With Chris Mack, Louisville Proving to be Ahead of Schedule

Posted by Matthew Auerbach on December 5th, 2018

When Louisville pried Chris Mack away from Xavier last May, the move was almost universally lauded around college basketball circles. Given the swirl of uncertainty that had become pervasive in the Cardinals’ program over the last few years, nabbing a head coach of Mack’s standing was viewed as a major coup. Sure, a commitment of seven years and nearly $30 million dollars helped, but no price was too steep to acquire someone of Mack’s ability and character. The end of the Rick Pitino era had been marred by very personal and very public lapses of morality mixed with fiery defiance and steadfast refusal of accountability concerning illicit recruiting practices within his program. The Hall of Fame coach’s excellence on the court — Louisville had returned to its historical status as a top 10 national program, just behind the perennial blue-bloods — gave him enough rope to survive a school-imposed postseason ban in 2016; but the final straw came in connection with allegations of fraud and corruption that rocked the NCAA to its core. Louisville saw that it was at a crossroads and its next hire would undoubtedly dictate the trajectory of the next decade of Cardinals’ basketball.

Chris Mack Has Been a Pleasant Early Surprise at Louisville (USA Today Images)

After making the NCAA Tournament in eight of nine seasons at the helm of his alma mater (most recently as a #1 seed), there were only a handful of candidates available who would consider a job facing such an uncertain future. Mack, whose wife is a native of Louisville, nevertheless took the leap, with the expectation that his first season would act as a bridge campaign with a roster largely barren of high-major ACC talent. Expectations are always a moving target, however, and the early returns on Mack’s hire are much better than anticipated. In winning five of its first seven contests, the Cardinals have looked exceedingly capable and competitive against the nation’s 24th-toughest schedule. The most recent four-game gauntlet of Tennessee and Marquette on a neutral floor, home for Michigan State, and at Seton Hall, yielded a respectable 2-2 split with discussion of an at-large NCAA berth considered a very real possibility.

Sophomore forward Jordan Nwora is the most talented piece Mack has at his disposal, pacing the squad through the first month of the season with 16.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. The rest of the squad is a mishmash of holdovers that features four transfers from the last two seasons among the team’s top nine scorers. Yet, with all that roster flux, off-court turmoil and a new coaching staff, team chemistry has been a starkly noticeable trait of this year’s team — a clear testament that the players have bought into their new head coach. With five four-star commitments already in tow for 2019, the future looks even brighter for a program that could have very quickly cratered.

A trip to Indiana on Saturday followed by a late December home date with Kentucky loom on the non-conference slate before an unforgiving ACC schedule commences in early January. But what the feisty Cardinals have already proven  this year is that they already have the ability to compete with top-10 teams. We will see very soon where that puts them in the conference pecking order, but the early returns lend a lot of optimism for the immediate and long-term future of Louisville basketball — something that would have sounded incredible just eight short months ago.

Matthew Auerbach (60 Posts)


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