LOUISVILLE, Ky. (KT) - When Louisville's basketball team meets Clemson Saturday afternoon, there will be one or two, or three, new faces in the starting lineup.
But nobody will know exactly who is staying and who is going because coach Chris Mack is playing it close to the vest. He was in no mood to divulge that information during his preview press conference Friday afternoon before the No. 5 Cardinals (21-4, 12-2) headed south for the 4 p.m. ET game in Littlejohn Coliseum (ACCN) in Clemson, S.C.
Sorry for the lack of information, but, here’s how it went.
YOU SUGGESTED AFTER THE GAME THERE MAY BE CHANGES. WHAT'S YOUR LATEST THINKING ON THAT?
"The same as it was when I said that, that there will probably be some changes."
WILL YOU SAY WHAT YOU'RE CONSIDERING?
Time to move on to another subject, but it's clear that the lineup that had produced a 10-game winning streak before the Georgia Tech debacle won't be the first five players on the court for the Cards as they try to bounce back from the 64-58 defeat Wednesday night that tightened up the ACC championship race. They're still in control of their own destiny, but their margin of error is now razor thin.
UofL is tied with Duke (21-3, 11-2) in the loss column and holds the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed in the league tournament by virtue of its 79-73 win over the Blue Devils. Florida State (20-4, 10-3) is still very much in the hunt and defeated the Cards 78-65. They'll meet again on Feb. 24 in Tallhassee.
Co-captain Malik Williams believes the Cards will go into the Clemson game with a sense of urgency they didn't have Wednesday night.
"You don't want to lose two in a row. Ever," he said. "A lot of guys were hurting because they know we should have gotten that game. It's about putting Georgia Tech behind us and going into the next game knowing we're still in the conference lead and needing this win to remain where we are."
Williams, the team's most vocal leaders, said he is trying to figure out what buttons to push to shake the Cards out of their off and on listlessness at tipoff time.
"I've got to continue to stay on the guys," he said. "It's my job to make sure everybody's ready and I feel like I've been letting people down. So I'm trying to find out what exactly I need to do for us to get to that level."
Based on his play against the Yellow Jackets, Williams, a 6-11 junior who has spent the season as Steven Enoch's backup at center, is a good bet to get his first start since last year when he started 20 of the 34 games. But he insisted he's in the dark, too, about Mack's intentions.
"He talked a little bit about it yesterday, but I don't think we'll know until game-time," Williams said. "It's a game-time decision, got to see how it goes."
It wouldn't be a surprise either to see freshman point guard David Johnson get the first start of his college career after he and Williams came off the bench and were Louisville's only double figure scorers with 16 points each.
As far as which player or players will get bumped from the starting lineup, Mack has plenty of candidates to choose from since every starter except Dwayne Sutton played poorly.
Even ACC and national Player of the Year candidate and preseason All-American Jordan Nwora isn't immune to spending the opening minutes as a spectator. Nwora scored just two points, took only six shots and committed four turnovers.
"Jordan just didn't play well," Mack said. "I thought he was lethargic, was not in the stance defensively. That's why he didn't play as many minutes as he usually does in key stretches. I want to hold each of our guys to a really high standard and Jordan knows that.
"Jordan didn't compete the other night. He was bad and I do not want to have bad Jordan Nwora and he knows that. But he wasn't the only one who didn't show up, so to speak."
Mack's primary goal in shaking up his lineup for only the second time this season -- assuming he actually does -- is to produce a much faster start. UofL fell behind Georgia Tech 12-2 in the first 3 1/2 minutes and never caught up, and that has been a problem in other recent games too.
"We have to have guys on the floor who are ready to go," Mack said. "When you go on the road you have to do a great job of taking care of the ball early and get a shot. We haven't been great at that and it's something we're trying to address and improve. You asked about lineup changes, and believe me, we don't just roll into the next game not having addressed it. It does have to change, that's for sure."
Getting off to a hot start certainly wasn't a problem when Louisville handed Clemson its worst loss of the season, 80-62, on Jan. 25 in the KFC Yum! Center. Darius Perry, who set career highs with 19 points and five 3-pointers, got the Cards rolling and a 20-0 run ended in a 31-9 lead as they shot 66 percent in the first half.
Clemson (12-12, 6-8) snapped a three-game losing streak with a 72-52 win Wednesday night at Pittsburgh, hitting 13-of-22 3-pointers (.591). Freshman guard Al-Amir Dawes scored 18 points for the Tigers, but their leading scorer on the season is 6-9 Amir Simms at 13.3 ppg. UofL shut down Simms in the earlier game, holding him to four points on 1-of-7 shooting.
Besides Louisville's 10-game winning streak, several other streaks ended with Georgia Tech's victory. The Cards suffered their first road loss after six wins and the Yellow Jackets stopped an eight-game losing skid against UofL.
Also, UofL lost for the first time in 63 games spanning 12 years to a team with a losing record entering the game (Tech was 11-13). The last time it had happened was in a 68-54 loss to Western Kentucky (1-2) in Nashville on Nov. 30, 2008.
Russ Brown, a former sportswriter for The Courier-Journal and USA Today, covers University of Louisville sports and college football and basketball for Kentucky Today. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org