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ACC Preview #14 - Louisville

After off-season chaos, some emerging stability should help

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NCAA Basketball: ACC Operation Basketball
Chris Mack doing his very best Vladimir Putin impression
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, Louisville.

We saved them for last (other than Duke) because the mind boggles at what has happened there. Who the hell knows what to expect? Anything from the death penalty to a continued meltdown to a nice post-season run is possible.

To briefly recap, after StripperGate and the Adidas mess, the university had had enough and fired coach Rick Pitino and A.D. Tom Jurich were fired. Later, just to keep things interesting, Papa John’s founder John Schnatter was forced off the board of trustees after saying that Col. Sanders had said the N word to illustrated a point (but Schnatter actually quoted the N word).

After firing Pitino the Cards hired Chris Mack from Xavier. He was very successful there and Xavier has a reputation as a school with an ethical athletics program, which surely appealed to his new university.

Unless we’re forgetting someone, he thus becomes the fifth guy from Xavier to become an ACC head coach after Bob Staack, Pete Gillen, Skip Prosser and Dino Gaudio, who is now a Mack assistant (both Mack and Gaudio were Wake Forest assistants for Prosser).

Even without NCAA complications, Mack may have a tough debut. Louisville lost a lot of talent from last year’s team: Ray Spalding, Quentin Snyder and Deng Adel are all gone. So is Anas Mahmoud, who didn’t score a whole lot but who was an outstanding shot blocker.

VJ King (6-6/215 junior) is the best returnee but his name was recently linked to the Adidas scandal too and it’s not clear yet if that’s an issue. Given Louisville’s precarious status, it might be prudent to sit him until he’s cleared. We’ll have to see.

Even if he does play he’ll have to improve on his poor shooting from last season 39.8% over-all, 32.0% from the bonusphere and 73.5% from the line.

Sophomores Darius Perry (6-2/195), Malik Williams (6-11/245)) and Jordan Nwora (6-7/225) will likely move into the starting lineup.

Perry is the most likely guy to replace Snyder, who was an outstanding point guard, but it could also be grad student transfer Christen Cunningham, who comes over from Samford.

The ‘Ville also adds transfers from SMU (Akoy Agau,6-8/240 grad student),the rare transfer who returned to his original school), Richmond (Khwan Fore 6-0/185 also a grad transfer), and UConn (Steven Enoch 6-10/260).

Guard Ryan McMahon is back and while he was celebrated as a potentially great Pitino find, he hasn’t done that much so far. Dwayne Sutton, a 6-5 junior who transferred in from UNC-Asheville, could help.

Only one freshman signed up after the off-season meltdown and that’s Wyatt Battaile, a 6-4 guard out of Pikeville.

The bottom line with this program is there’s so much uncertainty and so much transition that it’s impossible to know what to really expect other than some likely slippage.

Mack is an outstanding coach but he’s moving into a tough situation. He deserves some credit though because despite the immense uncertainty, he has convinced six recruits to pick Louisville. Part of that credit may go to assistant Luke Murray, who heads up recruiting and who seems destined for his own job soon. As you may remember, Murray’s dad is comedian Bill Murray, a long-time admirer of fellow Chicago native Coach K. Odds are we’ll see him next year when Louisville visits Cameron which should be a hoot.

Louisville still has a great fan base, a basketball crazy city, huge tradition and a desire for greatness. It’s going to take time to work past the scandals and time to get Pitino out of the system because whatever else you might say, between the lines he was one of the greatest college coaches of all time.

He had teams that were fiery and explosive, that could come back on anyone when down. He had a real genius for the game and for motivating his players. As a coach, he’ll be missed.

But consider this: Mack did a brilliant job at Xavier, a Catholic school with serious academic standards. True, ACC competition will be more intense, but he’ll be able to recruit more easily at Louisville too.

The short term outlook is impossible to fathom but long term? Marrying a passionate basketball school with a gifted coach?

He’s going to be great and, eventually, so will Louisville.

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