As a Louisville fan, it’s been very hard to not expect a lot from the Cardinals this March. It’s also extremely scary to know that one missed shot, one bad play, or a few bad minutes could cost any team, including Louisville, the national title. March is not an easy time to play, just take a look at the Sienna game on Sunday. Every team comes out pumped up and hoping to cut down the nets at the end of the tournament. The Cardinals have played in the shadows of other teams all year. Pitt and UConn still seem to garner more attention than the Cardinals even after Louisville took both the Big East regular season and tournament titles. ESPN will never mention any other program in the same breath as North Carolina or Duke, not even UCLA, UK or Kansas. Even Kentucky seemed to make more headlines than UofL because of how bad they were playing. UofL has been playing with something to prove all season, whether they had just beaten Pitt or lost to Western Kentucky, they’ve known that they’ve had something to prove. While you must play one game at a time, you still have to keep your eye on the prize. The Cards might not be the overall favorite even with the overall number-one seed, at least according to the national media. Everyone seems to love the darling North Carolina Tar Heels this time of here, UConn might be the new favorite after blowing out the competition in their first two rounds. Even Memphis and Oklahoma are turning a lot of heads, but there are a lot of reasons why Louisville has just as good of a shot as anyone else. Five really, really good ones.
1. Fresh Legs
Louisville may have one of the best benches in the entire country. Between Edgar Sosa, Andre McGee, Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles they can constantly put in rested players to perform that press that they’re known for. Coach Pitino can even throw in three guards if he needs to to give Terrence Williams a rest. While the story in the paint isn’t quite the same, Terrence Jennings isn’t a bad guy to have coming off of the bench, even for a freshman. He can play in the four or the five position and he can maintain quality play while at least one of the big men are taking a breather. As they showed through the Big East Tournament, they can simply wear teams and run away with the game in the second half. Sosa, McGee, Smith and Knowles all average over 16 minutes per game.
Those fresh legs that were just mentioned is the key to the Cardinals’ defensive ability. The Cards have fresh players to press for the entire game and they can also switch back at half-court and play a pretty good 2-3 zone. Statistically, they’re one of the top defensive teams in the country allowing just 61.7 points per game. Back to the bench, they can have five quality defensive players on the floor at any given time and they’re not afraid to dive for balls, intercept passes and block shots.
3. Location, Location, Location
The Cardinals opened up the tournament playing two games in Dayton, Ohio, a little over two hours from Louisville if you drive like a sane person. For regional play, the Cardinals have an even better location in Indianapolis. Just 114 miles from the ‘Ville, Indy is a very short drive, especially for UofL fans who are known to travel in large groups. Arizona also went 2-9 when not playing at home throughout the regular season. Provided the Cardinals advance to the Final Four, Detroit is about 6 hours away from Louisville. Not quite as close as the other two venues but Cardinal fans would be more than willing to make a weekend trip to the Motor City and pack as many fans as they possibly can in Ford Field.
No other team in the country has a player like Terrence Williams. He’s the most versatile player in the country, no questions asked. While his stats aren’t particularly mind blowing in any category, he has high marks in nearly all of those categories. With 12.7 points per game, 8.7 rebounds, 5 assists and 2.4 steals, he can do anything and everything on the hardwood. If that’s not enough, he’s the team’s emotional leader and steps up when he needs to. He’s cool, calm and collected but often wears a smile on his face and performs silly antics. He goes out and enjoys playing the game. He’s the reason Louisville is won the Big East and the reason they earned the top seed.
5. Experience is Key
If experience is what it takes to win, the Cardinals definitely have it. Their past two years in the tournament, they have advanced two games further each time. They’ve seen every offensive and defensive set they could possibly see. They’ve played the best competition in the country through their grueling Big East schedule. Rick Pitino’s been to plenty of final fours and always seems to have his teams playing their best ball come tournament time. The Juniors and Seniors in this group have now played in a total of eight NCAA tournament games. They have just as much experience as any other team in this tournament and they’re as prepared as anyone else in this tournament.
There’s what they can do, now they just have to go out and do it.