LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The Louisville men’s basketball program isn’t exactly heading into the ACC Tournament with momentum on their side.
The Cardinals have lost four in a row, and have dropped 14 of their last 16 games to end the regular season at 12-18 overall and 6-14 in ACC play. Their last time out was a listless 71-61 loss to Virginia on senior day, and the two games preceding that were 20-point road blowouts to Wake Forest and Virginia Tech.
It’s safe to say that it’s highly unlikely Louisville, who heads up to Brooklyn as the No. 11 seed in the ACC Tournament, makes some sort of miracle run and comes away with an automatic bid for the NCAA Tournament.
But on the off chance that does happen, it will very likely be due to the efforts of Sydney Curry.
The JUCO transfer big man had ups and downs through much of the season. He had a 22 point/10 rebound game against NC State on Jan. 12 and two other double digit outings though the first 27 games of the year, but in that span, Curry was only averaging 4.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 10.7 minutes per game
In the final three games of the regular season, Curry exploded.
While Louisville did drop all three games, it certainly wasn’t due to him. The 6-foot-8, 252-pound big man poured in a career-high 28 points against Wake Forest, had 18 points and 11 rebounds at Virginia Tech, then followed that up with 24 points and 14 boards vs. Virginia.
In that stretch, the Fort Wayne, Ind, natively averaged 23.3 points and 10.7 rebounds.
“We want to play through Sydney,” interim head coach Mike Pegues said. “I think that he’s given us a guy that we can go to throughout the game.”
This late season spurt by Curry was no accident. A few weeks ago, Pegues decided to shift the offensive style to less of the pace-and-space that was championed by assistant coach Ross McMains, and more of an old school look where there is an emphasis on paint touches and getting the ball down low.
Curry was also finally getting into proper playing weight. When he arrived on campus last offseason from John. A. Logan College, he was vastly overweight, weighing 301 pounds. Through sheer work and determination, he was able to get back to his JUCO weight in a relatively short amount of time.
“My mindset going in the game every time is that I’m trying to be unstoppable. That nobody can guard me. That’s my personal mindset go into the game.”
Of course, Curry isn’t playing perfect basketball. As much of a force as he is on offense, he has been a bit of detriment on defense, particularly on ball screens. He has gotten better as the season has gone on, but he still has work to be done on that end of the floor.
“He knows that, and our coaching staff has to continue to help him understand,” Pegues said. “I think he exerts so much energy on the offensive end that he has to leave enough to defend, and he’s got to find a way to find that balance.”
Still, Curry at least gives Louisville some hope that their time spent in Brooklyn, NY for the ACC Tournament won’t be fruitless effort. Not to mention that Curry himself is pretty confident the Cardinals can make some noise.
“I feel like a lot of people are asleep on us,” he said. “We come in and work every day. A lot of stuff happened this year, but I feel like as long as we stick together, we’re good. We’re all still motivated, and I feel like we’re the best team in the country in my mind. A lot of things went on this year. But if we stick together, I think we can accomplish anything we want to.”
Louisville will open their ACC Tournament run against 14th-seeded Georgia Tech. Tip-off is scheduled for Tuesday, Mar. 8 at 7:00 pm EST on the ACC Network.
(Photo of Sydney Curry: Jamie Rhodes – USA TODAY Sports)
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