Sport: Just how bad is Louisville basketball's 0-3 start? Let's put it in historical context

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For much of Tuesday night at the KFC Yum Center, there was a sort of role reversal.

Upstart Appalachian State — which came onto Louisville’s home court and never trailed, holding on to beat the Cardinals 61-60 — was the early aggressor. The Mountaineers built a 16-point first-half lead and looked like the home team.

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Eventually, the Cards made a run, only to lose when El Ellis' potential game-winning layup was ruled to have come just after the final buzzer. Louisville, though, lost in large part due to the hole it fell in early.

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“They came out initially in the first half, they looked like they were Louisville and we were App State, like we were playing in their arena,” Cards coach Kenny Payne said afterward. “It cannot happen. There has to be some pride, some toughness about being at home, them coming out and fighting to get wins.”

U of L head coach Kenny Payne became frustrated with his players against Appalachian State during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 15, 2022. The Cardinals lost 61-60. © Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal U of L head coach Kenny Payne became frustrated with his players against Appalachian State during their game at the Yum Center in Louisville, Ky. on Nov. 15, 2022. The Cardinals lost 61-60.

Louisville hasn’t found it yet.

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And the Cards have started their season from behind, in the same way they did Tuesday night against Appalachian State.

Louisville is 0-3 with a trio of one-point losses at home, with App State joining Bellarmine and Wright State in topping the Cards at Yum.

It gets tougher from here, too — this bad start could get worse. The Cards will be away from their home court and are set to take on tougher competition next week at the Maui Invitational, a showcase that features some of college basketball's best teams. Louisville will get started with a clash Monday against No. 9 Arkansas.

How bad has it been, and how bleak is the outlook? A quick glance at Louisville basketball history to see where this season's disappointing start stacks up:

When is the last time Louisville basketball started 0-3?

The Cardinals got off to an 0-3 start in 1986-87, coming off the 1986 NCAA championship. Those losses came at the Great Alaska Shootout, where Louisville lost 88-84 to Northeastern, 69-54 to Washington and 74-70 to Texas.

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Payne was a sophomore on that Louisville team.

Has a first-year Louisville basketball coach ever started 0-3?

Yes, but not in the modern era. The Cards have had five full-time coaches since 1944, none of whom lost their first three games. The three-game records for those coaches:

However, John C. Heldman, who took over the program in 1940, lost his first 11 games.

Has Louisville basketball ever started 0-4?

Yes, and Heldman isn’t the only coach to do it. The year prior to his 0-11 start, Louisville lost its first 17 games. That team finished 1-18, its lone win by a point over Berea on Feb. 22, 1940.

Louisville started 0-13 the season before as well and also finished with just a win over Berea in a 1-15 season. U of L started 0-5 in 1930-31, 0-10 in 1921-22 and 0-7 in 1920-21.

When will Louisville basketball be favored to win a game?

Las Vegas lines aren’t set far enough in advance to look down the schedule, but college basketball analytics site KenPom.com keeps a running projection of wins and losses for every team based on statistical analysis.

The next scheduled game it projects Louisville to win is Dec. 14 against Western Kentucky, which KenPom gives the Cards a 54% chance of winning on an estimated score of 70-69.

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"Scheduled game" is a key distinction. Only one game in Maui has a set opponent — Louisville's opener against Arkansas. KenPom gives Louisville an 11% chance of beating the Razorbacks, a team with sky-high preseason expectations.

But Louisville likely will be an underdog against any team in the field.

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Entering Wednesday nights’ games, Louisville was ranked No. 125 in KenPom’s rankings, below every other participating school at Maui: Arizona (No. 12), Arkansas (No. 13), San Diego State (No. 16), Texas Tech (No. 24), Creighton (No. 25), Ohio State (No. 27) and Cincinnati (No. 52).

The silver lining: KenPom has the Cardinals favored to string together a couple of wins after WKU, with Louisville also favored in the two games that follow. The site gives U of L a 98% chance of beating Florida A&M on Dec. 17 and a 76% chance to beat Lipscomb on Dec. 20.

The dark cloud: KenPom projects Louisville to finish the season with a 9-20 record.

If that happens, it’ll be the first time since 1941-42 that Louisville fails to hit double-digit wins. The Cards that year went 7-10. They started 3-0.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Just how bad is Louisville basketball's 0-3 start? Let's put it in historical context

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