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ACC Preview #11 - Louisville - Sin City East?

Louisville is the ACC’s answer to Jerry Tarkanian’s UNLV

NCAA Basketball: ACC Conference Tournament-Duke Louisville
Mar 10, 2021; Greensboro, North Carolina, USA; Louisville Cardinals head coach Chris Mack directs his team against the Duke Blue Devils during the second half in the second round of the 2021 ACC tournament at Greensboro Coliseum. The Duke Blue Devils won 70-56. 
Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

Oh, Louisville. Louisville, Louisville, Louisville. What to do with the Cards?

The ACC invited Louisville to join after Maryland left for the Big Ten and on paper it seemed like a logical and reasonable trade, possibly even a basketball upgrade (if an academic net loss).

It’s been a colossal embarrassment instead.

First there was the Rick Pitino-Karen Sypher scandal (2009), a humiliating extortion case for the Hall of Fame coach in which he admitted to a “very brief” dalliance with Sypher in a restaurant. Call it 15 seconds of instant regret.

He survived the next scandal too, one involving strippers and recruits (2015), but the third scandal, the Adidas scandal (2017) was too much and he was sent packing.

Chris Mack was brought in, ostensibly to clean things up, but that hasn’t worked out too well: when Mack fired his assistant, long-time colleague and former Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio, Gaudio attempted another extortion of a Louisville head coach, threatening to reveal alleged NCAA violations.

For whatever reason, Mack decided to record that conversation. Is that legal in Kentucky?

Apparently so. Here’s the standard: “Kentucky law bars the interception, recording and or disclosure of any oral or telephonic communication by the means of an electronic recording device without the consent of at least one party or if they are a party to said communication.“

Presumably the one-party standard applies to oral conversations too.

Both guys just looked like jackasses. For his part, Gaudio tried to channel his inner tough guy and failed miserably. And for Mack’s part, what kind of a weasel tapes a friend of 20 years when he’s about to tell him he’s being let go? What was he afraid of?

Perhaps exactly what happened, although he also recorded himself trying to placate Gaudio by offering to buy him off, which he may not have intended. In for a dime, in for a dollar perhaps.

Or maybe he was trying to go around HR or perhaps just trying to gauge how far off the rails Gaudio would go before he called HR in.

Because HR was supposed to be there. If they had, it seems unlikely that Gaudio would have lost his freaking mind and gone scorched earth on his (now former) friend and boss.

Just as a side note, this makes two ACC head coaches now who were in bizarre legal cases recently, with Georgia Tech’s Josh Pastner being the other as his junkie friend Ron Bell and his girlfriend falsely accused Pastner, whose over the top and apparently inexhaustible enthusiasm would have fit right in with the cast of Leave It To Beaver, of sexual assault (it’s almost too bad Bell and Pastner couldn’t have been cellmates - the stories they would tell!)

Whatever was behind all of it, Gaudio ended up convicted of extortion (he got a fine, a suspended sentence and destroyed both his coaching and TV careers), and Mack got a six-game suspension and is facing a possible NCAA investigation that could end his time at Louisville. It’ll cost him nearly $225,000 and he can’t talk to his players or staff during that period.

After this came down, Mack amazingly tried this con: “I regret that any of my unintentional actions or failures to follow University guidelines have brought unnecessary attention to our outstanding athletics programs and University...”

Apparently his recording device came on accidentally. What a ludicrous thing to say. Not even a nine-year-old would buy this load.

The potential charges are fairly minor in a normal situation but when you have three major scandals in eight years, no charges are minor. If Louisville gets hammered again, it’ll be vary hard for Mack to survive.

So we might as well face it: the ACC probably needed Louisville at the time but letting the Cardinals in was a major mistake. UConn or West Virginia might have been a wiser, if less lucrative addition.

Anyway, Louisville lost a lot from last year. Take a look:

Gone

  • Carlik Jones - NBA
  • David Johnson - NBA
  • Charles Minlend - senior
  • Aidan Igiehon - Grand Canyon
  • Josh Nickelberry - LaSalle
  • Quinn Slazinski - Iona

This would be a good time to mention that Gaudio claimed that Mack threatened to yank scholarships left and right after what he perceived as poor play, which, if true, might have had something to do with some of these guys leaving.

Jones and Johnson are off to the NBA and Minlend was a senior, but the others are transfers and Minlend could have come back for his bonus year. We’ll probably never know if they left because they felt threatened - assuming that claim is true, of course.

Slazinski was Mack’s first recruit, by the way and he he was a rotation player, getting 21.1 minutes per game. He’ll be missed. Going to Iona, where he’ll play for the deposed Pitino, seems like a slap in the face to his old coach.

Nickelberry seems replaceable.

Back

  • Malik Williams 6-11 senior
  • Samuell Williamson 6-7 junior
  • Jae’Lyn Withers 6-8 junior
  • Dre Davis - 6-5 sophomore
  • JJ Traynor - 6-8 sophomore
  • Ashton Myles-Devore 6-1 sophomore
  • Gabe Wiznitzer 6-11 sophomore

The best news here is that Williams is back. Foot problems limited him to just three games last season. He’ll give Mack a solid presence in the post.

Williamson was solid last year and was really good rebounder, getting 8.1 per game. Withers was also quite good and both should be improved this year and will certainly have the chance to step up. Davis had a significant role last season too and will get a chance to build on that.

Transfers

  • Elbert Ellis - 6-3 jr (JUCO)
  • Jarrod West - 5-11 GR (Marshall)
  • Noah Locke 6-3 senior (Florida)
  • Matt Cross 6-7 sophomore (Miami FL)
  • Sydney Curry 6-8 junior (JUCO)
  • Mason Faulkner 6-1 GR Western Carolina

Lots of transfers. Ellis, a native of Durham, may end up taking over at point. That won’t be easy, given how terrific Jones was last year.

Cross comes from Miami where, oddly particularly given what a tough season they had due to injuries, Jim Larranaga basically told him to get lost. Said he just couldn’t get through to him. Doesn’t sound like a guy who is likely to react well to threats of having his scholly pulled.

He had his moments at Miami to be sure and is a solid shooter. It’ll be interesting to see how things work out here.

We don’t know as much about the other guys but they might prove to be more than bench players although moving up to the highest level in college basketball is a major adjustment, as we’ve seen before.

Freshmen

  • Roosevelt Wheeler - 6-11
  • Michael James - 6-6

If Williams isn’t fully recovered, Wheeler might get the job. At 6-10 and 240, he has the size but between an injury and the pandemic, he didn’t play last year as Richmond Public Schools canceled the season.

He’s intriguing but it may take him some time to adapt.

James is athletic and can shoot a bit. He’s said to be a strong finisher. He came to Louisville, he says, because he can make an impact, but it might be tough to get a lot of minutes with experienced and talented players like Williams, Withers and Davis ahead of him.

So what should we expect now that the Louisville circus has settled for the moment?

It seems like a crap shoot honestly.

There looks to be good talent but the Chris & Dino Show may cast a significant shadow over this team. There are seven players back and presumably all of them are aware of the threat to yank scholarships, again assuming that’s true, and we don’t think he was talking to his very best players. Who's to say it won't happen again? That’s likely to be in the back of everyone’s minds, especially the guys who aren’t playing a lot.

That’s a trust issue no matter how you look at it and Mack will have to put some work in to restore it.

And he won’t be able to do that right away, at least not fully, because he’s going to sit the first six games.

Assuming he can do that, and assuming that the new staff - Gaudio is obviously gone as is Luke Murray (famous father actor Bill Murray will now add a UConn hat to his collection, having previously worn Xavier and Louisville lids in support of young Luke) - works out and can teach and communicate well, Louisville has a chance to be pretty good.

However, even if all that works out perfectly, there is still (yet another) potential NCAA case and that could be a very serious problem indeed as Louisville has a bad track record in recent years. They may have lost their NCAA championship but they are, hands down, the 21st century champs of NCAA issues.

So whatever happens, it may be a while before things in Derby City get fully back to normal.