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It's not yet time for Louisville basketball to hit the panic button

Louisville Courier-Journal logo Louisville Courier-Journal 2/18/2020 Hayes Gardner, Courier Journal

The past week's performance was disappointing and the losses unseemly, but that doesn’t mean it’s time yet for Louisville fans to hit the panic button on the season.

The Cardinals were flying high on a 10-game winning streak, including a win at Duke and removing a monkey from their back with a victory over Virginia, but that all changed with a nightmarish week. Not that it needs rehashing, but Louisville posted back-to-back deflating losses to pedestrian ACC foes, dropping nationally from No. 5 to No. 11 and likely at least one seed line.

Poor shooting was one ailment, but more concerning was the benching of star Jordan Nwora and uninspired play.

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It may have left Louisville fans with a foreboding feeling. How could a Final Four hopeful lose two-straight games to unranked teams?

Well, it happens. Good teams lose games, especially on the road and especially on off shooting nights. The Cardinals do have issues, but it doesn’t mean their season is doomed.

Of last year’s Final Four teams, three — yes, three — lost back-to-back conference games to unranked teams at some point in February or late January. Texas Tech lost three straight to unranked teams, and after Michigan State lost three-straight to unranked teams, two of which came against teams that missed the NCAA Tournament, coach Tom Izzo was dismayed.

“I don’t know,” he told reporters after the loss on Feb. 5 of last year. “I’ve just never seen some of the things that happened today happen. It’s unexplainable.”

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Less than two months later, his Spartans topped juggernaut Duke on their way to a regional crown and a Final Four appearance.

Good teams lose games, even to seemingly inexplicable opponents in seemingly inexplicable ways, but still find a way to bounce back. Louisville still has a chance to do that. Although the Cardinals' recent performance shows otherwise, their larger body of work shows that they are a team capable of winning lots of games and beating good teams. I’m not sure we can dismiss the first 24 games because of two stumbles.

Nwora’s benching is dispiriting — not the decision that he wouldn’t start, but that Mack felt the Preseason ACC Player of the Year's play necessitated bringing him off the bench. But each game, freshman David Johnson seems to display more and more talent and a touch more discipline. He set a personal best with 8 assists against Clemson, scored 12 points and posted his first 0-turnover game since seeing heavy minutes.

If Mack’s message to Nwora gets through, Johnson continues his elevated play, and other things fall into place, this two-game bump might just be that — a bump, and not a barrier to further success.

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“We certainly know that we’ve fallen short the last couple games, but we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” Mack said on Monday’s ACC teleconference. “We have to understand that for the large majority of the season we’ve been really, really good. We’ve just got to figure out what’s gone wrong in the last couple games and do our best to fix it.”

Losing to a couple of mediocre teams isn’t what Louisville had planned for last week, but the Cardinals now have a pair of very winnable home games against Syracuse and North Carolina. Some sharp showings and the Cardinals can quickly wash away those two losses and begin to round into the postseason form they’ll need if they want to win the ACC Tournament and make a run in the Big Dance.

If Louisville drops those two games, well, it might be time to get the panic button out.

An unfortunate stretch for Bellarmine

Once ranked No. 1 and the only remaining undefeated in Division II, Bellarmine has seen a rough stretch recently. The Knights began the year 14-0, but then lost six of eight, and now boast a record of 17-6. The worst part hasn't been the losses, though, it's how they've come.

They saw their undefeated season snapped with an overtime loss followed by a narrow loss in which they had a shot to tie with seconds remaining. Then, a ridiculous stretch: the Knights lost four of five games, each one on a 3-pointer made in the final six seconds.

The Knights ended that run with an easy win Saturday and have four more regular season games before their final postseason as a Division II school begins.

Social Hour

Seth Davis made his Final Four picks last week. He didn't project Louisville or Kentucky.

A great look at Ja Morant, who is on his way to earning this season's NBA Rookie of the Year award.

A reasonable answer from Kentucky's Nate Sestina.

Every college basketball season is weird, but this one is weirder.

What we're reading

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Is Jordan Nwora still a Player of the Year candidate? A first round NBA Draft Pick?

Bleacher Report's story on Vince Carter: The Making of Vinsanity

Profile on recent All-Star and former UK Wildcat Bam Adebayo, from ESPN

Hayes Gardner can be reached at hgardner@gannett.com; Twitter: @HayesGardnerSupport strong local journalism by subscribing today: courier-journal.com/subscribe.

This article originally appeared on Courier Journal: It's not yet time for Louisville basketball to hit the panic button

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