Louisville stares into the abyss
The concern is not another losing season. It's losing the program altogether
First things first: Exhibition games don’t matter. Oh, sure, they’re fun, they’re respite from the offseason, and they serve the late-October purpose of getting fans back into the habit of watching and thinking about their teams. If you squint and think hard enough you can pretend they’re important. That’s been easier this year than ever, what with last weekend’s smattering of high-quality competitive true road games (Tennessee at Michigan, Purdue at Arkansas, Kansas at Illinois) in full stadiums benefitting Maui disaster relief. Sitting on my couch Sunday, it was very easy to convince myself the games were real.
They were not. They were fun, but they were fake. (This was frustrating in turn: Maybe next time we just schedule these awesome true road games next week instead? No? Just me?) You could see, say, Kansas’s players holding back physically, not quite leaving everything out there, for obvious reasons. (Other than Hunter Dickinson, who should have been called for a flagrant foul.) You can especially see this affect at your typical lightly attended exhibitions against overpowered Division II teams. The favorites coast, tune up, try not to get injured, and only bring any real intensity when they feel they might be about to get embarrassed. Everybody knows the drill. Nothing that happens before next week really counts.
Louisville being the exception.
That’s right, folks: We need to talk about Louisville again. On Monday night, Louisville lost at home, 71-68, to Division II Kentucky Wesleyan. Here’s the box score. It ain’t pretty.
This was very bad, obviously, because a program like Louisville should basically never lose to a program like Kentucky Wesleyan, no matter what kind of game. It was also very bad because it pointed toward a notion Louisville fans had spent all summer cautiously hoping wasn’t going to be the case: That their proud program, which suffered an exhibition loss last fall and then went 4-28 and finished 290th in KenPom, hadn’t improved at all in the interim.
But it was, still, just an exhibition. It happens. High-major teams lose exhibition games every fall. It really shouldn’t matter.
It was what came after the loss — what Payne said about his team and talent, and what it suggests about where he is in the job right now — that made the whole thing so much worse. If an exhibition loss matters, it matters because of vibes, and the vibes at Louisville are already atrocious.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to Buzzer by Eamonn Brennan to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.