LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The Louisville men's basketball program has certainly had a lot of moving parts ahead of their upcoming 2021-22 season.
Six players departed the program since the end of last season - including starting guards Carlik Jones and David Johnson - with eight newcomers taking their place. Even the coaching staff has some new faces with Kahil Fennell and Ross McMains replacing Dino Gaudio and Luke Murray.
Both the on-court roster and assistant coaching staff comprises of more individuals who are in their first year at their new position, than those who are returners from last season. Even in the age of one-and-dones and the transfer portal, from the outside looking in, it appeared that Louisville would be behind the eight ball when it came to preparing for the upcoming season - at least comparatively speaking to other teams.
Even with all the change, including a completely overhauled offensive system, head coach Chris Mack thinks his team is right on schedule. Even if it isn't perfect.
"I like where we're at, but we've got a long ways to go," he said at the program's annual Media Day. "I'm sure our players, after practicing against each other for a couple of weeks, they want to play against different bodies. But we've got a lot of things that we've got to tackle before we get to that point."
The main adjustment for this crop of Cardinals, both among newcomers and returners alike, has been the introduction of a new offensive system spearheaded by McMains. Under this new approach, highlighted by spacing and constant ball movement, Louisville is hoping to play at a much faster pace than last season.
Fortunately, the player bought into the system from the start. The hardest part has been breaking old tendencies, such as letting the ball come to them as opposed to vice versa, and letting the system take over. It's not perfect yet, but Mack likes the job that McMains has done with the players in regards to the new offense.
"Some days we look closer to mastering it, and other days we look like it just got introduced that day - especially with the turnovers that are bound to happen at certain times in practice," Mack said. "But it's been great. I think (McMains) has done a terrific job."
Entering the preseason, the defensive side of the court was lagging behind the offensive, but that was mainly due to using the summer to implement the new offensive scheme. There has been heavy focus on defense since the preseason started earlier this month, and while it is starting to catch up with the Cardinals' offensive acumen, Mack would like it to be in a better place.
"We have older guys returning guys that understand our system, so we feel like we have more than the four coaches on the floor," he said. "We're getting there, we have to. We have to get some of the newer guys and younger guys to play with more consistency, and a bigger voice, and again, match the physicality they're going to see in the college game."
Speaking of physicality, one thing Mack wants to see is an overall increase in toughness - particularly on the defensive end with block outs and ball screen defense. Over on offense, he wants to see guys keep things a bit simpler, such as opting for the close pass instead of a long bounce pass.
Louisville will see their first in-game action in just over a week, when they take on Kentucky State in an exhibition matchup on Oct. 29. While Mack likes where his team is at, more work has to be done between now and when they take on the Thoroughbreds.
"We've got to continue - especially over these next couple of weeks before we play Kentucky State," he said. "Then we'll have more of an opportunity once that game ends to figure out where we go from there."
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