ACC Basketball: Louisville Starting Point Guard Chris Jones Dismissed

In an announcement that should hardly come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Louisville basketball this year, starting point guard Chris Jones has been dismissed from the program, according to a press release by the school.

Jones returned to the team on Saturday against Miami (FL), following an, “indefinite suspension,” for violation of team rules, which only lasted one game, a loss on Wednesday night to Syracuse. He has been the subject of many ACC conference calls this season, in which Rick Pitino often spoke with reporters about the dysfunction in his backcourt.

This is a huge blow to Louisville’s chances of a deep run in the NCAA Tournament. A flawed team has only gotten worse today, as Chris Jones seemed unable to live up to the lofty standards set for him at the school. Jones played in 26 of the 27 Louisville games this season, and averaged 13.7 points on 38% shooting in 31 minutes per contest.

In 2012, Jones was considered a first-rate catch as a JUCO recruit out of NW Florida JC, which is a member of the Panhandle conference. He was the top-rated JUCO prospect after his freshman year alone, which was considered a tremendous accomplishment. Only Auburn’s Chris Porter received similar honors after his freshman campaign. That’s just twice in fifteen years. Even with JUCO talents opting for prep academies, it usually takes a JUCO more than one year to make such a lasting impression. Jones 18 ppg led his team to a National JUCO runner-up finish.

Jones had previously committed to Bruce Pearl at Tennessee while the current Auburn coach was stone-faced lying to the NCAA about that NOT being his home in the pictures HIS recruits took at a cookout. When Pearl was dismissed, his assistant Steve Forbes moved to the NW FLA St JC and re-directed all of Pearl’s 2011 recruiting class to Louisville. Along with Anton Gill and Terry Rozier, Pitino presumably thought he had his next two years on lock after losing veterans Russ Smith and Luke Hancock following 2014 seasons’ end.

Having seen pieces of at least 15 Cardinals games this year, it was obvious that while Jones was a tenacious defender in the passing lanes, and could turn up his on-the-ball defense that he was disinterested at times; particularly if his shooting night was going poorly. Having a rangy front-line led by intimidating rim-protector Montrezl Harrell and a trio of other big bodies afforded Jones and Rozier the ability to take risks and create turnovers and transition baskets. But even as risk was rewarded more often than not, the penetration he surrendered often gave opposing guards nice looks inside the painted area.

The trust simply hasn’t been there with this Louisville team. Despite losing Kevin Ware (the one with the gruesome broken leg), Smith, and Hancock, Pitino has had to play Rozier and Jones almost exclusively, with Gill getting only cursory opportunities (just 9.9 mpg). The pair was going for 64 minutes of the 80 back-court minutes each game, and not involving Wayne Blackshear enough, a potential all-ACC wing player were it not for his own passivity.

The team’s 30.4% rate from distance was indicative of Jones poor sense of spacing, and represents a lot of irrationally confident attempts at heat checks that never fully warmed up. On a team with post finishers like Harrell and Blackshear, managing just 12 assists a game as a team, there was a level of offensive dysfunction that was set to doom the team whether Jones finished the year in Louisville or not.

In the mid-1980s when Billy Tubbs (Oklahoma) and Jerry Tarkanian (UNLV) were plugging holes every year with JUCO product, recent years have seen coaches trending away from the JUCO route. I found this interesting quote from an SI article written shortly after Pitino inked Jones:

The junior college ranks haven’t been kind to Rick Pitino in his time at Louisville. In 12 seasons as the Cardinals’ coach, Pitino has recruited five JUCO players; three transferred after a year or less, one went pro shortly after signing and one stayed two years.

Now the ACC’s NCAA tournament landscape looks much different than anyone had envisioned at it’s inception. Syracuse has slapped itself on the wrist with lighter than deserved sanctions, UVA is dealing with an injury to star Justin Anderson and might take a game or two to round into form, and Duke’s top threat Jahlil Okafor is taking some time with a busted ankle. While the rest of the ACC struggles to find an identity other than #GOACC, the Cards appeared to be the one reliable contender, even if Pitino doesn’t go to his bench for more than 30-40 minutes a night, even in blowout wins.

Simply a big blow to Louisville’s chances this year. It will be time for Gill to step in and replace some of the offense, and provide a little ballast to a team that has a sucking chest wound right where it’s heart should be. But tomorrow’s game is against the (truly) Rambling Wreck, and his absence might not have been noticed anyway. Georgia Tech plays like a baby could steal candy from IT.

Check in with us during games, as we provide live commentary on ACC games. Follow me on Twitter @mikemcd92.


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