it on Saturday but who will play a vital role in the coming weeks. The Louisville guys Quentin Snider and Ray Spalding weren’t effective against Kentucky but they both have the ability to have major impacts on a game. Snider’s ability to run the offense and Spalding’s length and athleticism are big time attributes. Deng Adel is just getting back off injury and will be a force on that wing soon enough. Mango will be back in around 6 to 8 weeks hungrier than ever to make another NCAA run.

I’m still very confident in how this season will turn out and I think this early loss in December will give this team a wakeup call. Where Calipari relies more on talent, Pitino has utilized development and his coaching ability to make Louisville successful. He will figure out how to best use the pieces on this team and the team will figure out how to use what they have to their advantage. We have got the nucleus for another Championship run and now the guys just have to keep fighting to find a way to make it all work together. I’m very disappointed in that loss yesterday and I did take it very hard, but the college basketball season is not a sprint it’s a marathon. We got a long way to go until March.

Here we go again… Cards vs. Cats

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We are just a few weeks removed from the Cats and Cards doing battle on the gridiron to end the regular season of college football. On Saturday they will take the battle to the basketball court. This week we have flown our flags a little higher and wore our gear with that little extra boost of pride. This is the Cards and the Cats and it just doesn’t get any bigger in college basketball.

If you have grown up in the state of Kentucky and you are a sports fan this rivalry has been a part of your life. I can’t say that for the last 29 years I have enjoyed all the constant back and forth between me and my friends that cheer for Kentucky. But rivalries are what define sports and every competition needs a great rivalry. We have one of the best rivalries in all of sports and it deserves the credit. The Rivalry has given us many enjoyable moments and now it’s time to have another.

“Two elite teams meet once again, eternal bragging rights (at least for another year), HoF coaches who can’t stand each other. It’s not always a pretty watch, but it’s compelling TV and the best soap opera in the sport at the moment.” -Sports Illustrated

This will again be a highly anticipated Battle of the Bluegrass with both teams ranked within the top 25. It has been the Cats who have won the last 10 out of 12 in this battle head-to-head, but when looking at their entire body of work these teams have had similar success in the last 30 years. A series that started in 1913 these old rivals will meet for the 49th time on Saturday afternoon. Kentucky holds the all-time lead in this series 33-15.

STARTING LINE-UP
Skal Labissiere (9.8 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
Tyler Ulis (12 PPG, 3.6 RPG)
Isaiah Briscoe (11.5 PPG, 5.6 RPG)
Alex Poythress (9.3 PPG, 7.3 RPG)
Jamal Murray (17.1 PPG, 4.4 RPG)

KEY RESERVES
Marcus Lee (8.8 PPG, 7.2 RPG)
Derek Willis (5.6 PPG, 2.2 RPG)
Charles Matthews (3.4 PPG, 1.9 RPG)

KENPOM ANALYSIS
#12 Overall
Offense Adjustment efficiency 112.0 24th
Defense Adjustment efficiency 92.7 13th
Kenpom has Kentucky winning this game 71-70

The Wildcats are are shooting 47.1% from the field, 29.7% from beyond the arc, 67.4% from the free throw line and average 78.4 points a game. They are aggressive attacking the basket with their dribble-drive motion offense and rank among the top 25 in the nation in offensive rebound percentage. Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray are their most important players on the offensive side of floor.

Ulis is one of the more crafty guards that has ever played for Coach Calipari and that is saying a lot. He can create his own shots and is a very efficient offensive threat, but where he really excels is getting his teammates involved. He is so quick and getting into the lane that when defense comes help side he will dish to another player in scoring position. He has 53 assist on the season and averages 5.3 a game. Murray is their deadliest offensive threat and there isn’t a spot on the court where he can’t score. He is shooting 42% from the floor and almost 40% from beyond the arc. He has range for days. A guy who could be a big X-Factor for them Saturday is Alex Poythress. When engaged, he can affect the game on either end of the floor. He leads Kentucky in rebounding and, at times, displays a much-improved offensive game. He’s also effective in transition because he can gallop down the floor and is a target for lobs.

Kentucky plays man-to-man but haven’t done so aggressively enough during the first part of this season to suit Calipari. The Wildcats are dangerous on this end of the floor if amped up getting into passing lanes and harassing ball handlers. I suspect they’ll be amped up for their home crowd Saturday. They are allowing 65.6 points on 39.9 percent shooting from the field allowing 30.4 percent shooting from deep and forcing 13.8 turnovers per game.

The best way to beat Kentucky this season is to play great lock-down defense against their back-court and not let Ulis have his way in the lane and not let Murray have many open looks from deep. The Louisville guards also need to brace up in the face of the Wildcats’ defensive harassment. Kentucky still has a lot of length and talent in their front-court but unlike previous seasons this Louisville team has plenty of talent and height of their own to challenge them here. The Cardinals are allowing 55.9 points on 35.2 percent shooting from the field, allowing 29 percent shooting from deep and is forcing 15 turnovers per game. They are ranked 2nd in the nation in scoring defense.

Anytime you play Kentucky there is always talk about the one and done players and how they’ve had such an impact on this rivalry over the last 5 years. That won’t be the case on Saturday. It will be the done and one players Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Lee is averaging 17.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while Lewis is averaging 14.7 points and 2.8 assists. These guys have meant everything for Louisville this season and are a big reason why they are ranked 11th in the nation in scoring offense. It’s been a long time since Louisville fans have witnessed offensive output like this. The Cardinals X-factors on Saturday will be the front-court players. If Anas, Onuaku and Spalding can play great defense and grab those defensive rebounds I really like our chances. They have to neutralize the Kentucky bigs. I do think our bench scoring will come into play in this one. There are always a lot of fouls called in these games. The Cardinals have 353 bench points already this season.

This will be one of the biggest test of the year for both of these teams. Each has to play to their strengths and attack the others weakness, but as I mentioned above with the player always coming out of nowhere there will be a scenario play out that nobody expected. These rivalry games are packed with emotion and that along with the home crowd will also factor in. I’m looking forward to a great game and a opportunity to knock off this Kentucky group. It has been too long. Should be another great one in the series… Go Cards!

The Beak Prediction:
Louisville 80 Kentucky 72

TWAS the Week Before the Dream Game

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Twas the week of the dream game,
And all through the state,
UofL vs UK basketball will again
be the topic of great debate.

Two of the top programs in the country,
Will battle for the bluegrass state,
And the fans of the Red and Blue;
Just can’t wait.

For whoever loses this game,
Will have more than enough crow;
To fill their plate.

I’m sure we’ll hear all week,
That the Cats will win;
And they’ll go on.. and on,
About how Calipari will triumph over Rick again.

Every year we hear it,
Or since Calipari moved up the street;
This will be the UK team nobody can beat.

Number nine is coming they’ll yell and scream,
But it always turns out;
To be another pipe dream.

They recruit great players and athletes,
Sure they have some;
But they won’t know what hit them,
When they face our done and ones.

Ole Calipari will be yelling,
With all his might;
As the guys in blue,
Start to lose the fight.
With 23 thousand screaming down below:
It’s the guys in Red,
That will deal the final blow.

Get em Damion, Q and Trey;
Coach P will scream with delight,
As he knows that this will be his team’s night.

Cards fans will throw,
Their L’s high in the sky;
As that victory horn sounds:
And it will be a rough New Year,
For those Big Blue clowns.

With the dream game victory,
Celebrated and passed,
That Music City Bowl game will be here fast.
Another slap in the face,
For our rival in state;
As we’ve already ended their football slate.

Eat it up my friends,
And fellow Cards fans I say;
As victory will be ours:
On this glorious day.
That Big Red shadow will loom,
Over that blue spot up the road;
And the only Bowl game they’ll see:
Is in their commodes.

With this battle of the bluegrass,
Well out of sight;
We must continue to fight the good fight.
This Cardinal team has big things ahead,
And thoughts of another title run;
Will be dancing in our heads.

I wish all my fellow Cards fans,
Great Holiday cheer;
And I hope all of your dreams,
Come true next year.
I’ll see you all in Nashville,
As I write this with delight:
L1C4 and Go Cards Fight… Fight.

The Rivalry before The Rivalry

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This time next week we’ll be staring down another Louisville vs UK basketball game. But every season for the past eight years we’ve had a very good rivalry game with another in-state basketball power. As a matter of fact we’ve played Western Kentucky a lot longer than we have the Wildcats. Western is Louisville Basketball’s third longest opponent in the history of the program. The series that started back in 1926 is tied at 39-39 with the Cardinals taking the last six straight.

What started as a somewhat friendly foe has also changed over the years and there are no more smiles in this one. Ray Harper likes his team’s to play an aggressive style of basketball and he will attempt to dirty things up if he can. The Cardinals found that out last year when tensions ran high in Diddle arena. This should be another good one Saturday and after the Cardinals stroll through cupcake city this should be a step up in competition.

The Louisville program and the Western program share a common thread. In 1944 Bernard “Peck” Hickman was hired as the Cardinals head coach. Hickman was a star guard for WKU and Coach Ed Diddle during his college playing days. He was the first coach to lead our Cardinals to a championship on a national level winning the NAIB Championship in 1948. He never had a losing season in his 23 years as the Cardinals head man.

“We play them because of the amount of respect we have for their tradition and their basketball abilities. Why start a series with say a Memphis or Cincinnati when you’ve got a great school right down the road in state with unbelievable tradition. Why not do that? That is what I have always believed in and Western Kentucky is one of the great traditions in college basketball.”-Coach Pitino

STARTING LINE-UP
F 14 Ben LAWSON (4 PPG, 4.1 RPG)
F 23 Justin JOHNSON (17.2 PPG, 8.4 RPG)
G 1 Chris McNEAL (5.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG)
G 2 Aaron COSBY (10.2 PPG, 3.5 RPG)
G 25 Fredrick EDMOND (10.7 PPG, 4.7 RPG)

KEY BENCH PLAYERS
G 51 Chris Harrison-Docks (10.7 PPG, 1.1 RPG)
F 21 Nigel Snipes (12.7 PPG, 3.9 RPG)
G 1 Chris McNeal (5.4 PPG, 3.7 RPG)

Kenpom Rankings
Overall Rank 164th
Offense Adjustment Efficiency 105.0 ranked 110th
Defensive Adjustment Efficiency 104.6 ranked 240th
Kenpom predicts Louisville 79 Western Kentucky 69

Ray Harper’s teams are known for their blue collar work ethic. And the best player on this Western Kentucky team epitomizes that. Justin Johnson has already turned in a game this season where he had 16 points, 15 rebounds and 4 assist. He is a player that will find all kinds of ways to hurt you. He can create his own shot and can find his open teammates. He had a game this season where he was 10-11 shooting for 90.9%. He’s ranked 14th in the nation in field goal percentage. This kid has a lot of moxie and he will want to have a big day against the Cards.

Western Kentucky relies on Edmond, Cosby and Johnson to generate offense. Both Edmond and Cosby are dribble-drive demons, while Johnson can score anywhere on the floor. Harper has three scoring threats off his bench in Harrison-Docks (10.7 PPG), Snipes (12.7 PPG) and McNeal (5.4 PPG). The Hilltoppers will score in transition if it’s there, but it’s primarily a medium-tempo team that beats opponents with guard play and the low-post/wing scoring of Snipes and Johnson. If the score is in the 60s rather than the 70s or 80s, then the Hilltoppers are happy.

On the defensive side of the ball Western Kentucky’s primary defense is man-to-man, but the Hilltoppers sprinkle in some 2-3 zone and some full-court pressure, too. The Hilltoppers can aggressively attack opposing jump-shooters, secure in the knowledge that they have two good shot-blockers in Lawson and Johnson.

The Cardinals are on pace to have a historical season on the offensive side of the floor. Damion Lee and Trey Lewis have provided instant offense and both are doing it at a rabid pace. The Cardinals lead the nation in scoring margin at 31 points, and fifth in the nation in field goal percentage at 53% and have shot above that in eight of nine games this season. But I think the key to this game will be on the defensive side of the ball. Full-court pressure bothers this Western Kentucky team because it falls into the trap of playing faster than they should, resulting in turnovers. They average 17.6 turnovers a game 117th in the nation.

Like I mentioned above I look for Ray Harper to bring his team into the KFC Yum center on Saturday and make it an ugly game. Nothing will come easy especially around the basket and when there is a foul it will be a hard one. The Cardinals need a good hardnosed game like this because after this week they will be heading into the very challenging part of their schedule. I think the Cardinals win big in this one but think they’ll have to earn it.

Louisville 80 Western Kentucky 65

Optimistic Observations after 8 Games this season

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I have tried really hard this season not to buy too much into these early games with subpar competition but I have had a few observations that I think are going to be very favorable for the Cardinals going forward. I covered the game yesterday where our guys came out and manhandled Eastern Michigan 86-53 beating them by 33 points. Their average margin of victory this season is 30.6 points ranked 1st in the nation. For the 6th time this season they scored at least 85 points. The Cardinals are 103-0 under Coach Pitino when doing so. The Cardinals shot 53.4% from the field for the game and are averaging 51.6% through the first eight games of the season ranked 6th in the nation in field goal percentage. The Cardinals bench scored 34 points on Saturday and has scored 238 points from the bench this season. For a 5th time this season the Cardinals had at least four players in double figures. It is very important in March to have a team that shoots it well, can score points from all over the floor and has a deep bench. It appears this team will have all three.

They are who we thought they were:
Damion Lee is averaging 18.8 points a game while Trey Lewis is averaging 13.8 points. They are leading the way in point production and doing it very effectively. Lee is shooting 53.7% from the field while Lewis is shooting 41.7% from the field. They both are also averaging over 4 rebounds a game. These guys are also getting it done on the defensive side of the ball. Lee is leading the team in steals with 19 and Lewis is second on the team with 9 this season. Along with the solid leadership on and off the court these guys have been as big for this team as we all thought they would be and their veteran roles are going to be very important going forward.

Young Guys stepping up:
Donovan Mitchell is averaging 7.4 points a game and Ray Spalding is averaging 6.8 points. That is #6 and #7 in scoring on this team. These guys have also been very effective scorers. Mitchell is shooting 47.7% from the field while Spalding is averaging a scorching 76.7% from the field. Spalding is 3rd on the team in rebounding with 37 this season and Mitchell is 5th on the team with 33 this season. These guys have emerged as key guys coming off of the Louisville bench and both bring an energy with them when they enter that has an immediate impact. As these guys continue to adjust to the college game and learn the system they are going to continue to get better and that will be very good moving forward.

The hammer and the nails:
There are many players on this team that provide the nails and Quentin Snider is the hammer. He is the player on this team that brings it all together when they are on the floor. He is third on the team in scoring with 9.9 points a game but where he really shines is getting his teammates involved. He leads with 35 assist on the season. He is ranked 12th in the country in assist turnover ratio at 4.38. Nothing is more important on the road in big games and under the bright lights of March Madness than having a guy who takes care of the basketball and uses possessions wisely. Quentin Snider does both.

Like I said above I’m not going to buy too much into these games against lesser competition but I really like the direction this team appears to be heading and I’m looking forward to seeing just where that goes. Really love this group and they are very exciting to watch. They give great effort on both sides of the ball and appear to care just as much about how successful their teammates are as they do themselves. Good stuff! Go Cards!

Remember at all home games the Cardinals are asking fans to participate in the pre-game by yelling back “I got your back” during the video promo before starting line-ups. The Yum Center crowd did pretty good on Saturday but we can get better. This team deserves it.

Louisville vs Eastern Michigan