On paper, the 2023 Empire Classic featured a heavyweight team (UConn), two top-25 caliber contenders (Indiana and Texas), as well as the lowly Louisville, who has struggled for the past year overall. However, the Cardinals put their best efforts in both games, even though they fell in the end.
Here are some positive and negative takeaways from each team as they move forward in the 2023-24 season.
4th place – Louisville Cardinals
Positive takeaway: Cardinals have the talent to compete in the ACC
Coming into this event, it was expected that Louisville would get blown out by power conference competition, considering they were struggling against teams ranked in the 300s. But these past couple of days were the best they’ve looked in the entire Kenny Payne era. They were close to beating a ranked Texas squad in the final seconds, while leading Indiana by six points late on Monday.
The Cardinals have a trio of key contributors, led by USC transfer Tre White and Illinois transfer, Skyy Clark. The frontcourt depth also can match up with bigger teams as well. We’ve seen the talent this team has and now expectations will rise that they actually can win some games in league play.
Negative takeaway: Coach Payne still remains a weak point
While having the team be competitive in the Empire Classic warrants praise, seeing the Cardinals struggle at the end for two straight games also goes back to coaching. Payne himself admitted that he didn’t have a real answer when Indiana went to zone in the second half.
No power conference coach is on as big of a hot seat as Kenny Payne and while this week takes some heat off, there’s now bigger expectations going forward. If Louisville goes back to struggling to beat mid-majors, the negative attention will go back on him.