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 31, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
San Diego turned to a former player to lead the basketball program.
Mar 31, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Head coach Ernie Kent is losing three first-year players after his first season at the helm.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
It appears Travis Ford will stay at Oklahoma State for now.
Mar 31, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT
Could Murray State guard Cameron Payne enter the NBA Draft?
Mar 31, 2015, 6:40 PM EDT
UNLV officially loses Rashad Vaughn to the NBA Draft.
Mar 31, 2015, 5:35 PM EDT
Rhode Island landed an impact transfer on Tuesday.
Mar 31, 2015, 4:30 PM EDT
Georgetown takes a major hit with the loss of D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera.
Mar 31, 2015, 3:22 PM EDT
Barry Hinson is not happy about losing the players he brought into the program.
Mar 31, 2015, 2:44 PM EDT
It wasn’t as good as the last two years, but there were still some impressive dunks.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:55 PM EDT
Teams that won the first meeting have won three of the four Final Four/title game rematches, with Duke (1990-91) being the lone exception.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT
Mickey is the second player from LSU to declare this month.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:19 PM EDT
This is nasty.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:09 PM EDT
Bobby Knight would probably not approve of that.
Mar 31, 2015, 11:42 AM EDT
My advice: Hedge that bet, sir!
Mar 31, 2015, 10:01 AM EDT
Lewis will have some well known suitors this offseason.
Mar 31, 2015, 9:57 AM EDT
Barnes spent the last 17 seasons at Texas.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:10 PM EDT
UConn, Notre Dame, South Carolina and Maryland make up the 2015 women’s Final Four.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Some great names highlight this list.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:24 PM EDT
Williams was the leading scorer and rebounder for the Tigers this season.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Nebraska forward Walter Pitchford is giving up basketball for his senior season.
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- 2015 NCAA Tournament All-Second Weekend Team 2
- While a major question remains unanswered, No. 4 North Carolina can be special in 2015-16 3
- Tournament darling R.J. Hunter is heading to the NBA 3
- Texas freshman Myles Turner declares for the NBA Draft 6
- The Final Four is set, and it’s going to be insane 24
- No. 7 Michigan State reaches the Final Four for the seventh time under Izzo 15
- Andrew Harrison’s late free throws send No. 1 Kentucky to the Final Four (88)
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- West Virginia freshman on Kentucky: ‘They’re going to be 36-1′ (21)