Rivals Roundtable: Giving thanks, surprise player, Louisville
The Rivals Roundtable doesn't stop for Thanksgiving Week. Instead, national analysts Rob Cassidy and Travis Graf tackle a trio of questions concerning what college basketball event makes them most thankful, early season surprises and the less-than-ideal start to the Kenny Payne era at Louisville.
MORE: College basketball's early surprises
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WHAT ARE YOU MOST THANKFUL FOR SO FAR THIS COLLEGE SEASON?
“I’m not sure there’s anything in sports more clutch than Feast Week. Having games tipping off at 10 a.m. and running all day is a crutch many of us desperately need when forced to spend multiple days with extended family that want to discuss how NIL money is ruining college sports or debate whatever the political discussion de jour might be. Grabbing a plate of whatever happens to be sitting on the kitchen counter and zoning out in front of Vermont-Ball State at 11 a.m. is self-care for me. 'Sorry, Uncle Mark. I can’t talk about the post you just saw on Facebook right now. The Catamounts are in an absolute dogfight at the Bahamas Classic or whatever.' "- Cassidy
“It’s been very exciting watching this new crop of freshmen show out in different settings across the country, with a lot of them answering the bell on big stages. Keyonte George has been a treat to watch so far this season. Cason Wallace has been a two-way dog. Anthony Black showed out in a big way earlier in the week in Maui. Brandon Miller and Gradey Dick have both gone nuclear from the outside at different times. There’s many more, but I’m going to keep it short and sweet. The scary part about this freshman class is that Dariq Whitehead still isn’t near 100% and Nick Smith has yet to play.” - Graf
WHICH INDIVIDUAL PLAYER HAS SURPRISED YOU MOST SO FAR THIS SEASON?
“There's plenty to choose from here, but as a confirmed Big East guy, I’ll ride with St. John’s junior Joel Soriano, who deserves even more pub than he’s getting. A Fordham transfer, Soriano served as a reserve in his first year at St. John’s a year ago but has now taken on a leadership role and is averaging a double-double as a junior so far. He posted an eye-popping 19 points and 14 rebounds in Tuesday's win over Syracuse and is a major reason why the Red Storm are 6-0 and looking formidable, to say the least. Soriano has dropped weight since he arrived on campus and looks miles more nimble and versatile than he did a season ago.” - Cassidy
“I’ll go with Syracuse freshman Judah Mintz here. Through five games, he’s leading the Orange in scoring and shooting over 50% from the field. Everyone knew that Mintz would be a good college basketball player in time but, personally, I wasn’t expecting him to be scoring more than senior guard Joe Girard this early on. He’s got to continue to improve from the outside, but he’s having a very promising start to his freshman campaign.” - Graf
ON A 1-10 SCALE - WITH ONE BEING NOT AT ALL WORRIED - WHAT IS YOUR LONG-TERM CONCERN LEVEL ABOUT THE SITUATION AT LOUISVILLE?
“I’m sitting at a six, I think. I’m not sure anyone expected Kenny Payne to contend for an ACC title or anything crazy with this roster, but starting 0-6 with losses to Wright State, Bellarmine and Appalachian State isn’t something that should be dismissed. I don’t think the start is necessarily reflective of Payne’s coaching acumen, but that really won’t matter when it comes to the offseason narrative if he posts the lowest full-season win total in decades, which seems at least possible at this juncture. It can become quite difficult to recruit when doubt takes hold, and a truly miserable season will open the door to recruiting competitors pointing to instability in the program. Success tends to compound in college basketball, but so too does failure. So, if things don’t turn around at least a little, Payne’s task on the recruiting trail is going to get more difficult than it is already. Payne has to do enough in year one to convince players that things are going in the right direction under his leadership, and, as things stand, I’m not sure how he’ll be able to do that. The good news, obviously, is that there are plenty of games left to play, so building some momentum headed into the offseason is still possible.” - Cassidy
“I’ll go with a seven or eight here, mostly because I live in Louisville and it’s not hard to see the fans' displeasure. The Cardinals' fan base is one of the most passionate in the country and they know good basketball due to their history. They also know what they’re seeing is the worst product in their lifetime and it doesn’t look like there’s an end in sight this season. This season is a wash, but the Louisville staff has to knock the portal out of the park after missing on their top targets in the 2023 class. What makes me the most nervous is that the Cardinals struck out in the portal last off-season with an extreme abundance of playing time available on the wings. With the IARP ruling out of the way, the vision should be more clear with prospects they’re targeting. Payne and his staff will have to crush the portal and get a really good class in 2024 or this thing could go completely off the rails.” - Graf