Apr 1, 2013, 12:15 PM EDT
Way back in October, Louisville was in the same position as they are a week before the national title game: a favorite to win the national title.
With the exception of one three-game stretch in the middle of the season, Louisville has more-or-less steamrolled through the year. They’re sitting pretty at 33-5, they have the most efficient defense in Kenpom’s database (which dates back to 2003), and Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, Louisville’s nightmare-inducing back court, are playing the best basketball of their careers.
The last thing the rest of the country needed was for Rick Pitino’s team to have extra motivation heading into Atlanta. Now they have it.
How they got here: Louisville won the Midwest Region as the No. 1 seed. After blowing out North Carolina A&T, the Cardinals knocked off No. 8 seed Colorado State by 26, then beat No. 12 seed Oregon 77-69 in the Sweet 16 before last night’s 22 point win over No. 2 seed Duke.
Odds to win the title: 2:3
Why they can win: Everyone knows about how good Louisville’s defense is, but the difference between this Louisville team and the one that lost three straight games to Syracuse, Villanova and Georgetown is that their back court has been taking over games on the offensive end of the floor. Russ Smith is averaging 26.0 points in the NCAA tournament, as he’s been impossible to keep out of the paint and a terror in transition. Peyton Siva has controlled everything about the game for the Cardinals on the offensive end of the floor. He’s looked like a 10-year NBA veteran running the pick-and-roll, and he’s cut down on the number of jumpers he takes, focusing on getting into the lane and either scoring at the rim or finding his big men for easy baskets.
Why they won’t win: There are two things to be concerned about with Louisville. The first is that they struggle to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. That hasn’t hurt them yet, because no one has been able to keep Siva and Smith out of the lane, but if Wichita State — and, more importantly, if Syracuse — can keep the Cardinals from getting penetration with the dribble, Louisville could be in trouble. They also struggle on the defensive glass, as their zone makes it easy to get second shots and the Cardinals big men have a tendency to miss box outs and try to jump for rebounds.
It’s worth noting here that Wichita State is a good defensive team that is a top 20 offensive rebounding team.
Key stat: Louisville’s 27.5% defensive turnover percentage isn’t the number that opposing teams need to be concerned about. It’s their steal percentage, which, at 16.1%, was the second-best in the country this season and means that the Cardinals get a steal on roughly one out of every six possessions on the defensive end of the floor. That matters because they are so good in transition. When Louisville forces a live-ball turnover, often it ends up being a “pick-six”, leading to a layup at the other end.
Game-changer: Gorgui Dieng. He’s the shotblocker at the rim that allows Louisville’s guards to be aggressive and gamble on the perimeter, and his development offensively — he can hit 15 footers and he’s become a very good passer out of the high post — is key in their pick-and-roll offense and how Louisville can beat a 2-3 zone. (Ahem, Syracuse.)
Prediction?: I think Louisville will win it all.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:56 PM EDT
Gonzaga is back in the tournament for what feels like the 100th straight year, but this team is a bit different than Gonzaga teams of old.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:21 PM EDT
Meet the North Dakota State Bison, the winners of the Summit League and one of the — likely — trendy upset picks in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:29 PM EDT
The coaching carousel continued to spin on Tuesday night as Loyola Marymount opted not to renew the contract of head coach Max Good.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:06 PM EDT
Get to know the Northeast Conference tournament champs!
Mar 11, 2014, 9:16 PM EDT
The Milwaukee Panthers are dancing after winning four games in the Horizon League Conference Tournament. Meet one of the NCAA Tournament’s more dangerous double-digit seeds here.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT
After only two seasons as head coach, Tennessee State has opted to fire head coach Travis Williams.
Mar 11, 2014, 6:15 PM EDT
The Southland’s top team has been upset in the conference tournament for the past three seasons. Will the trend continue? Or has the arrival of Stephen F. Austin’s new coach, Brad Underwood, altered the trajectory?
Mar 11, 2014, 6:00 PM EDT
UNC Wilmington on Tuesday announced that head coach Buzz Peterson is out after four years at the school.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:37 PM EDT
Every year, there are a handful of teams that could use a couple of wins in their respective league tournaments to gain entry into the field of 68. Here are five schools that need to string some wins together this week to feel comfortable making NCAA Tournament.
Mar 11, 2014, 5:21 PM EDT
In light of the back injury that will keep Joel Embiid out for the Big 12 tournament and could foreseeably saddle him to the bench for the entirety of the NCAA tournament, we decided to take a look at season-ending injuries to key players on past National Title contenders: Kenyon Martin: Cincinnati was the No. 1…
Mar 11, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
To follow along with the 2014 Coaching Carousel, click here. Bowling Green will not be renewing the contract of head coach Louis Orr, the school announced on Tuesday. Orr had coached the Falcons for seven seasons, finishing with a 101-121 record and just one season with a .500 record or better. BGSU was 12-20 this past…
2014 American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview: Louisville looks to win its only year in the AAC
Mar 11, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
The American came into this season as a big unknown, but with five likely NCAA Tournament teams and three All-Americans, this is one of the better leagues in college basketball this season. Can Louisville win the league in its only year in the American or will Cincinnati, Memphis, SMU or UConn get in the way?
Mar 11, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Vegas is good at predicting winners. Here are their odds for all of the major conference tournaments.
Mar 11, 2014, 2:34 PM EDT
Four automatic bids will be earned on Tuesday night, with the West Coast Conference title game headlining.
Mar 11, 2014, 1:16 PM EDT
Doug McDermott. Player of the Year. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:47 PM EDT
Saint Louis will look to repeat as the Atlantic 10 Tournament champion, but it won’t be easy. The field in Brooklyn could have six, yes six, NCAA tournament-bound teams.
Mar 11, 2014, 12:28 PM EDT
When you take your team to 34-0, you’re the National Coach of the Year. Pretty sure our forefathers wrote that into the Constitution.
Mar 11, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
Now 15 teams deep, the ACC’s showcase event will span five days in Greensboro. Between the new arrivals, one upcoming departure and a plethora of talented players, this will be must-see television.
Mar 11, 2014, 10:54 AM EDT
The Duke star is NBCSports.com’s National Freshman of the Year.
Mar 11, 2014, 9:53 AM EDT
South Dakota will not be renewing the contract of their interim head coach.
- 2014 American Athletic Conference Tournament Preview: Louisville looks to win its only year in the AAC 1
- NBCSports.com National Player of the Year: Doug McDermott, Creighton 2
- 2014 ACC Tournament Preview: Will a newcomer crash the party in Greensboro? 1
- NBCSports.com National Freshman of the Year: Jabari Parker, Duke 3
- Bracketology: Delaware, Manhattan, Wofford punch tickets 1
- 2014 SEC Tournament Preview: How will Kentucky, bubble teams fair? 1
- Joel Embiid out for Big 12 tournament, ‘longshot’ for NCAA tournament first weekend 1
- NBCSports.com’s 2014 College Basketball All-Americans (12)
- Wichita State will head into the NCAA tournament 34-0 as a No. 1 seed (12)
- Assigned Reading: Dean Smith’s health continues to deteriorate (6)
- No. 1 Florida’s undefeated SEC season not just a by-product of their league (6)
- South Carolina suspends Frank Martin for regular season finale at Mississippi State (5)