Louisville added a second signature win in the first year of coach Chris Mack’s tenure on Saturday as the Cardinals handed the 12th-ranked North Carolina Tar Heels their worst home defeat under Roy Williams, 83-62.
The Cardinals were led by the near-triple-double from forward Dwayne Sutton, who scored a team-high 17 points, along with 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals, without committing a single turnover.
Sutton was one of three Cardinals to score 17 points in the game as Louisville’s leading scorer Jordan Nwora and reserve big man Steven Enoch also tied for the team-lead in points. Defensively, they held the Tar Heels to 0.87 points per possession on 47 percent shooting on twos and 13.6 percent on threes.
On a per-possession basis, it tied for North Carolina’s worst offensive output this season. The Tar Heels also scored 0.87 points per possession in a neutral-court loss to Kentucky in December.
When they traveled to Michigan in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge and faced the Wolverines’ top-five defense, they managed 0.96 points per possession, so Louisville’s defense proved even tougher in Chapel Hill.
It was a remarkable three-day turnaround after the Cardinals lost 89-86 in overtime on Wednesday at Pittsburgh, which is bound to be one of the more favorable destinations this season for visiting ACC schools given the Panthers’ No. 82 ranking on kenpom.com – the third-lowest in the conference.
“We felt pretty low after the Pittsburgh game,” Mack told reporters Saturday. “To come in here and really have the effort that we did, not in stretches, but for 40 minutes. We knew that’s what it was going to take. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys to keep Carolina out of transition, to keep them off the glass. Those were two challenges that not a whole lot of teams pass.”
Louisville won the rebounding battle 40-31 and the Cardinals grabbed 35 percent of their missed shots.
North Carolina’s Kenny Williams was the only Tar Heels player who had a reasonably efficient game offensively, scoring a team-high 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting. Every other player who played more than five minutes had an offensive rating of less than 100, including Luke Maye, who scored just nine points on 3-of-14 shooting.
The win was Louisville’s first at North Carolina and it set the program record for margin of victory on the road against a team ranked in the AP Top 25 Poll.
With a roster that ranks 261st nationally in minutes continuity and despite a freshman class that wasn’t even ranked nationally in the 247Sports Composite rankings, Louisville is in position to contend for an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Cardinals are 11-5 entering their home game against visiting Boston College on Wednesday.
They’re projected to win their next five games, according to kenpom.com, which would give them a 16-5 record overall and a 7-1 mark in conference play. The site projects Louisville to finish the regular season with a 19-12 record following a 10-8 finish in the ACC, which would put the Cardinals in the tournament discussion.
Here’s how Louisville’s quadrant breakdown looks after the Cardinals’ win on Saturday.
Quad 1: 3-5
Quad 2: 1-0
Quad 3: 3-0
Quad 4: 4-0
Louisville’s wins over Michigan State and North Carolina will likely give the Cardinals the edge if they’re a bubble team or when it comes to their seeding compared to teams with similar resumes.
Four of their five losses have come away from home and even their worst loss in terms of opponent – at Pittsburgh – was on the road against a team that’s ranked No. 70 in the NET as of Saturday.
The other four losses came against teams that are ranked in the top 25 in the NET.
A winning record in the ACC and an NCAA Tournament berth in Year 1 of Mack’s tenure would be considered a success and it would set a strong foundation for the future with reinforcements on the way. Louisville currently has the No. 5 2019 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The Cardinals have received six commitments, including five from four-star recruits Aidan Igiehon, Samuell Williamson, David Johnson, Jaelyn Withers and Josh Nickelberry.
While Louisville’s future looks bright, the Cardinals are good in the here and now, with the strongest evidence being their blowout win on the road against one of the conference’s best teams and most accomplished head coaches.