LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Heading into the 2021-22 season, one of the larger storylines surrounding the Louisville's men's basketball was the depth of the team, and how the coaching staff was going to utilize it. Most of the discussion revolved around the guards and wings, but after some depth concerns at the five spot in previous years under head coach Chris Mack, it seemed like the Cardinals were going to be in much better shape there.
Of course, the conversation starts with fifth-year forward/center Malik Williams, who has made a name for himself as a defensive stalwart down in the post. Sophomores center Gabe Wiznitzer and forward J.J. Traynor were back for another year, then JUCO forward Sydney Curry and true freshman Roosevelt Wheeler entered the fold.
Much like at the guard and wing positions, through the first eight games of the season, the rotation at the five spot is far from set in stone. Williams has been the go-to guy, averaging just over 27 minutes per game, but the depth chart behind him has seemingly been different every game.
Curry actually started in the season-opener against Southern, but has played in just four of the next seven games. Wheeler has shown early flashes of promise in the six games he has played thus far. Traynor has played just eight total minutes across the first two games of the season.
One of the more interesting developments with the frontcourt rotation came in Louisville's most recent game at NC State. Making his season debut in the game prior at Michigan State thanks to a preseason wrist injury, Wiznitzer served as the primary backup against the Wolfpack.
"(Gabe) was right there as Malik's backup when he got hurt," head coach Chris Mack said. "Now, having said that, it wasn't by a wide margin. He had the benefit of experience from his freshman year, that Syd and Rose didn't have, and those two made quantum leaps during that time."
But in the same breath, Mack noted that every big man needs to step up moving forward, saying that they "need continual improvement out of all of our bigs," including that of their fifth-year co-captain Williams.
"They're not where we want them to be, period," Mack said.
The fourth year head coach of the Cardinals noted that every big brings something different to the table. Wiznitzer is a more cerebral player, and has a good understanding of screening angles and the importance of paint touches. Curry and Wheeler are much more physical and and better finishers around the rim.
But Mack is not so much focused on what each big individually brings to the table, but more so what they don't. Until someone establishes themself as the go-to center off the bench, Louisville is likely to continue having a shifting rotation in the paint.
"It could go game-to-game on who's gonna back up Malik, depending on how well guys are improving, and what the game sort of calls for with the matchup, and how the other team offensively plays and defensively plays," he said.
But on the bright side, Louisville does not have to rely on one single person to play the lion's share of minutes at the five, which benefits them greatly with the high-tempo offense they run. That being said, each backup big is still going to have to earn their keep to even see the floor.
"Everybody's gonna have their moment, everybody's gonna have their moment to shine," Malik Williams said. "You just got to stick with and earn those minutes in practice. Having four bigs, it's not much time out on the floor. You got to earn everything that you're gonna get."
(Photo of Roosevelt Wheeler, Tyson Walker: Nick King - Lansing State Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK)
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