Louisville basketball giving Jordan Nwora help makes Cardinals Final Four contender

MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 05: Jordan Nwora #33 of the Louisville Cardinals reacts after making a three pointer against the Miami Hurricanes during the second half at Watsco Center on November 05, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
MIAMI, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 05: Jordan Nwora #33 of the Louisville Cardinals reacts after making a three pointer against the Miami Hurricanes during the second half at Watsco Center on November 05, 2019 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

Louisville basketball is No. 5 behind Jordan Nwora and now that he’s getting more help from his teammates, the Cardinals look like a Final Four threat.

Louisville is for real.

There’s no escaping the simple truth Chris Mack‘s Louisville Cardinals know their star is junior forward Jordan Nwora. That was the case entering the 2019-20 college basketball season and has remained so leading up to Wednesday night’s date with Wake Forest as the Cardinals have a 19-3 record and earned their spot as the No. 5 team in the country — coincidentally where they were in the preseason AP Top 25.

Nwora has looked the part of a college basketball star amidst the Cardinals’ success. In 33 minutes per contest, the forward is putting up 19.3 points, 7.5 rebounds, 1.4 assists and 0.8 steals per game, leading Mack’s club in points and assists, while shooting 46.0 percent from the floor and an impressive 42.5 percent from 3-point range.

When the Cardinals need a big bucket, you can bet that the ball will end up in Nwora’s hands. But as Louisville eyes bigger aspirations, namely a trip to the Final Four and perhaps a national championship run, it’s the pieces around the go-to forward that will help guide the way.

With a win over Wake Forest on Wednesday, Feb. 5, Louisville will match their win total from the 2018-19 season, which saw the Cardinals go just 20-14. Though they made the NCAA Tournament, it was as just a No. 7 seed and they were promptly bounced after a successful upset bid by Minnesota.

Nwora was the star of that team as well, putting up 17.0 points and 7.6 rebounds per game one 44.6 percent shooting and 37.4 percent 3-point shooting. But while he’s improved his efficiency and maintained production outside of scoring, the pieces around him have taken a sizeable step forward.

That might seem like an odd statement considering that only one other Cardinals player, big-man Steven Enoch, is averaging double figures in scoring. However, this isn’t about someone being a 1B to Nwora’s 1A but rather the sum of the parts and what they’re doing to supplement the elite work of the junior forward as they’ve all assumed larger, critical roles to this team’s success.

Enoch has taken on a larger role, averaging 10.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 0.8 blocks per game, all of which are improved from last season. Meanwhile, senior forward Dwayne Sutton is averaging fewer points per game (8.9 this season to 10.0 last year) but has improved his rebounding by 1.5 per game, is averaging 0.4 more blocks per game than last year and is drastically more efficient, shooting 51.1 percent from the floor after hitting only 43.1 percent last year.

While those are the three leading scores, it goes beyond that as well. Junior guard Darius Perry remains a sharpshooter off the bench, averaging 6.2 points per game but hitting on over 42 percent of his 3-point attempts. Ryan McMahon fits that bill as well, converting on 45.4 percent of his attempts from the outside and putting up 8.7 points per contest.

Throw in junior forward Malik Williams improving his field goal efficiency by 5.4 percent from last season and freshman David Johnson giving valuable minutes off the bench with averages of 5.5 points, 2.3 rebounds and 1.9 assists and the picture becomes clearer. This team is substantially deeper and more efficient than they were around Nwora last season.

In the 2018-19 season, Louisville ranked No. 23 in the country in overall efficiency according to KenPom, 28th in adjusted offensive efficiency and 24th on defense.

Through 22 games in the 2019-20 college basketball season, however, the Cardinals are ranked No. 8 in the country in overall efficiency according to KenPom, 17th on offense and 13th on defense. They’ve not only improved noticeably from last season but have done so on both ends of the floor to put them among the elite teams in the country.

So when you not only have Nwora, the leader for Louisville, taking his game up a notch but also have the teammates around him fitting into the puzzle better and creating a more efficient and effective unit overall, what do you get? A team that’s capable of big things, namely a run to the Final Four.

This improved rendition of the Cardinals has already proven that they can use their balanced style of play against the elite teams in college basketball, already having notched a win over Duke and going to overtime in a rivalry battle with Kentucky. Not only will Nwora be able to guide them but he can rely on the parts around him to aid the cause on both ends of the floor.

When March Madness rolls around, anything can happen. There’s a reason every person who fills out a bracket pines over potential upsets and the cinderella darlings. Having said that, with the way Mack has now constructed the team around Nwora, it’d be foolish to consider Louisville anything but one of the favorites to make a trip to Atlanta for the Final Four in 2020.

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