LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) — Chris Mack put a punctuation mark on his first season as the University of Louisville basketball coach Wednesday, even posting a final grade.
Mack discussed his roster, his schedule, his aspirations and several other topics.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Mack said. “Now the guys know me. They know what I’m about.”
Time for Five Takeaways from Mack’s season-ending press conference.
1. Mack’s Final Grade: B
The longest pause after any question Mack answered during his 30-minute session came after he was asked to grade the Cardinals’ performance during their 20-14 season that ended with a first-round NCAA Tournament loss to Minnesota.
“Pins and needles,” he said.
A longer pause.
“Probably a B,” he said. “You know, probably a B.”
Bump it up to a B-plus.
Louisville was picked to finish 11th in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cards finished tied for sixth with Syracuse with a 10-8 league record. Their computer ranking on Ken Pomeroy’s analytics web site climbed from 63 in November to 23 this week.
Their offensive efficiency improved from No. 57 to 27. Their defensive efficiency jumped from No. 39 to 25.
They defeated Michigan State, which could win the national championship. They defeated Seton Hall, Vermont, North Carolina and Virginia Tech, NCAA Tournament teams.
Mack and his staff secured commitments from a six-player freshman class that is considered one of the nation’s 10 best.
The coach said he marked his team down because the Cards lost seven of their last 10. Actually, after winning at Wake Forest on Jan,. 30, Louisville went 4-9 in February and March.
But a wide-angle view of the season shows more celebrations than crying towels. Make it a B-plus.
2. Cards’ Roster Fluid
The primary roster news Mack shared was that the Cards’ three walk-ons — sophomores Jacob Redding and Jo Griffin as well as freshman Wyatt Battaile — have entered their names in the NCAA transfer portal.
Two scholarship players — forward Jordan Nwora and center Steven Enoch — have made themselves eligible for the NBA Draft but with the option to return.
“We’re always recruiting,” Mack said. “We don’t ever stand still.”
That said, Mack said he did not expect to add another freshman. The Cards signed six last fall. Adding a seventh would make it difficult to balance the classes.
But a graduate transfer or an underclassman who would be required to sit out the season are both possibilities. Christen Cunningham and Khwan Fore, graduate transfer guards, gave Louisville poise and stability this season.
Mack said if Enoch or Nwora asked for his opinion about their current outlooks as NBA players, he would share it.
“I would absolutely offer my opinion,” he said. “That’s what it is, an opinion.
“It’s an honest one and I think a valid one. Those are my thoughts. It’s not going to be combative. They can trust that I’d give them an honest opinion.”
With the draft situation and more than 700 Division I transfers expected, Mack said Louisville’s roster will not be settled until the summer.
“It’s 2019,” Mack said. “Rosters are fluid … I’m looking forward to having 13 guys on scholarship.”
3. Not a Fan Of ACC Opener
With the Atlantic Coast Conference expanding from 18 to 20 league games next season and the league’s television network signing on in August, ACC teams will open with a conference game next season.
Louisville will play at Miami on Nov. 5.
No Nicholls State. No Southern University. No Vermont.
Directly to Dade County, Fla., for a game against Jim Larranaga’s team.
“I’m not a huge fan,” Mack said. “It is what it is.”
4. No Summer Tour
NCAA guidelines allow Division I programs to take one summer foreign tour every four seasons. Louisville could schedule a tour this summer. But Mack said that will not happen.
Mack said he was open to scheduling a foreign trip in 2020, which would be a major benefit to the six freshmen who will join his program next season.
Mack also said he was interested in booking the Cardinals for a top-tier November tournament like the Maui Invitational or the Battle 4 Atlantis, but nothing was booked.
Mack said he expected Louisville’s 2019-20 schedule to remain formidable as the schedule the Cardinals played this season with 20 games in the ACC, Kentucky, Western Kentucky and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge.
“About 80-to-90 percent of the schedule is hammered out before you sit down in your chair,” he said.
5. Malik Williams Game Plan
Mack has big plans for Malik Williams, the Cards’ top returning frontcourt player. Williams improved his scoring average from 3.8 to 7.7 this season, while also delivering an improved rebounding average of 6.1 after collecting only 2.4 last season.
“Malik made as big of an improvement as anybody on our team,” Mack said. “He became a really good defender, virtually every game.”
Mack, like any coach, wants more, especially on offense. He said that he asked Williams what his calling card was as an offensive player.
Williams told his coach that he was not sure.
“I thought that was a great answer, because he’s right,” Mack said.
Mack said that he wanted Williams to become a stronger low-post player while also improving his three-point shot. Williams took nearly 43 percent of his field-goal attempts from distance but made only 28 of 88 (31.8 percent).
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