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.
On the heels of a Final Four run, there’s no room for complacency in Louisville’s daunting out-of-conference schedule for the upcoming season. Games away from home slated against Memphis, Western Kentucky, College of Charleston, and a field including Duke and Missouri at the Battle for Atlantis will presumably complement the UK game at home (that is, unless that series has grown too “traditional” to suit Coach Cal).
The only remaining uncertainty is Louisville’s pairing in the Big East-SEC Challenge. But logic and recent speculation indicate that a rematch with Billy Donovan’s Gators in Gainesville is a near certainty.
- And last week, Harry Fodder at the official UF sports outlet Gatorzone.com wrote “don’t bet against Louisville” as Florida’s Big East opponent.
Of course these aren’t groundbreaking revelations. ESPN’s marketing stiffs surely see the narrative value of an Elite Eight rematch of conference heavyweights and coaching personalities promised by Florida-Louisville. The
clichés story lines literally write themselves, and those dudes would probably love the opportunity to take off early and grab 18 holes in Cromwell or whatever. Beyond that, there just aren’t many evenly-matched alternatives for either team, with UK, Vandy and Syracuse off the table.
So you can probably pencil in Louisville at Florida to round out the Cardinals’ 2012-2013 out-of-conference schedule. The game will be one of several early tests against elite competition in loud road environments. What sets this game apart is Florida’s hunger for redemption after back-to-back Elite Eight collapses. The combination of motivation, talent and hostile environment would likely make this one of the most difficult games of the regular season for Pitino’s squad. Continue reading