It’s officially September and the pigskins are flying around again. Having won their past two season openers under coach Charlie Strong, the Louisville Cardinals are coming off of a monumental BCS bowl win and will field perhaps the most talented team in program history in 2013. But that hasn’t curbed speculation that the Cards are vulnerable in week one against veteran coach Frank Solich and his Ohio Bobcats. With that in mind, we’re prepared to contribute some hard-hitting, evidence-based analysis to the pregame discourse. I mean, maybe not prepared at this exact moment but it feels like something will take shape before kickoff. Ask me again after I get a pot coffee in me and we’ll reevaluate. Until then, this is all we’ve got:
Louisville football entered the offseason with a lot of questions surrounding the running back position, but by August it wasn’t a position battle that attracted the most scrutiny. The announcement that former Auburn star Michael Dyer would play in for the Cardinals in 2013 elicited strong reactions from the local media, but the constant refrain was slippery-slope hand wringing peppered with moral reproach. Critics descended upon the symbolism of an elite athlete tarnished by a history of burners and spice being welcomed into a community that emphasizes “no guns” and “no drugs” among its core tenets, displayed on official signage in the football facility. Particularly in the cynical summer of Aaron Hernandez and Johnny Van Der Beek Football, the subject of football players entitled to misconduct by virtue of their talent was, for good reason, a touchy one.
The 2013 NBA Draft came and went, and the dust has mostly settled 24 hours later. A 6’8, 280-pound Canadian was the #1 overall pick. David Stern rode off into the sunset after grimacing through a bunch of names with unfamiliar diacritic marks. The economies of Greece and Spain inched slightly toward solvency.
Both prospective former-Cardinals heard their names called, marking the end of a four-year dry spell for UofL in the draft. That point can’t be underscored enough, even if Gorgui Dieng slid a few spots below optimistic expectations (courtesy of Atlanta’s front office ignoring the wishes of their last remaining All-Star and some light sedition from Chicago). The folks at Card Chronicle and elsewhere have already compiled most of the relevant analyses, but here are a few gems that fell between the cracks.
Gorgui Dieng, #21, Minnesota Timberwolves
- On a night where the theatrical and bizarre set the tone, The Timberwolves’ mid-first round draft picks of Shabazz Muhammad and Dieng were pragmatic, and consequently seemed to fly under the radar in the ensuing punditry. That didn’t stop Matt Moore at CBS Sports from raving about the picks and listing Minnesota among the five teams that “won” the draft:
Minnesota Timberwolves: Made out like absolute bandits. Gorgui Dieng and Shabazz Muhammad. Minnesota reeled in two high-value guys and managed to squeeze out some cash as well. Great start to the new Flip Saunders era. Dieng has such potential either off the bench or as an emergency starter, and Muhammad was once considered the top pick in the draft. Just a stellar job.
- In his draft pick rankings, Moore also grades Dieng’s selection as a B-plus, explaining:
Very solid pick. Maybe shooting guard might’ve been a better position pick, but I love what he brings. Kevin Love and Dieng together? All of your rebounds now belong to Minnesota. [Emphasis my own, because this needs to go on a t-shirt or a teddy bear]
I spent a lot of time last week ruminatin’ on the discussions that grew out of Kevin Ware’s injury, and the discomfort I felt seeing writers––many of whom seemed to have little prior awareness or knowledge of college basketball––rail against Ware’s exploitation absent any context. It helped shine a lot on the NCAA and temper a bit of the sentimentality with which we wash over the ugly side of college sports every March. But much of the moralizing itself seemed to toe the line between self-serving and exploitative. This was my feeble attempt to advance that discussion, posted about a week too late.
In the days following Kevin Ware’s injury in the Elite Eight, David Sirota and others took the NCAA to task for its failures to protect college players in vulnerable circumstances. Their polemics on the exploitive structure of major college sports were timely and constructive, but in focusing on Ware’s narrative to deliver an accessible argument to a broad audience, it obscures the widely divergent circumstances of student-athletes in major college sports.
I’m still wrapping my head around the University of Louisville’s first men’s basketball championship in my lifetime.
I’m still wrapping my head around Chane Behanan’s impossible putbacks, Kevin Ware’s devoted support, Luke Hancock’s historic Most Outstanding Player distinction, and the second-half heroics that punctuated the end of Peyton Siva’s college career.
I’m also still wrapping my head around the notion of being at work in 6 hours.
This one is going to take a while to soak in. And I’m perfectly okay with that. Go Cards. Continue reading
This evening kicks off the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, with Louisville waiting until tomorrow to take on the twelfth-seeded upstart Oregon Ducks two hours from the UofL campus. Last weekend, in four days characterized by upsets, close calls, and defensive grinders, the Cardinals distinguished themselves by effortlessly carving up North Carolina A&T and Colorado St. on both ends of the floor. So where did Louisville’s two-game performance stack up among the Sweet Sixteen contenders?
Few teams scored as prolifically or won by such wide margins as the Cardinals did in their first two NCAA outings. Louisville trailed only Ohio State in scoring average, and they were the only two squads to eclipse 80 points per game. The Buckeyes dumped 95 on Iona last weekend––the most points in a single game thus far––before scoring 78 as they snuck by Iowa State. The third highest average was claimed, believe it or not, by Florida Gulf Coast, who posted just under 80 PPG against the top-25 defenses of Georgetown and San Diego State. Florida and Arizona rounded out the top 5 teams, of whom only Florida Gulf Coast measured lower than 16th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive efficiency rankings.
In terms of margin of victory, Louisville posted the best figure in the Sweet Sixteen field after winning their first two games by 31 and 26 points, respectively. At 28.5 points, not only does their average margin of victory top the list for Sweet Sixteen teams, but it’s about twice the median margin of 14.5 points. Arizona and Michigan were the only other teams to win both games by 15 points or more. This is an encouraging sign for Rick Pitino’s team, who seemed to lack the killer instinct and explosive offense to thoroughly dominate quality teams for most of the regular season. On the other hand, it’s uncertain how well prepared the Cardinals will be for a late-game challenge from an elite opponent, considering they haven’t encountered a close score in the latter stages of a game since the beginning of March.
This post appeared on Rush The Court’s Big East microsite on Wednesday, but it’s still relevant after the Cardinals dismantled North Carolina A&T in the Second Round the following night. UofL will face much stiffer competition at 5:15 on Saturday in a Colorado St. team that rebounds well, scores efficiently and averages fewer turnovers than all but 12 teams in the country.
With seven regular season games remaining on the schedule in mid-February, Rick Pitino called on his team to win them all. The Cardinals had just lost a demoralizing five-overtime road game to Notre Dame, capping a precipitous three-week fall that saw his team lose four of seven games and drop from #1 in the country all the way out of the top-10. While the Cardinals’ bout with the Irish was heralded by some as the game of the year for its suspense and intensity, Louisville fans shook their heads in resignation after their team choked away an eight-point lead in the final 45 seconds. The team hyped as the strongest national title contender in the Pitino era at Louisville couldn’t seem to generate enough offense outside of Russ Smith, couldn’t seem to generate the fast breaks it desperately needed, and couldn’t seem to close out games.
As you’re most likely aware, tomorrow evening’s Selection Sunday festivities set the stage for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Dedicated fans, casual bandwagoners, and the repressed gambler who manages your office bracket pool all get their first glimpse of the official field.
I’ll be participating in the Selection Sunday live chat with ConnecTV.com tomorrow, talking about the Louisville Cardinals’ tournament outlook. Knowledgeable folks who follow Duke, Syracuse, Kansas, Arizona and Gonzaga will be weighing in as well.
If you’ve got a free tablet/phone/computer screen and the inclination, stop in to check it out and join the discussion. ConnecTV is a “second screen” app designed to complement television programming with relevant tweets, viewer live chats and supplemental information, and you can download the app for iOS and Android or simply use the browser interface. Continue reading
Louisville received a surprise visit from a certain former head of state after beating Villanova 74-55 in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament on Thursday night.
But it wasn’t that much of a surprise; or at least, no more surprising than a good buddy rolling up unannounced because your relationship has come to transcend such formalities through years of intimate kinship and understanding.
What I’m trying to say and what most national media will skim over is that Louisville basketball is already on a first-name basis with The Bill. Let’s recap:
March 2011: Clinton surprises the team following Louisville’s 83-77 overtime victory over Notre Dame in the Big East Tournament Semifinals. Mark Lieberman with the stone cold photobomb:
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The biggest shocker following Saturday’s big win over Syracuse was this statistic:
Not only was last Saturday Louisville’s first March road win over a ranked team in the past decade, but it was also only the second time the Cardinals had won their first road game of March against anyone––ranked or unranked––in their eight seasons in the Big East. (Bear in mind, Louisville didn’t play a true road game after February in 2007.)