Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Season Recap and Tourney Preview: Louisville

Three of the four teams we focus on at WNG find themselves dancing this weekend while the fourth predictably languished in the basement of the Big Ten. To prepare for the opening weekend we're going to a three part series breaking down each team. To kick things off we've got Sanders breaking down the Cardinals of Louisville.

1. There was a point where all your teams were flirting with the bubble either in the middle or even toward the end of the season. What happened to turn things around and ultimately land in the dance? Who were the key players who stepped up?

After Louisville's 19 point loss at the hands of St. John's, things looked bleak to say the least. A brutal closing stretch loomed, with 2 games against Syracuse and road dates with UConn and Marquette. The Cards somehow pulled off the upset at the Carrier Dome and handed the Orange their second loss of the season. Mike Marra scored 12 big points off the bench to key the win. Louisville has been an enigma all season, and the inconsistency continued as the Cards finished 4-3 to close out the season.

Assistant coach Ralph Willard has said that this year's team is like a box of chocolates, and trust me, you NEVER know what you're gonna get with them. Edgar Sosa had a huge game-winner on the road at UConn and WNG's own Kyle Kuric poured in 22 points in the SECOND HALF against Syracuse as the Cards took down the Orange for the second time this season. Honestly, without those two wins over Syracuse, Louisville's resume is nowhere close to tournament-worthy. The guards will have to step up in the tournament, but Louisville has been as inconsistent a team as there is in the country this season.

2. Give your coach a grade for his coaching job this season.

B+...Pitino had to deal with the losses of lottery picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark and work in a host of new players. It took him most of the season to do it, but he was able to get his team up for some big games that ultimately got them into the tournament. That being said, he has struggled to address the rebounding deficiencies that have plagued the Cards throughout the year, and it showed in the Big East tourney as Cincy pounded the glass for 28 offensive rebounds in their second round game.

The Cards have been incredibly inconsistent, and some of that rests on Pitino, but when it's all said and done you rely on your seniors to provide some of that consistency, and he just hasn't gotten it from Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith. Overall a good job for Pitino getting his team into the tournament and into a favorable first round matchup with a chance to knock off Duke in the second.

3. Who is going to be the X-Factor for your team in the postseason?

With Louisville, it's a different guy every night. Sometimes it's Sosa, sometimes it's Samuels, sometimes it's a guy off the bench that you never saw coming (see Kuric against Syracuse). Samardo Samuels should have his way inside against Cal and potentially against Duke, so it's the play of Edgar Sosa that will determine the Cards' tournament fortunes. As he goes, so goes Louisville. If he can limit his turnovers, take smart shots, and keep his composure, Louisville can legitimately upset Duke in the second round. If not, they could easily lose to Cal and bow out early.

4. Play bracketologist and break down your team's draw in the bracket? What are your expectations now that the path is out there for every one to see?

Louisville gets the Cal Bears in the first round in the 8-9 matchup. Personally, this draw is exactly what I was hoping for: a winnable first round matchup and a weak 1 seed in the second round. Samuels should be dominant inside, as Cal has had no answer for strong post presences all season. The key will be keeping Jerome Randle in check. The Cal point guard can knock down shots from anywhere, and it is imperative that Sosa, Knowles, and Smith keep him from going ballistic.

That being said, I think Louisville's pressure defense will give Cal problems, and the Cards will try to make someone besides Randle beat them. I don't think Patrick Christopher is good enough to create for himself and go off if Randle isn't getting him the ball. Jennings and Samuels should be able to control the boards, because I don't think Cal's frontcourt is good enough to expose Louisville's rebounding deficiencies.

If they get past the Bears, Duke is a great matchup for them in the second round. Again, Samuels and Jennings should be able to completely neutralize Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers. The guards will have their hands full with Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer, but if they can knock down some shots from the perimeter and hound the back court of Duke, Louisville has a legit shot of pulling off the shocker.

The problem for Louisville is Kyle Singler. He will be a matchup nightmare for the Cards, as he is too good off the ball and too strong for Jared Swopshire to defend, and against any guard Louisville can throw at him, he can get his shot off over them. I think our best bet is to have Preston Knowles harass him all game, get in his grill, push and shove, and make his life as miserable as possible for 40 minutes. Louisville is so inconsistent that it's a huge stretch to predict them to the Sweet 16, but that doesn't mean they don't have the talent and the potential.

5. Prediction Time: How far does your team go.

A win over Cal in the first round and a scare of Duke in the second round before bowing out.

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