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Pegues, Williams: Mack's Suspension Played Role in Team Disconnect

Out of all the factors that went into Chris Mack's departure from Louisville, his suspension earlier this season might have played a bigger role than previously thought.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. - There are a multitude of aggravating circumstances as to why Chris Mack is no longer the head coach of the Louisville men's basketball program.

A personality that didn't fit, a perceived lack of player development during his tenure, recruiting that didn't meet the Cardinals' standards, COVID pauses, and of course, the additional NCAA allegations that arose from former assistant Dino Gaudio's extortion attempt.

But something that seems to have also played a factor as to why Mack and the university mutually agreed to part ways earlier this week, and the team's overall disconnect towards the end of his tenure, was the suspension he served to start the season.

Last August, the university suspended Mack for the first six games of the year, stemming from his handling of the extortion attempt by Gaudio. While the university concluded that Mack was indeed a victim, he "failed to follow University guidelines, policies, and procedures in handling the matter".

Not only was Mack not allowed to be on the sidelines for those first six games, he was not allowed to have contact of any sort to anyone within the program for a 19-day span.

The program did as much as they could in the preseason to prepare for Mack's temporary ostracizing, but it had a much more profound impact on them than they anticipated.

"I think that changed everything," forward/center and co-captain Malik Williams said. "We went through the summer listening to (Mack), then we had to go through the toughest time throughout the beginning of our year. The time that we had together when we finally started playing games, he had to be voiceless."

Louisville struggled over their first four games. They had double-digit wins over Southern and Navy, but had to fend off Detroit Mercy and lost to Furman for the Cardinals' first home November loss in 49 years.

For the final two games of Mack's suspension, Louisville traveled to Nassau for the Baha Mar Hoops Bahamas Championship, and looked much improved. Playing with much more toughness and physicality, they took down Mississippi State and Maryland to win the neutral-court MTE.

"I think we finally found our identity when we went to the Bahamas," Williams said. "That's a whole different country, a whole different vibe, early morning game. It was a different vibe out there for us, and we became the 'Baha Bullies'. For those two games, I felt like we had an identity, and we really stood on that identity."

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The team had finally gotten used to how assistant coach Mike Pegues, who served as acting head coach during that time, ran things. They were starting to get used to some semblance of success under his watch.

When Mack returned, it threw a wrench into that mojo. While the team was starting to find their stride, head man in charge was basically starting from square one.

"I think it had a larger impact on our team than I expected it would," Pegues said, who now carries the interim head coach tag for the rest of the season. "I think it had a huge impact on coach, having to try to play catch up, having to just reassert himself with a group that had gotten used to me."

Louisville lost three of their first five games with Mack back in charge. They fired off a three-game winning streak when the bulk of conference play started, but have since dropped five of their last six - leading us to where we are today.

Neither Pegues or Williams wants to make any excuses for how the season has unfolded up to this point, or place blame on anyone. Both are taking accountability for why Louisville currently sits at 11-9 on the year.

But they are also acknowledging - or at least Williams is - that not having Mack in charge to start the year did play a role in the team's development.

"I'm not sure how it would have all played out (if Mack was not suspended), but I do think we will be we would have been, consistently, a much better team," Williams said.

(Photo of Malik Williams, Chris Mack: Jamie Rhodes - USA TODAY Sports)

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