Beleaguered Cardinals Are Virginia’s Bridge to Shared ACC Title

Ken Cross

March 08, 2023 at 9:30 am.

No. 13 Virginia used a quick 20-8 start over the first 10 minutes of last Saturday’s 75-60 win over Louisville allowing the Cavaliers to tie No. 16 Miami for the Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season championship.

The Hurricanes outlasted No. 25 Pitt, 78-76, in an exciting win as Miami became the No. 1-seed for this week’s ACC Tournament, while Virginia is placed with the No. 2 seed. The Hurricanes stopped the Cavaliers, 66-64, in Watsco Center in Miami back on Dec. 20 to claim the head-to-head advantage.

Virginia made 7-of-12 field goals to start a game in which they were never threatened. Louisville played the Cavaliers in a tough matchup in mid-February in the KFC Yum! Center as Virginia outlasted the Cardinals, 61-58.

Louisville basketball is a terrifying shell of the team’s domination throughout the Denny Crum and Rick Pitino eras in River City. The Cardinals have three national championships and 12 Finals Fours from that era.

Crum, who led Louisville to titles in 1980 and 1986, was the Cardinals’ head coach from 1971-2001 where he authored a 675-295 record as he won 69.6 percent of his contests.

Now, they’re starting the program over due to some superfluous activity that proved the incompetence of people who were pretending to be in a position of running Louisville athletics.

That is not to take anything away from new coach Kenny Payne, who has worked hard with his staff to try to build a foundation to allow this program to grow once again.

This season shows a team that is 4-27 with a 2-18 ACC ledger after Payne was hired last March 18 following the firing of Chris Mack in early February when the Cardinals had limped to a 6-8 ledger. Mack’s biggest problem was the lack of respect and acknowledgment of the excellent coaching skills, on and off the floor, of Coach Dino Gaudio, who recruited Mack to Xavier to continue his playing career.

The fall of the Cardinals to this level started with the questionable firing of Coach Rick Pitino in 2017. He was accused of a scheme to send cash to families of potential Louisville recruits.

Then-Louisville president Gregory Postel was questioned by critics in his going through the termination of Pitino, whose lawyers had shown that there was no proof that the Hall of Fame coach was involved in any illicit hookups with Adidas.

Pitino’s career in Louisville lasted from 2001-2017 as he brought the school much more notice with back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2012 and 2013 when the Cardinals beat Michigan for the national championship.

Pitino made Louisville an extension of Crum’s career which upset many Kentucky alumni, boosters and fans because many of them saw this as a slap at UK since Pitino had chosen Louisville. He also won a national championship with the Wildcats where he posted a 219-50 ledger.

He led Kentucky for eight years and won the NCAA title in 1996 as he pushed the ‘Cats into the Final Four on three different occasions.

Firing Pitino, who was 415-141 as the Cardinals’ coach, looked like a strike in favor of Kentucky, but Postel’s actions created problems from which Louisville hasn’t recovered.

The Cardinals continue to try to fix their situation with a solid coach in Payne, who played at Louisville from 1986-89 and was on the 1986 national championship team.

He also was John Calipari’s assistant at Kentucky from 2010-2020 after spending five years as an Oregon assistant. Last season before his move back to the ‘Ville, he was working as an assistant coach to Tom Thibodeau with the New York Knicks.

Cardinals guards El Ellis and Mike James have been solid performers in the Louisville backcourt this season. The ability to win games and do it consistently has been absent after three consecutive one-point losses to mid-major programs to begin the year.

As Payne goes into his second season in 2023-24, fixing the roster back to where the Cardinals can compete with ACC competition will be the top objective.

Payne is an excellent coach with a deep knowledge of the game, but the staff has to find high-level players who have finished their high school careers or a group of transfers who can come in and play with solid consistency and togetherness.

Meanwhile, on the hardwood, the Cardinals had a tough afternoon in facing a Virginia team that would share the ACC title with a win over Louisville.

Jayden Garner and Armaan Franklin led the Cavs with 16 points each as both engineered runs that were central to Virginia’s ability to control the game.

Louisville’s Mike James led all scorers with 24 points as he and El Ellis were able to get to the line off the dribble and they combines to make 14-of-16 free throws.

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