The Season Unwinds

Mark Stoops argued a call with the referee during the Cats' 59-17 loss to Georgia. Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer.

Mark Stoops argued a call with the referee during the Cats’ 59-17 loss to Georgia. Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer.

JONES: I’ll start this week. You always get to start. There were disappointing games for both teams this weekend. UofL won in football, but it was a disappointing win and even more disappointing in a basketball loss, while Kentucky football had their worst performance of the year. But lets start with basketball. Are you worried about what you saw on Sunday long-term or are you just writing it off as one bad game?

VANETTI: It certainly is concerning. I was just so riding high from the National Championship and so many pieces back, and all our worst nightmares come crashing down on Sunday when Russ took over. But this is what you get when you get Russdiculous. You get 30-something points and a loss. He needs to score about 16 or 17 points and about seven or eight assists and I think Louisville will win. There’s just too many pieces of the puzzle back to lose like that to a mediocre team like North Carolina.

JONES: Exactly. They had their two guards Smith and Jones combining for 41 shots and two assists and you just can’t have that. I actually think it’s a little concerning because it showcased exactly what I thought was wrong with this team, which is people overlook the good things that the only two UofL players I’ve liked in a decade brought: Siva and Dieng. Siva was a great fifth guy and played hard nose defense and Dieng could clean up peoples’ mistakes and block shots. We saw Kentucky’s team last year, when Noel got hurt, when you’re not a very good fifth guy and then you lose your center, you’re in trouble. I do think there are some worries.  It’s not that they can’t fix them. But Tony, this team is not as good as last year’s team. Can we just accept that or are you still holding out that they could be?

 VANETTI: Those couldn’t be your two favorite players. You know you’re a huge Edgar Sosa fan with his poster above your bed…

 JONES: I actually didn’t mind Edgar Sosa…

Coach Rick Pitino called out a play during the UofL vs. NC game on Sunday. The Cards lost 93-84. Photo by J.D. LYON, JR. | UNC Athletics.

Coach Rick Pitino called out a play during the UofL vs. NC game on Sunday. The Cards lost 93-84. Photo by J.D. LYON, JR. | UNC Athletics.

VANETTI: You are correct, though, about the loss of Dieng. To tell you the truth, look at the success of the basketball program the last couple years surrounding the seven-footer that protects the rim. The better he got, the better UofL got.

 JONES: That’s a great point. Even the Final Four team that lost to Kentucky – that team took off when he took off.

 VANETTI: That’s exactly right. So I always thought that Mangok needs to start every single minute from the beginning of the season, especially with this super slow schedule. Let’s get this kid some minutes, lets try to get him as good as possible and get ready for March. I mean, who cares about these games? It’s not football, it’s basketball. Just get better for the middle of March and let’s go. Another thing is, North Carolina is good in the low post, but not great, and they owned Louisville in the second half. And again we have talked about this: fouls. Is is going to be a problem for Louisville this year?

 JONES: Well, we saw who it’s going to be a problem for. People have focused – myself included – on the two guards. Would it change Russ Smith and Chris Jones? Maybe a little bit, but not a lot. But where it really affects them is some of the bad defenders at the other positions, like Luke Hancock and Wayne Blackshear. Those guys really got exposed because when they can’t put their hands on guys, then they really struggle guarding anybody.

VANETTI: I’m sure you went to dinner that night and had dessert because you usually don’t and you were a little excited about the Louisville loss…

 JONES: Don’t get me wrong I was very excited to see a mediocre UNC team run Louisville off the court. Now, on the football side: for us that was a really embarrassing performance at Georgia. It was the first game all year where I felt like they didn’t compete. Mark Stoops on Monday actually said to the press that he thought they didn’t compete for the first time. And that’s tough because all the games this year, while they lost, they were competitive. But not this one. They were down 21-nothing within five minutes. I think the suspensions had a lot to do with it and it was just a tumultuous week and it will be an interesting test of Mark Stoops’ leadership ability if he is able to get everyone back on course and be competitive and maybe win against Tennessee next week.

 VANETTI: Stoops did a fantastic job getting people back into their seats and excited about football and the defensive set in a way and that it was going to be a long climb. They just didn’t think it was going to be this long. The other side: Louisville is being criticized as a 10-and-1 team. I don’t know why but everyone seems to be doing that. It is exhausting to win a football game and I don’t think sports fans realize how exhausting it is to win a regular season game. In any league, from high school to college to the NFL, to win a football game is so tough. And I don’t care who the opponent is.

 JONES: What do you mean it’s so tough? One of the two teams has to do it when you play. I mean, you act like it’s some impossible accomplishment. If two teams get on the field one has to win and Louisville has been better than the other team they’ve been playing in every game.

 VANETTI: But in basketball – and you know this because you’ve said it a lot – in basketball, if you have the two best players on one side of the basketball court on your team, then that team wins 80% of the time.

 JONES: And I agree with that. But in football when you have the better player at four of the five positions, which Louisville has probably had in every game – you could argue Central Florida – but in general, they’ve had the best talent at 80 percent of the positions in every game. They should be winning these games. I think what’s disappointing to Louisville fans – and they should be disappointed – is that they should be destroying teams like Memphis. That should not be a close game, and for it to come down to the last play is silly and I think it’s disappointing. But what’s even more disappointing is the fact that nobody showed up. You guys have arguably the best player to ever play at your school, by all indications it is his last game and you have like friends and family at the game. What gives?

 VANETTI: Louisville fans are high-maintenance. I have said it for years. You’ve got to  bring an opponent and the weather has to be perfect. Now last year, Charlie Strong compared us to Big Brother, which is the worst thing you can do to an actual person and/or a fan base. And it worked for about a year, and then reality set in. You’re talking about a schedule that is just so awful and the fan base was enthusiastic as possible until you started to mail games in. The team began mailing their performances in. If we won by one point, they ran off the field and said “we’re done, fantastic, mission accomplished”. Well, that’s not the reality of what fan bases want. They want you to drill Memphis. And when Eastern Kentucky is running all over you on the ground, that’s a problem.

 JONES: The other thing is, you’ve got to learn to control expectations. And when Charlie Strong says “we’re the best team in the country” both before and after the loss to UCF, then you shouldn’t be upset when fans go “why are we barely beating Memphis if we’re the best team in the country?” But still, Tony, I’ve got to ask: how is it possible that the fan base saying goodbye to its best player with 35,000 people is not a pathetic ending to the season?

 VANETTI: There were sales at Home Depot on Saturday and at Bed Bath and Beyond.