AT 8-4 IN ACC, CARDS MAYBE A BIT LOWER THAN EXPECTED AFTER 2/3RDS OF SCHEDULE, BUT STILL VIABLE
Yes, it has been a rather crazy 2022-23 ACC women's basketball schedule in terms of results so far this season. If you figured it would be another battle between NC State and Louisville for the top spot, so far...our horses haven't fired in this conference race yet. Instead, Duke (10-2, 20-3) and Notre Dame (9-3, 18-4) are slugging it out for conference leader. I'll be honest, I though the Irish might be a bona-fide "top 4" team in the ACC this year, but I didn't see Duke atop the pyramid at this stage of the season.
On Duke, a tip of the cap and round of applause to Kara Lawson for going out and getting a group of players she thought might work well together as a unit, and turning them into a very good squad. She started out with 16 players, and 11 of them were transfers-in to the program. These days, she plays around 10 of them regularly and three of her top four scorers didn't begin their careers at Duke.
Notre Dame, on the other hand, did it a bit differently. The Irish had 13 players at the start of the year, with just four transfers being a part of the roster. The Irish lost a key transfer-in in Dara Mabrey to injury but head coach Niele Ivey has gone the more traditional route in building this Irish squad from "freshmen up" and they've proven to be a solid unit, Led by Olivia Miles and Sonja Citron (both are sophomores, by the way), Notre Dame is dangerous every time they hit the court, especially in South Bend.
As for the Cards, they've built their 8-4 conference mark by pulling a surprise or two, losing a few that were unexpected...and, gone about it in a unexpected way. Transfers have helped, look at Jones, Carr, Williams (and Dixon from a few years back) as key components there, but the core base of Van Lith, Cochran, Robinson, Russell, Konno and Harris all began at Louisville.
The Cards conference slate started well enough with an expected win over Pitt and hosting and beating Syracuse in their final game of 2022. The new year brought a bit of a disappointment, though, when surprising (at the time) Duke brought Walz's squad into Cameron Indoor Stadium and knocked them off on New Year's Day.
The Cards hosted and beat Georgia Tech next, but it wasn't as easy of a win that many expected, and the Cards met Pitt in the rematch in Pennsylvania next...and just a seven-point win raised a few questions against the cellar dweller. Louisville was at 4-1 with close to 1/3rd of the conference schedule completed, and there weren't a whole lot of groans and complaints from the fan base about that. Van Lith and Carr were producing, Morgan Jones was showing signs of brilliance. Louisville was getting good bench play and Kasa Robinson was her usual "100%, all the time" self.
It's said (a lot) that "the Cards go as Hailey goes"...and she's one of the premiere guards in DI WBB without a doubt, but one player does not a team make and that's why the Carr, Jones, Robinson, Cochran and Dixon contributions are so essential and important. Teams are finding out every Thursday and Sunday un the league that you can't take a night off.
Parity. Maybe we use the term too often, but it's here in increasing numbers and here to stay.
A trip to Blacksburg brought a two-point loss to a very good Kenny Brooks Virginia Tech squad, maybe unexpected by a scant two points, but the defeat of FSU in Tallahassee by seven may have been just as equally unexpected. 5-2 was a little lower than I expected the Cards to be in-conference at this mark of the season but it was acceptable. The loss to Wake Forest was not expected, it was truly an all-American performance by Jewel Spear,. Beating B.C., yeah, most predicted that and losing to NC State just seems to be in the Cards whhelbase lately. They are a very good squad, but, lesser teams are beating them...why can't UofL?
Winning at Syracuse was a step in the right direction to get the Cards to 7-4 and a surprising and satisfying win over visiting UNC last time out got Louisville to 8-4 in the ACC.
The 8-4 record is a traffic tie-up on the Watterson at 4 p.m. Beside the Cards, UNC, Virginia Tech and Miami are stalled there...and Virginia Tech is a bumper ahead at 9-4 in the conference standings.
There's still a six game stretch to go through, though, for a lot of the ACC teams before conference play begins. The Cards get a trip to 14th place Virginia on Thursday, followed by a visit SuperBowl Sunday from Clemson. Then, it gets very real. The Cards go to Notre Dame and then Boston College (who plays foes very well at home). Louisville is lucky to end the conference slate at home, entertaining Miami and ending with the rematch vs. Notre Dame.
How will Louisville fare in their final six? I'll be happy with a 4-2 ,I can see a 3-3, though, as well as a possible 5-1. My thoughts are maybe getting a split decision, at best, with Notre Dame...but the Cards have the talent to win both, just maybe not the killer instinct yet. I'll count Clemson and Virginia as two close wins, Miami could go either way by my thinking, and, although we've beat Boston College once already, can we do it again up there?
Where would a 12-6 ACC record land the Cards in ACC (and more importantly) NCAA play? I don't think 12-6 gets the Cards into the top four in the conference final standings, which means they're probably destined to play on Thursday in the ACC Tournament and not get the two game bye. The thing is, there is a ton of basketball to be played from here to now and, as we've seen, upsets are uncommon this year in the league.
So, does the top four (come tournament time) consist of Duke, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and (fill in the blank? maybe FSU? or Miami?) The old saying is "wins get you in" so, let's hope for a good Louisville team that can go get the "W's" needed and a squad that can become that fourth team siting until Friday.. Work ahead, for sure.
It should be a fun one, this final 1/3 of the conference games. I can't wait.
(PHOTOS BY JARED ANDERSON)