Pat Forde published his much-anticipated best case/worst case analysis for each team in the NCAA tournament field today. Here’s his take on the Cardinals:
Best case: A Cardinals team that enjoyed a renaissance in Madison Square Garden last week keeps rolling out West, melting down Davidson and New Mexico with defensive pressure. Russ Smith, an All-American in streetball situations, then goes off on unstructured Memphis in the Sweet 16, and bellwether point guard Peyton Siva puts a triple-double on the board against Murray State in the regional final. Rick Pitino goes to another Final Four, chuckling again at Louisville fans who turn every two-game losing streak into a howl-fest about whether the coach has lost it. Kentucky is shocked in the second round by Connecticut, the fifth consecutive season a team from Louisville’s conference has eliminated the Wildcats from postseason play. John Calipari abandons his Pitino obsession and makes like his players, going to the NBA.
Worst case: Injury plague continues in Portland when Chane Behanan slips in the shower and knocks himself unconscious hours before the Davidson game. Then Gorgui Dieng sprains an ankle on the opening tip. Siva and Smith combine for 20 missed shots and 12 turnovers, trying to win the game on every possession against heady Davidson. Louisville is one-and-done for the third season in a row, and the howls intensify that Pitino has lost it – so he leaves for newly opened job at UCLA. Kentucky wins it all, signs another dozen All-Americans and Calipari spins donuts in Pitino’s front lawn. Dieng becomes the third straight Louisville center to inexplicably go pro early.
Hyperbole notwithstanding, the notion that a Final Four run is even on the radar screen is an encouraging sign, and a testament to a pretty advantageous draw for this Louisville team.
In my opinion, the biggest obstacle for the Cardinals before a potential Elite 8 meeting with MSU will be their first game. This three-game NCAA losing streak is a huge monkey on Pitino’s back, and try as he might to downplay that, you have to think it’s a psychological burden to upperclassmen like Siva and Kuric. Get through tomorrow’s nerves, and I think you’ll see a very relieved UofL team playing loose going forward.