Despite win, Louisville feels negative effects of Chris Jones' dismissal
Well, on the bright side, at least Louisville didn't lose.
And maybe that's the problem. There was no Chris Jones, tons of distractions, a fight from a Georgia Tech team that sits near the bottom of the ACC and Louisville escaped with a one-point win. This was a perfect opportunity for the Cardinals, in the wake of the Jones dismissal, to make a statement. To prove any doubters wrong. To prove their coach was right in booting one of the most talented players off the team.
Instead, Louisville looked like a team with an even bigger identity crisis.
Forget the comeback from as many as 13 down in the second half to beat the Yellow Jackets, 52-51. That frankly, was more an indictment on Georgia Tech than anything else. Louisville wasted a chance to erase doubt from its own mind that it can still be a title contender, even without Jones on the roster.
Did you see that first half?
The first 20 minutes were about as empty a performance as a team can turn in. Seventeen points, repeated easy paths to the basket for Georgia Tech, zero pressure from Louisville's defense. Not coincidentally, all of the pieces to the puzzle to which Jones was so integral.
In the words of Rick Pitino: "Chris Jones is not walking through that door."
Louisville played that half like it had no clue how to exist without Jones. And if you're a Cardinal fan, that's the scary part: that this is a team that can so easily slip into a mindset that allows lackluster play like that to happen.
Had it been any other conference opponent other than Georgia Tech—12-16 overall and 3-13 in the league—on the other side of the floor, Louisville likely is licking its wounds. And if Louisville thought its trip to Indianapolis was a tough one, its fans might want to cover their eyes over the final three games of the regular-season.
At Florida State. Home against No. 9 Notre Dame. Home against No. 2 Virginia.
Losing Jones was going to cause some ripple effects, there's little doubt in that. He played the third-most minutes, scored the third-most points, dished out the most assists, had the most steals … well, you get the picture. He was a focal point to what the Cardinals do on both ends of the floor. His aggressiveness helped set up the defensive press, his court vision helped free up Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell to score. And he was the player who had the ball in his hands when the big shot needed to be taken.
But given the revelations of his actions toward a former girlfriend earlier Monday—sending a text message where he reportedly threatened to "smack TF (the f---) out of" her—Pitino had no choice but to boot Jones.
Still, this wasn't a surprise decision.
Jones was suspended for last week's game at Syracuse, with Pitino not mincing words about the guard's future. He returned to what appeared to be normalcy over the weekend against Miami, before being kicked off the team on Sunday. The Louisville locker room knew that Jones' future was, at the very least, up in the air. So to come out for what should've been an easy win against Georgia Tech in such underwhelming fashion is alarming for a team ranked in the top-10 at the beginning of the month.
The only reason the Cardinals survived is by the sheer determination of Rozier. He scored 18 of Louisville's last 26 points to finish the game, a stat that is equal parts impressive and frightening. Harrell was locked up once again, scoring just eight points. Wayne Blackshear had a forgettable 10 points. That was it.
Freshman Quentin Snider has shown himself capable of running the offense, but Pitino seems reluctant to let him do anything but that right now. And the bench? Yeah, that's not going to save Louisville this season; six players combined to play 20 minutes.
But hey, on the bright side, at least Louisville didn't lose. The problem is there's still plenty more season left.