For weeks now, we've waited for answers on Louisville. How would this team react to the loss of its head coach, Rick Pitino? What would be the immediate repercussions of the FBI's investigation of the Cardinals program? Could this team really function as the top-25-caliber group that was expected and do so under 32-year-old acting head coach David Padgett?
Those answers are now, finally, starting to trickle in. After four wins against overmatched opponents at home, Louisville lost at Purdue 66-57. The result was, perhaps, to be expected. Life on the road is tough, and the Boilermakers might yet round into form after losing close games to Tennessee and Western Kentucky at the Battle 4 Atlantis.
Still, seeing Padgett's group not only play its first road game but also face its first formidable opponent brought some clarity to post-traumatic-stress Louisville. This is what we think we know now about the Cardinals:
Seen from 30,000 feet, this team looks surprisingly "normal"
The nine-point margin at the final buzzer against the Boilers is somewhat misleading because Louisville had a chance to win this game. The Cardinals trailed by two with less than 90 seconds to play before Matt Painter's team closed the contest on a 10-3 run. Playing into the 40th minute on the road against Purdue is a scenario that most Louisville fans would have taken in a heartbeat when the news of the charges against the program first broke two months ago. The Cardinals are still here and still competing. That in itself is no small thing.
Louisville's size should keep it in a lot of games
Pitino might be gone, but Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud are still here, and they're listed at 6-foot-10 and 7-foot, respectively. Opponents had a tough time making 2s against those guys last season, and early indications are that this will continue to be a strength. Even in victory, Purdue made just 41 percent of its attempts inside the arc against the Louisville defense.
Still, the Cardinals need made shots -- badly
Last season, this team surprised a fair number of people by hitting 51 percent of its 2s and 38 percent of its 3 in ACC play. Donovan Mitchell had something to do with those very good numbers, but he's now a member of the Utah Jazz.
Maybe it shouldn't come as a surprise, then, that in this post-Mitchell (and post-Pitino) incarnation, Louisville has made just 49 percent of its 2s and 33 percent of its 3s on the season. Indeed, at Purdue, the Cardinals were shut out more or less completely inside the arc, connecting on just 31 percent of their attempts from 2-point land. Deng Adel went 5-of-15 from the floor against the Boilermakers as Louisville mustered just 57 points in a 73-possession game.
Some points off turnovers would really come in handy
Adel recorded a couple of transition baskets off of interceptions against Purdue, and if you were squinting, it looked kind of like vintage Louisville. Nevertheless, the Boilermakers committed fewer turnovers (11) than did the Cardinals (14).
When you think of Pitino and Louisville, you think of harassed opponents forced into recording a high number of fatigued turnovers. That would be a most welcome source of offense, certainly, for a Cardinals team that struggled to score in the half court in West Lafayette.
Louisville now gets a chance to work on all of the above -- at home
The Cardinals will play six of their next seven games at home. (The other contest, against Memphis at Madison Square Garden next month, appears to be winnable.) Included in the home games will be tests against the likes of Seton Hall and Indiana, so we should get a good sense of where Padgett's team is before the start of the ACC season.
Yes, the offense is sluggish right now, and, no, Quentin Snider hasn't yet found the range from beyond the arc (where he's 6-of-25 on the season). But given the shock and turmoil that enveloped this program at the end of September, a 4-1 start heading into a long homestand doesn't look so bad. This team is a work in progress, but Padgett's bunch has size, pride and a lot of time between now and Selection Sunday.