Men’s basketball hits a tourney hot streak

By on March 20, 2012

By Nathan Gardner–

The Louisville Cardinals are Phoenix bound and have punched their ticket into the Sweet Sixteen after two victories this past weekend over Davidson and New Mexico. After suiting up with the new infrared jerseys, ugly as they may be, Louisville has won six straight games claiming the Big East tournament title along the way.

Now that the Cards have made it to the round of sixteen, next weekend’s games will present new challenges and tougher competition. Louisville will face the West region’s No. 1 seed, Michigan St., on Thursday, March 22. The Spartans from Michigan St. and the Cardinals have faced-off twice in the history of the NCAA tournament, splitting the series 1-1. Louisville defeated Michigan St.

and the Cardinals have faced-off twice in the history of the NCAA tournament, splitting the series 1-1. Louisville defeated Michigan St. in 1959, and the Spartans upset a No. 1 overall seeded Cardinals in 2009. The tables are turned this year and the Cards will be seeking revenge, however, Tom Izzo and March go together like the Kardashians and bad television. Michigan St., under the reign of Izzo, have gone to six Final Fours in the past 13 seasons with one National Championship.

Despite their March record, Michigan St. is certainly not immune to defeat. The Spartans have been defeated by less than stellar Northwestern and Illinois teams this season, but are currently on a five game win streak including a Big Ten title with victories over Wisconsin and Ohio St. The Spartans have a lot of strengths; they are at or near the top of the Big Ten standings in nearly every statistical category. They’re good at everything. If they do have a weakness it is their turnover margin. They have turned the ball over more than their opponents this year and this may be the open door to a Louisville victory. If Louisville’s full court press can create points off turnovers the Cardinals will have a good chance at their first Elite Eight showing since the loss to Michigan St. in 2009. Both teams have a deep bench and are well conditioned and this should be a fast paced game with a lot of scoring. This is good for Louisville, but also good for Michigan St. We’ll mark that as a wash.

Louisville does have a more balanced scoring squad than the Spartans, however.

Michigan St. has a lethal weapon in Draymond Green, a 6’7’’ 230 lb. forward that does it all. He leads the team in nearly every stat column, including turnovers and fouls. Louisville must focus their attention to Green to force mistakes from their star player. With such an impressive athlete, one would think if you can shut down the star, you win the game, but that hasn’t necessarily been the case against Michigan St. In many of their losses, Green posted outstanding numbers. This just shows how much the team relies on the help of the other four players on the court. The Cardinals must pressure Green into making frequent mistakes, but cannot divert their attention from the rest of the team; easier said than done.

If the Cardinals prove victorious over the Spartans on Thursday, they will have a shot at the Final Four with a win over the winner of three seed Marquette vs. seven seed Florida. Marquette is a Big East team that Louisville is very familiar with, and they are familiar with Louisville. They play a fast paced style game that Louisville likes and would make for a dogfight in the West regional final. Florida is an SEC team that Louisville is less familiar with and would have little time in which to prepare, but both teams are in the same boat here. They are very well coached by Billy Donavan, who took Florida to back-to-back National Championships in 2006 and 2007.

If the Cardinals should emerge victorious this weekend and earn a trip to the Final Four in New Orleans, they will be put up against the winner of the South region, which looks to be favored to the Kentucky Wildcats. Kentucky has dominated their first weekend in the tourney, Charles Barkley believes the only team capable of beating the Cats right now are the Toronto Raptors. If the Battle of the Bluegrass II happens in this year’s Final Four, we’ll give you the complete breakdown next week.

ngardner@louisvillecardinal.com
Photos: Michael Baldwin/The Louisville Cardinal

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