Thursday night was a far cry from the level of play we saw Tuesday in the sport’s opener, with the Champion’s Classic providing the type of matchups everyone craves to see. There weren’t any top-25 teams in action this night, but there were a few interesting storylines to follow.
1. Louisville had trouble against Nicholls in Chris Mack’s Cardinal debut
The official start to the post-Rick Pitino era – also known as the Chris Mack tenure – will go down as a victory for Louisville. It wasn’t, however, all that much to get excited about. The Cardinals topped Nicholls State, 85-72, but struggled mightily at times and needed a late run to finally pull away from the Colonels, who were 19.5-point underdogs.
Nicholls State closed within two points, 68-66, with just over 4 minutes to play before the Cardinals finally put them away. Louisville shot 55 free throws on the night, making 42 (76.4 percent). Steven Enoch had 17 points for Louisville and Darius Perry had 14.
It wasn’t a pretty start to the season for Mack and the Cardinals, but that’s probably not all that surprising in the opening stanzas of Mack’s transition to helming Louisville after nine season at Xavier. It won’t be long, though, until Louisville will be forced to tighten things up or potentially face some tough verdicts. They’ve got defending SEC champ Tennessee on Nov. 21 and then will play either No. 1 Kansas or Dauster-favorite Marquette in the NIT Season Tip-Off before immediately playing Michigan State and Seton Hall back-to-back. I haven’t even mentioned their tilts against Indiana or Kentucky in December, either.
2. Dan Hurley is on the board in Storrs
The second most high-profile debut came for Dan Hurley and UConn, which knocked off Morehead State 80-70 to give Hurley his first win as a Husky. Josh Carlton had 17 points and eight rebounds to pace UConn while Jalen Adams had 16 points in Hurley’s first game on the sidelines since coming over from Rhode Island.
Aside from Hurley’s first W, the night was most noteworthy for Alterique Gilbert’s performance. The former McDonald’s All-American had 15 points in his return after missing most of the last two seasons with injuries. He could be the X-factor for how good UConn can be this season in an AAC that looks less than formidable. It’s great to see him playing and production after two seasons of struggle due to injuries.
3. Notre Dame starts 2-0
For the second time in three days, Notre Dame smashed a team from the Windy City, this time an 89-62 win over Chicago State after beating Illinois-Chicago 84-67 on Tuesday.
Senior forward Elijah Burns scored a career-best 15 points in the victory for the Irish, who also got 12 points from Nate Laszewski while D.J. Harvey added 11 and T.J. Gibbs 10. Notre Dame wasn’t able to run away and hide from the Cougars, who erased an 18-point first-half deficit before sinking far behind again.
Notre Dame’s schedule doesn’t get interesting until later this month when they begin a run of five-straight against high major-opponents with home games against DePaul (Nov. 24) and Illinois (Nov. 27) before a neutral-site contest against Oklahoma in New York (Dec. 4) followed by a road test at UCLA (Dec. 8) and the Crossroads Classic against Purdue (Dec. 15)n Indianapolis.