Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Tonight’s Lede. The Inevitable Letdowns of the Non-conference Season. The college hoops non-conference calendar is a frenetic joyride of excitement and disappointment. You get action-packed stretches filled with tasty match-ups between powerhouse teams, like last week, where the Maui Invitational and B4A and PNIT brought served up a nonstop dose of high-stakes fun. Powerhouses battled – some took their licks, while others triumphed. Whatever your rooting interest, those early season tournaments – most of which have now passed us by – were as good as early season tournament basketball gets. Then you get days like last night, a lull of a slate featuring few (if any) intriguing games, and the end result is a drastic letdown on the hoops viewing interest meter. Disappointment is unavoidable. Boredom is inevitable. Never to disappoint us in an extended context, the schedule ramps up tonight with the ACC-Big Ten challenge, and if you haven’t poured over those matchups yet, believe me when I say that you won’t be disappointed. So rejoice in surviving night’s lifeless slate is past us, and prepare for a the thrill of top-25 outfits engaging in inter-conference warfare. In case you’re interested in the little that did go down Monday, here’s a breakdown of the night’s most important action.
Your Watercooler Moment. Dieng’s Broken Wrist Spoils UK Matchup, And That’s About it.
If Gorgui Dieng follows his projected healing trajectory, the broken wrist he suffered in Friday’s B4A semifinal win against Missouri is merely a minor hindrance – but nothing a team as talented and deep as the Cardinals can’t overcome – for every game over the next six weeks. Don’t get me wrong: Lousville faces no cupcake slate over the next six weeks. But with the emergence of hyper-athletic forward Montrezl Harrell, and reliable backup pieces like Stephen Van Treese and Zach Price, the Cardinals are more than capable of getting by the likes of Illinois State, College of Charleston and Memphis. There’s one huge exception: Lousville’s Dec. 29 date with Kentucky. Barring a medical miracle, college basketball’s most heated rivalry (ok, ok. Duke, UNC fans. Here’s your obligatory mention) will not be played with both sides full strength. That’s a massive disappointment; the UK-UL test is one of the best nonconference dates in any given year, and to know that one of the nation’s best defensive players won’t partake in the festivities is downright discouraging. And after last year’s Final Four defeat, where Lousville gave the one-and-done thoroughbreads from Lexington as strong a defensive test as they faced all season, the Cardinals are in a rare position of advantage heading into this year’s rendition. Louisville would do well to seize the moment – considering the generational crop of freshman talent coming to Lexington next season – but the loss of Dieng may level the playing field. Besides that one-game handicap, though, Louisville shouldn’t worry all that much about their ailing center. He’ll be back in time for the majority of league play. The Cardinals may lose the state crown for a year – or at least be severely hampered going in – but other than that, the long-term impact isn’t exactly season-altering.
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