By Noah Allison
Despite finishing the season as the nation’s fifth overall ranked team, winning 12 out of their last 13 games played, and rampaging through the American Athletic Conference Tournament, Louisville is ranked a four seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament.
With familiar faces in the number one seed Wichita State, two seed Michigan, three seed Duke and eight seed Kentucky, Louisville has a chance to see many of the same foes from last year’s tournament run. As hot as anybody in the country though this Louisville team is classically peaking at the right time, surely sending a slight tingle up the spines of those teams who felt the Cardinals’ wrath last year.
Despite being inconsistent through the first few months of play, Pitino has righted the ship with his Cards. As his credo goes, “February is the time to get better, March is the time to win.” Louisville went 7-0 in February and heads into March Madness as one of the hottest teams in the country.
The Cardinals rank second in the country in steals per game. Pitino’s vaunted defense wreaked havoc in the AAC Tournament, snagging 39 steals and forcing 64 turnovers during the three game stretch.
The three captains of the team are not just the three best players on Louisville, but also three of the best players in the country.
Sophomore Montrezl Harrell, seniors Luke Hancock and Russ Smith have been a constant throughout the whole year.
Harrell leads the Cards in rebounding with 279. He is also second in scoring with 482 points and second in blocks with 44.
Hancock has been savvy with the ball all year long and is second on the team in three point shots made with 59.
Smith is the ultimate hero and has led the Cards in scoring with 621 points, three-point shots made at 68, steals with 71 and assists with 159.
With their talents peaking, it is the rest of the team stepping up that gives Louisville a legitimate chance.
Senior center Stephan Van Treese has done his part pulling down rebounds at the second highest rate on the team with 193. Guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier don’t allow Louisville to lose a beat when either or are on the court ranking second and fourth on the team in assists. And forward Wayne Blackshear is overcoming his regular season woes and contributing the points, rebounds and defense that he needs to.
Louisville can feel snubbed by the lack of respect for AAC play. Louisville arguably could be the fourth one seed with the acknowledgment of their talent and experience. But Louisville is a four seed, and maybe the final thing this team needs to make a run is a chip on their shoulder.
Nobody wants to see the tough teams Louisville will have to face, but those teams definitely do not want to see Louisville.
It all starts against Manhattan on Thursday. Rick Pitino, Russ Smith and the Louisville Cardinals have their work cut out for them. But this is the time of year we’ve all been waiting for in Card Nation, and there is plenty of reason to tune in.