LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- On Saturday, the Louisville men’s basketball team will do something the Cardinals have not done since Dec. 1: play a basketball game.
Go crazy, folks. Go crazy.
That the game will be a difficult game — at No. 12 Wisconsin in the Kohl Center in Madison — would have been the story two weeks ago.
Today, the story is simply that the Cardinals are playing a game.
After having one game canceled and two postponed.
After one of their players tested positive for the novel coronavirus, pushing the percentage of Louisville players who have had this virus to 90% of the roster since last summer.
That the Cards were forced to take nine days away from practice when coach Chris Mack said he had never given a team more than four consecutive days away from practice in-season prior to this month.
That they will play against the Badgers with seven or eight scholarship players, which means Louisville will likely be without more than Malik Williams, Charles Minlend and Josh Nickleberry, who have battled non-COVID injuries.
“Here we took off nine days basically and didn’t practice,” Mack said. “Some of those guys weren’t allowed to leave their rooms.
“So it was a challenge just to get our guys back in shape. I’m sure we’re not 100% there.
“So it doesn’t necessarily feel like we’re starting the season over, but it’s certainly feels a little awkward trying to get your guys back in shape mid-season.”
Louisville sits at 4-0, one of four unbeaten teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The Cardinals have played as many games as Florida State and Virginia. They have played more than Wake Forest and North Carolina State (a team they were supposed to play Wednesday but will now play at a future date).
The other 10 teams in the ACC have played more games. That’s the way it has been during this unusually challenging season.
Only two non-league games remain — Saturday against Wisconsin, a team picked to finish near the top of the Big Ten, and Kentucky, which is scheduled to visit the KFC Yum! Center Dec. 26. A trip to Pittsburgh for their ACC opener will split those assignments.
Ken Pomeroy’s analytics site has Louisville losing to the Badgers by four but beating Kentucky by the same margin.
These are tricky times for computer projections. It’s difficult forecasting what Louisville will do because even Mack remains uncertain which players will be available.
Samuell Williamson, a guy expected to be Louisville’s most prolific frontcourt player, said that he will return from dislocated toe to play against Wisconsin.
“I think we're very anxious to play this Saturday after this little two week layoff,” Williamson said.
“One of the things we talked about this season is adaptability and being able to adapt to schedule changes, cancellations, and all that type of stuff.
“All across the country it's going to be a very unique season and I think our ability to just kind of stay together and keep pushing through some of these tough times when we get a canceled game or postponement I think will benefit us.
In Williamson’s absence, freshmen Dre Davis and JJ Traynor have been outstanding. Maybe forcing freshmen to play more minutes in December will create a deeper more dynamic team in February or March or whenever the NCAA Tournament is played.
“Yeah, I sure hope so,” Mack said. “I think one guy’s lost opportunity can become another guy’s opportunity.
“They’re going to get to experience things in games where failure happens and they have to learn from it. They don’t have to necessarily just sit on the sidelines and learn what Dwayne Sutton or Jordan Nwora are doing or if they were out there what would happen.
“They’re getting great game experience. I’d like to think that as we move into different months here over the winter that we become a fuller team roster wise and those guys now have greater experience than they would have they not had those opportunities.”
Starting with an actual game Saturday.
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