CRAWFORD | A hard fall (and winter): Four thoughts after the end of Louisville's season
Eric Crawford with four thoughts after Louisville ended its season with a blowout loss to Mississippi State.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The season is over. Mississippi State pounded Louisville 79-56 in the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament. Louisville has finished its season with a record of 22-14.
The Bulldogs handled Louisville nearly from the opening tip. Their defense was ineffective. Their offense was non-existent. They went long stretches without running a play, but merely dribbling into defenders waiting to slap the ball down and run the other way. After falling behind by 11 with just under five minutes to play in the second quarter, they never pulled back within single digits.
That's about all you need to know. Ray Spalding was really good. Spalding was really good all season. Nobody else had a night to write home about.
By way of a far-too hastily written and thought-out recap, a few thoughts.
1). CREDIT THIS TEAM. I know this team didn’t make it to the NCAA Tournament. It struggled against the top teams on its schedule. It also won as many games as the NCAA’s Sweet 16 as all but four of the teams in it. And it didn’t take losses to bad teams.
But most importantly, these guys found a spirit at the end of the season that they didn’t have all season. They didn’t want to play in the NIT. They were stung by not making the NCAA. It wasn’t what any of them wanted or planned. But they fed off the Louisville fans who showed up to the KFC Yum! Center for the games, and showed as much life as they could.
They lost to a more physical Mississippi State team. This team, as it is currently constructed, is flawed in some key areas.
But it had fun in the final week of its season, in probably the last tournament it expected would be fun.
These guys were dealt an extremely difficult hand. They lost their coach on the end of the season. They got a new coach who had no head-coaching experience. They played in a conference that made up a quarter of the Sweet 16.
They made mistakes and lost games they probably should have won.
They also didn’t do anything to embarrass the program, on the court or off. You didn’t read about them in court reports. They didn’t outlandish things in the media. They carried themselves well in victory and defeat.
Give them credit for that. None of this program’s turmoil was of their making, and they bore the brunt of all of it. They shouldn’t share the bad memory of those struggles, but for trying to represent the school as best they could in a bad situation.
2). CREDIT THE FAN BASE AT THE END OF THE SEASON. The fans who showed up for the NIT, who filled the KFC Yum Center’s lower bowl before tipoff and were standing when the ball was thrown up, they’re the fan base who can bring the program back.
I know, many of them will be sitting in the top of the arena once the season begins again next fall. These are the kinds of crowds I thought we’d see all year. They’re like those who filled Freedom Hall in its heyday. They brought some spirit back into this program. They helped bring some fun back.
With Louisville trailing by 20 and not playing very well on Tuesday night, they stayed engaged. They didn’t leave any games early, and even though a few left when the deficit got to 20 in the fourth quarter, an impressive number stayed. If you were still there -- and really, even those of you there Tuesday night who had to leave early -- you're the reason the program will weather all that is still to come and move forward.
3). CREDIT DAVID PADGETT. I’ve said this before, if Padgett has coached his last game as head coach of the Cardinals (for now), he can be proud of the job he has done and the way he has done it. He has run a marathon that he didn’t get to train for. He has worked for his players, kept them at the forefront every minute, never lost sight that he was given a job to try and help give them the best season they could achieve.
In a perfect world, a few of those guys would’ve blossomed a bit more and he’d have made it to the NCAA Tournament. But neither the world, nor players, nor Padgett was perfect. Neither was I, for that matter. Nor you.
I appreciate his staunch refusal to berate officials, even if at times I thought it cost him. In last night’s game, I wanted to see what the arena would’ve done if he’d gotten a technical foul, just for the heck of it. He didn’t.
Louisville, if you look at the Ken Pomeroy rankings, finished the season somewhere among the 35 best teams in the nation. As a first-year coach, not a ton of guys have done a lot better.
When the crowd chanted his name at the end of Tuesday's win, it was a nice touch.
4). WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? This is prediction time. It’s an educated prediction, but nonetheless just one man’s prediction. I won't waste a lot of time. I can give it to you in four sentences.
I expect Vince Tyra to be named the school’s permanent athletic director, possibly by the end of this week or early next week.
I expect women’s basketball coach Jeff Walz to be signed to a long-term extension soon.
I expect Chris Mack of Xavier to be named the next men’s basketball coach at the University of Louisville, sooner rather than later.
The season is over, but the next week or so should be interesting for Louisville.
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