(Photo of Chris Mack: Scott Utterback - Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
LOUISVILLE, Ky. - Several factors came into play that led to the Louisville men's basketball program missing out on the NCAA Tournament this past Some were ones that the Cardinals had little to no control over, such as two of their top three most experienced players being sidelined for long periods of time, or a pair of COVID pauses that left the program without much sustained momentum.
However, some Louisville could take into their own hands and improve upon. The first ones that come to mind are an at times stagnant offense that featured little to no off ball movement, as well as an apparent lack of effort on both ends of the floor.
But another factor that played a significant role in the Cardinals' 13-7 campaign was their abysmal three-point field goal shooting. Louisville shot just 30.8% on three point attempts, a mark that ranked 297th out of 340 active Division I teams last year. In other words, it was in the bottom 13% in all of D1.
"We need to improve the three point shooting, there's no question," head coach Chris Mack said in his season-ending press conference. "We have to find the guys (in the transfer portal) that can really help this team do the things that we want to do."
Fortunately for Louisville, Mack went and found the guys in the portal that can help the program out immensely in the three-point shooting department. The Cardinals landed commitments from not one, not two, but three transfers who shot 40% or better on threes during the 2020-21 season: forward Matt Cross, and guards Jarrod West and Noah Locke.
Cross only played in 14 games and averaged 26.4 minutes during his freshman season at Miami, but he made the most of it. He connected on 20 of his 50 three-point attempts for an even 40.0% shooting, also averaging 44.9% from the field and 6.9 points.
Being a graduate transfer from Marshall, West also brings a wealth of experience on top of his three-point shooting acumen. He connected on 42 of his 103 attempts to shoot 40.8% last season, and is a career 37.9% shooter with 220 made threes. Not only did he average 12.5 points and 6.0 assists last season- the 12th most in the nation - but 2.5 steals, and is the Thundering Herd's all-time steals leader at 254.
Locke is a tad less experienced than West, but he is arguably the most prolific sharpshooter of the bunch. With a career 217 made three-pointers in three years at Florida, he has just three less than West's total of 220 in four years at Marshall. He averaged 40.4% on long balls (57-141) in 25 games last season, accompanied by 10.6 points, and is a career 40.3% three-point shooter.
Louisville's seven players who are expected or confirmed to return next season - Samuell Williamson, Quinn Slazinski, J.J. Traynor, Dre Davis, Gabe Wiznitzer, Jae'Lyn Withers and Malik Williams - combined to shoot just 27.8% on three-point attempts last season. If you add Cross, West and Locke's totals, and it skyrockets to 35.9% - which would have equaled 75th in D1.
Oh, and did we mention two of Louisville's three Class of 2021 signees are also prolific sharpshooters? JUCO point guard El Ellis shot 41.7% on three-point attempts during his sophomore year at Tallahassee Community College, and wing Michael James connected on 43.5% of his threes during his senior year at Oak Ridge (Fla.).
Basically, five of Louisville's six newcomers shot 40% or better on three-point attempts during their previous year of competition. Heading into last season, a common question was: 'who will shoot threes?' Thanks in part to Mack's recruiting in the transfer portal, this should be far from a concern for the 2021-22 season.
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