Da–Da–Da–Da–Duh–Da–Da–Da…. you hear that? Louisville basketball is back.
Saturday will unofficially kick off the 2021-22 campaign for the Louisville basketball program when the annual Red v. White scrimmage takes place at the KFC Yum! Center.
Before then, players and coaches from across the ACC will travel to Charlotte, NC for another annual unofficial season ritual – Media Day. While usually, media day is a bunch of hoopla over nothing, for Chris Mack and the Louisville basketball program it’ll be another test in what could be one of the most interesting seasons in Cardinal history.
After a turbulent offseason that included the dismissal of 2/3 of Mack’s assistant coaching staff, a federal criminal case, and even more trouble with the NCAA, there are a lot of questions about the future of Louisville. Locally, Mack hasn’t had much media availability this offseason and hasn’t had to talk much about what’s taken place. The freedom of information act squashed any chances of keeping the dirty details behind closed doors and because of that, he’ll have to answer for what’s gone on. He’ll have the layer of protection from NDA’s and court settlements, but big picture Mack will have to resell the future of the program to the ACC media.
Thankfully, Louisville basketball could have one of its deepest and most talented teams not only in Mack’s time as coach but also in the last five-plus years.
Mack will be joined by incoming Marshall graduate transfer Jarrod West along with super senior Malik Williams, both of whom were recently voted team captains. What will we see at media day? Let’s take a deeper look.
How does the media see Louisville basketball?
Preseason rankings aren’t indicators of how successful a team will be in the upcoming season but they do give us perspective into what others think could happen. For Louisville basketball, adding 8 new players to a roster that returns one super senior and multiple other impact players, makes them hard to peg. Sure they bring in the no. 1 JUCO player in the country along with three of the top available guard transfers this offseason. But they’ll be working to replace two players currently on NBA rosters while assimilating countless other players into new roles.
Will Louisville fall victim to recency bias? Honestly, probably. The Cards didn’t make the tournament last season (you don’t need me to remind you of that) and it’s likely that will impact how others feel about their short-term and long-term potential. Of course, media won’t always look at the minutia and understand details, rather making subjective selections based on hype, returning players, and what coaches bring in.
With that in mind, it’s hard to judge Louisville. Is a backcourt made up of Samuell Williamson, JaeLyn Withers, and Malik Williams going to get the same type of love as that of Paolo Banchero & Mark Williams? Or even that of UNC, UVA, or Virginia Tech? Will El Ellis, Mason Faulkner, Jarrod West, and Noah Locke be a backcourt that makes those voting have confidence that Mack solved the depth issues that plagued them last year?
Mostly because we won’t get those answers until the season actually starts, I expect Louisville to be ranked lower than we expect. The ACC should be better this season than last, although not by much, with teams like Duke, UNC, Syracuse, Louisville, NC State, Virginia Tech, and others competing for the top four spots.
How does the Dino Gaudio situation play out?
For some strange reason that I can’t comprehend we’ve seen a ton of college basketball analysts stand up for Dino Gaudio. Despite being on the other end of federal blackmail charges, Chris Mack is the one who walked away with a six-game suspension and most of the negative publicity. While Gaudio received only a slap on the wrist & a fine, Mack will now have to go before the bright lights and answer for the madness that played out on Floyd Street this summer.
Mack isn’t the most endearing guy in the world when it comes to the media, oftentimes coming across as brash. Will he take that approach when he’s asked about the distraction that’s caused? Or will he provide a genuine heart-felt response (albeit limited by what he can say) apologizing for what happened and asking to move on? It’s clear that Louisville has brought the ACC more trouble than it bargained for since joining the conference, but this is the first time that Mack will be answering for his wrongdoing and not others. Yes, Gaudio is the criminal in this situation – but media outside of the Louisville market are going to want to poke & prod when it comes to the suspension, his future at Louisville, and how he’ll overcome a likely devastating punishment.
Let’s also not forget that for the first time the players will likely be asked about the situation. There’s no way it hasn’t been some level of a distraction this summer during offseason activities so it’ll be interesting to hear how that has impacted the players on and off the court.
Mack is going to spend more time talking about basketball than anything else (as he should) but there’s no doubt this is going to be a major topic of conversation. How Mack handles it will go a long way.
Any love for triple W’s?
Sam Williamson, Malik Williams, and JaeLyn Withers will be three of the most important pieces to Louisville basketball in 2021 hands down. Williams and Williamson will be counted on in leadership roles as elder statesmen while Withers could end up being the team’s leading scorer and first true dominant front-court player since Montrezl Harrell.
All three players should have plenty of hype entering the season but it may not reach the level nationally that we expect locally. Williamson and Williams are both former five-star recruits but neither have truly reached their potential at Louisville; at least yet. Williams has battled with foot injuries each of the last two seasons, averaging just five points per game last season, while Williamson has struggled with inconsistency for most of his career and has never averaged double-figure scoring. Both have what it takes to be All-ACC players after big offseasons but it’s likely other players will be placed above them when it comes to voting.
The dark horse is Withers. Playing out of position the majority of his redshirt freshman season, Withers flashed stardom. In 20 games, he averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds, shooting 55% from the field and 38% from three. With a scheme more inducive to his style of play and more shooters surrounding him, I expect Withers to EAT this season. By season’s end it wouldn’t shock me at all to see him as a first or second All-ACC teamer but I don’t expect to see that reflected preseason.
Withers is a guy that the average ACC fan isn’t super familiar with just yet. Despite showing flashes last season it clearly wasn’t enough to push Louisville over the edge when it mattered, as the focus fell on Jones & Johnson. This year playing in his natural position, Withers has the chance to become one of the top players in the ACC and whether or not the media agrees, I expect to hear that from Mack and his teammates on the podium.
Stay tuned throughout the day as Chris Mack and senior captains Malik Williams and Jarrod West step to the stage.