The Chris Mack era has started well for the Louisville Basketball program, the 2018-19 squad is 4-1 in the ACC and 13-5 overall. It has taken fans some adjustment to get used to the different styles from Rick Pitino/David Padgett and in many ways the Chris Mack style is a departure from Denny Crum as well. So far, it’s working. But why?
Before we get too far down the rabbit hole it’s important to note the style difference of Chris Mack vs. his predecessors. After all, there are whole sections of the Louisville Basketball fanbase that only know the Denny Crum/Rick Pitino eras as their point of reference for Cardinal basketball.
When evaluating the statistics for UofL Basketball the first iteration of the Chris Mack era is ordinary is MOST categories. However, the pack line defense is designed to avoid the gamble, Mack elects to not pressure the ball up the floor and asks his team to not gamble for steals unless it’s a gimme. As a result Steals, Blocks & Opponent Turnovers are WAAAAAYYYY Down. In fact, Steals & Opponent Turnovers are on pace to be at some of the lowest levels in the shot clock era in UofL Basketball history. In fact, the steal rate would be the lowest since the 1984-85 season which is only rivaled in the record books (in terms of lowest number of steals) by the 1973-74 season.
Additionally shot blocking is way down. This is normal for Pack Line teams who deny the paint and shot blocking opportunities are naturally going to be limited if the defense is working as designed. If the current pace of 3.2 blocks per game continues it will be the lowest total since the 1996-97 season.
Fouls Drawn, FT% & Rebound Rate
If Steals, Blocks and Opponent Turnovers are naturally down due to Chris Mack’s style…. Louisville has to make up the difference somewhere right?
Well, the Cards are making up for those metrics by having EXTREME performances in 3 categories: Fouls Drawn, Making Free Throws, and Rebounding. Let me explain.
These 3 categories by themselves don’t necessarily mean success for an individual team. For example, the #1 Fouls Drawn team in 2018 was UNLV and the Running Rebels finished 20-13 overall, 8-10 in the Mountain West and didn’t play a post-season game beyond the Mountain West Tournament. Last season’s #1 Free Throw % team was William & Mary and the Tribe finished 19-12 and 11-7 in the CAA with no post-season beyond its conference tournament. And the #5 rebound rate team in the nation last year was Boise State finishing 23-9, 13-5 in the MW and played in the NIT.
But how it is happening for the 2018-19 Louisville Basketball team is significant. Louisville isn’t just having GOOD years in these 3 categories the Cards are having some of their best and most dramatic production in UofL Basketball history in Fouls Drawn, FT % and Rebound Rate.
Louisville Basketball is on pace to shoot its highest Free Throw % in school history during the 2018-19 season. There are still a bunch of FTs left to shoot but right now the Cards are shooting 75.3% from the stripe just slightly ahead of the school record pace set in 1974-75 when UofL shot 75.2%
The irony is not lost on Louisville fans that the best Free Throw shooting team in school history had its 1975 NCAA run derailed by UCLA in overtime, by a missed 1-and-1 Free Throw by Terry Howard, who previous to the miss was a perfect 28 and 28 from the foul line. At the time UofL was up 1 with :20 remaining in overtime. The 2 FTs would have all but sealed the National Semi-Final (there was no 3-point shot) and sent Louisville to the National Championship game against Kentucky. As it is UCLA went on win its 10th championship in that 12 year span, the game against UK was John Wooden’s final game.
The video below (1:06:55 mark) has what has to be the first ANNOUNCER JINX OF ALL-TIME as Kentucky Radio Legend Cawood Ledford says before the Free Throw, “Ralph, Look it up for me I don’t believe Terry Howard has missed a Free Throw shot all year……. Terry Howard is 28 of 28.” Of course Howard missed the first one and UCLA went down and scored with :02 remaining.
- 75.3% 2018-19 (Current Team)
- 75.2% 1974-75 (Final Four, Lost OT to UCLA)
- 74.9% 2003-04 (NCAA 1st Round, lost to Xavier)
- 74.8% 1975-76 (NIT)
- 74.1% 1973-74 (Sweet 16, Lost to Oral Roberts)
- 73.7% 1960-61 (Sweet 16, Lost to National Runner-Up Ohio State by 1)
- 73.6% 2017-18 (NIT)
- 73.4% 1956-57 (21-5, no post-season)
- 73.3% 1985-86 (NCAA Champion)
- 72.8% 1989-90 (NCAA 2nd round, upset by Ball State. Ball State played within 2 points of eventual National Champs, UNLV. Rebels beat Duke by 30 in title game).
- 72.3% 2004-05 (Final Four, Lost to Illinois)
- 72.0% 1984-85 (NIT)
Other title teams
- 70.9% 2012-13 (NCAA Champion)
- 68.6% 1979-80 (NCAA Champion)
Looking at UofL’s high-percentage foul shooting teams above it is clear that shooting an excellent percentage doesn’t guarantee success. But 3 of the 11 UofL teams that have been able to shoot above 72% did make the Final Four and 5 of 11 making the Sweet 16.
UofL Basketball is currently drawing 22.2 fouls per game. On its own, this stat can be random in terms of how well a team might expect to perform. But I do find it interesting that 2 of UofL’s 3 National Championships came with teams drawing 21.0+ fouls per game (2013 drew 19.2 fouls per game).
- 23.9, 1978-79 (Sweet 16 – Lost to Arkansas)
- 23.1, 1985-86 (NATIONAL CHAMPION)
- 23.1 1990-91 (No Post-Season)
- 22.2, 2018-19 (CURRENT TEAM)
- 22.1, 1987-88 (Sweet 16- Lost to National Runner-up Oklahoma)
- 22.1, 2002-03 (NCAA 2nd Round – Upset by Butler)
- 21.7, 1951-52 (NIT)
- 21.7, 1976-77 (Round of 32- Lost to UCLA)
- 21.5, 1980-81 (NCAA 2nd Round – Lost to Arkansas, US Reed)
- 21.4, 1973-74 (Sweet 16, Lost to Oral Roberts)
- 21.0 1979-80 (NATIONAL CHAMPION)
- 21.0, 2001-02 (NIT)
- 21.0, 2004-05 (FINAL FOUR)
Because Louisville Basketball is shooting 75.3% from the foul line AND they are currently drawing 22.2 fouls per game the Cards are extremely dangerous. The only two former Louisville Basketball teams that fit the profile of 72%+ FT AND 21.0 Fouls Drawn per game are the 1985-86 and 1973-74. The 1986 team being the National Championship team and the 1974 team went to the Sweet 16.
Right now Louisville is grabbing 54.5% (18th in nation) of available rebounds. This is perhaps the largest improvement from a year ago when Louisville was gaining just 49.8% of available rebounds (181st). It’s even more remarkable considering that Ray Spalding, Anas Mahmoud and Deng Adel all have moved on and the Cards replaced those players with Christen Cunningham, Khwan Fore, Akoy Agau and Steven Enoch. This is where the Pack Line makes up for not gambling for steals and deflections. The Pack Line is designed to make teams take bad shots, deny the lane and only allow one shot. So for Louisville in Year 1 of Chris Mack it is working.
Louisville Basketball is currently rebounding at a pace that would put it 10th all-time in Rebound Rate in school history. It’s the 2nd most since the 1977 season.
Again Rebound Rate does not guarantee post-season success as noted below, BUT all 3 of Louisville’s National Championship teams rebounded above the 52.5% rebound rate. 32 UofL teams have completed its seasons above 52.5%, 3 National Champions, 7 Final Fours, 15 Sweet 16s.
- 59.8% 1951-52 (NIT)
- 59.7% 1950-51 (NCAA Sweet 16)
- 58.8% 1955-56 (NIT Champion- Charlie Tyra)
- 58.5% 1956-57 (No Post-Season- Charlie Tyra)
- 56.5% 1966-67 (NCAA Sweet 16- Wes Unseld)
- 56.2% 1954-55 (NIT – Charlie Tyra)
- 54.8% 1961-62 (No Post-Season- Bud Olsen)
- 54.7% 2015-16 (Self -Imposed Post-Season Ban- Chinanu Onuaku)
- 54.6% 1976-77 (NCAA 1st Round- Larry Williams)
- 54.5% 2018-19 (Current Team- Jordan Nwora)
- 54.5% 1974-75 (Final Four- Bill Bunton)
- 54.3% 1985-86 (NATIONAL CHAMPIONS- Pervis Ellison)
- 54.3% 1962-63 (No Post-Season- John Reuther)
- 54.1% 2016-17 (NCAA Round of 32- Mangok Mathiang)
- 54.1% 2004-05 (FINAL FOUR- Ellis Myles)
- 53.8% 1972-73 (NIT-Bill Bunton)
- 53.6% 1952-53 (NIT-Vlad Gastevich)
- 53.5% 1980-81 (NCAA 2nd Round- Derek Smith)
- 53.3% 1978-79 (NCAA Sweet 16- Larry Williams)
- 53.2% 1977-78 (NCAA Sweet 16- Ricky Gallon)
- 53.1% 1969-70 (NIT- Mike Grosso)
- 53.0% 1986-87 (No Post-Season- Pervis Ellison)
- 52.9% 1979-80 (NATIONAL CHAMPIONS- Derek Smith)
- 52.9% 1967-68 (NCAA Sweet 16- Wes Unseld)
- 52.9% 1953-54 (NIT- John Prudhoe)
- 52.8% 1982-83 (FINAL FOUR-Rodney McCray)
- 52.6% 2012-13 (NATIONAL CHAMPIONS- Gorgui Dieng)
- 52.6% 1987-88 (NCAA Sweet 16- Pervis Ellison)
- 52.5% 1958-59 (FINAL FOUR- Fred Sawyer)
- 52.4% 1983-84 (NCAA Sweet 16- Charles Jones)
- 52.4% 1975-76 (NIT- Ricky Gallon)
- 52.3% 1992-93 (NCAA Sweet 16- Cliff Rozier)
- 52.3% 1984-85 (NIT- Billy Thompson)
Individually Fouls Drawn, FT % and Rebound Rate don’t necessarily spell success. BUT TOGETHER the only team on record that performed as well as the current 2018-19 team did in those 3 categories was 1985-86.
2018-19: 75.3% FT, 22.2 Fouls Drawn Per Game, 54.5% Rebound Rate
1985-86: 73.3% FT, 23.1 Fouls Drawn Per Game, 54.3% Rebound Rate
While it is unlikely that the 2018-19 team will win the National Championship like the 1985-86 team did. But at least we can identify why Louisville Basketball is success thus far during the season. So keep getting to the line, keep making your FTs and keep hitting the glass and things should work out just fine for the Cards for the rest of the season.
Special Thanks to Kelly Dickey for his help compiling some of the historical records. Follow him at @RealCardGame