CHARLOTTE, N.C. - The annual Atlantic Coast Conference Tipoff is always an indicator that college basketball is on the the horizon, and on Tuesday, it made its triumphant return.
Representatives from all 15 ACC descended upon Charlotte, N.C., each providing insight into the upcoming seasons for their respective programs, and the Louisville men's basketball program was no exception.
Both at the podium in front of the media, as well as on set for the ACC Network, head coach Chris Mack, graduate transfer guard Jarrod West, and fifth-year forward/center Malik Williams each had plenty to say regarding the Cardinals.
Below are Louisville Report's three biggest takeaways from the event:
Team chemistry remains high despite influx of newcomers
It's no secret that the Cardinals, both on the court and on the sideline, look markedly different than this time last year.
After missing the NCAA Tournament last season, Mack's first order of business was to shake things up amongst the coaching staff. Assistant coaches Dino Gaudio and Luke Murray were not retained, leading to director of basketball operations Kahil Fennell getting a promotion, and New Zealand National Team assistant coach Ross McMains being brought in. Mike Pegues was the lone assistant to be retained
And that's just the tip of the turnover iceberg. On the actual court, Louisville saw six players depart the program, with eight coming in to replace them. On a roster of 14 scholarship players - with Malik Williams not counting against the 13-man limit - there are now more players in their first year with the program than returners.
Given the circumstances, one would think that team chemistry will probably take some time to accumulate. But, partially due to rule changes that allow coaches to interact more with their players over the offseason, Mack doesn't think that will be a huge issue right out of the gates.
"By the time we really reach October, I don't feel like I have eight newcomers," Mack said. "I feel like Jarrod's been my point guard for a long time now and I feel like -- Malik has been here forever.
"I think we got a great group. I think we have a hungry group. I've never coached 14 scholarship players. I think we have depth, we have shooting. So we're really excited to get this season under way."
Louisville will get their first opportunity to showcase their team to the public on Saturday, Oct 16, when they hold their Team 108 Tip-Off Intrasquad Scrimmage at the KFC Yum! Center at 1:00 p.m.
Defense, finally, will start to push the pace in 2021-22
One of the bigger on-court criticisms of Mack during his first three seasons as the head coach of the Cardinals, has been the slow tempo on both ends of the floor. During his time at Xavier, the Musketeers were known to push the pace, something that has been noticeably absent in his tenure thus far at Louisville.
Over the offseason, Mack immediately made strides to fix this - at least on the offensive side of things. McMains - known as an offensive tactician - brings with him a style of play in which both players and the ball are always moving.
So that takes care of the offensive side of the things, but as for the defense, there hadn't been any tangible evidence up to this point that Mack would add some wrinkles to his pack-line defensive system. That is, until now.
During his appearance on the ACC Network, Mack stated that graduate transfer guard Jarrod West - a defensive specialist during his time at Marshall - would be used to pick up the defense in the full court press.
"I think Jarrod's going to do a phenomenal job of pressuring the ball," Mack said. "He does a great job of blowing up ball screens on his own so we would be foolish to just sit behind the 3-point line. We are going to extend our defense."
It might not be the style of play that Louisville fans saw under Rick Pitino, but it's a step in that direction. At the very least, Mack chose the right person to lead the charge.
Over his four-year career at Marshall, West amassed 254 steals in 126 career games for the Thundering Herd. His steals mark is the most in school history, and the third-most among active Division I players.
The value of Malik Williams can't be understated
Unlike last season, this will be a team with a fair amount of college basketball games under their belts, and one that features several very experiences players. Mason Faulkner is heading into his sixth year at the collegiate level, West his fifth, and Noah Locke his fourth.
Malik Williams is no exception, as he is heading into his fifth season himself. What separates him from the other upperclassmen, is that all five have been played solely at Louisville.
We already know that the Fort Wayne, Ind. native was voted as the first three-time captain in the storied history of the Louisville men's basketball program. But, the ACC Tipoff was one of the first times this offseason where we truly got a sense of what his presence - both on and off the court - means for this upcoming season. Mack even went as far to say he means "everything" to the program.
"He's an everyday guy," Mack said. "He shows up and he works his tail off. He holds his teammates accountable. He's got one of the biggest voices on our team. Not biggest impacts, biggest voices.
"He does have an incredible impact, both on young guys and his peers. So I'm excited for him to be able to play his senior year without injury, knock on wood. He's had a great preseason. He's been probably the most impactful player in our program in the preseason practices we've had.
Williams is coming off of a 2021-22 campaign in which he played just three games due to a right foot injury. During the season prior, he averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds, and finished as a the runner-up in the 2019-20 ACC Sixth Man of the Year voting.
"To be voted as a team captain by my teammates (on three separate occasion), it was really good," Williams said. "That was a great thing for me, just to show the growth from my sophomore year to junior year, and just holding that up today."
(Photo of Chris Mack: Scott Utterback - Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
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