The Louisville Cardinal

Making the case: Men’s basketball reaching the Final Four

By Dalton Ray–

A year removed from a self-imposed postseason ban, the men’s basketball team enters the 2017 NCAA tournament as a two seed in Midwest Region. Louisville will need to shake their recent losing ways if they want to make their 11th Final Four.

Why they will: Battle-tested

According to CBSSports, Louisville (24-8, 12-6) has the nation’s second toughest schedule. Their combined opponent winning percentage is 63 percent, second in the nation behind Vanderbilt. Playing in arguably the nation’s best conference, the Cardinals have played 15 of their 32 games against NCAA tournament teams.
The Cardinals’ challenging competition should pay off as U of L is accustomed to a high level of play. Kansas is the Midwest region’s top seed, while No. 3 seed Oregon (preseason number five) and No. 4 seed Purdue (Big Ten regular season champion) round out the top four seeds. Iowa State, the No. 5 seed, was the Big 12 tournament runner-up and seventh-seeded Michigan has five wins in a row, culminating with a Big Ten tournament championship. Miami, the No. 8 seed, played Louisville in a tightly contested game at the KFC Yum! Center in mid-February.

Staying close

Of Louisville’s eight losses, only two were decided by more than 10 points (North Carolina and Virginia). Louisville faced its biggest deficit of the season while hosting Virginia in late December, falling behind by 21 points midway through the second half, but fought back and cut the deficit to three possessions with under four minutes to play.
U of L’s consistent resolve is needed for a run in the NCAA tournament.

The perfect recipe 

On paper, Louisville has everything a coach could want.

A calm and cool minded point guard that can score when needed? Check. A next-level star to carry the team? Check. A lengthy wing defender that can pitch in offensively? Check. An athletic and long front court? Check. Proven X-factors off the bench? Check.

Louisville’s three guaranteed starters – Quentin Snider, Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel – carry the load offensively with an average of 40 points per game. The first four front court players – Jaylen Johnson, Mangok Mathiang, Ray Spalding and Anas Mahmoud – give Louisville flexibility in the paint. Tony Hicks and VJ King are capable players that can fill in at multiple spots.

Why they won’t: No painstaking loss

In 2013, when Louisville won the national championship, it was easy to think back on the 2012 Final Four loss to rival Kentucky. The loss, while dismal at the time, was more than crucial to the championship run. It showed how close they were and what could have been. This team hasn’t had a traumatic loss yet because it hasn’t had an opportunity yet. Only Snider and Mathiang played in Louisville’s 2015 loss in to Elite Eight to Michigan State.
Successful teams share a common trait: learning how to lose. This Louisville team has not experienced anything close to a difficult loss.

Free throw woes

In Louisville’s most recent loss against Duke, free throws killed the Cardinals. U of L’s 68.5 percent at the line ranks them 232rd in the nation.

In the tournament, every detail matters. Louisville will be in trouble if the comes down to hitting the free shots from 15 feet away.

Final five-minute offense

Louisville consistently struggles on the offensive end during the closing minutes. Louisville doesn’t have a hands-down, go-to guy on the offensive end who can take the ball and go to work.

Aside from the final seconds, Louisville’s offense struggles in late-game execution. With the game slowing down, the Cardinals have trouble converting in half court sets down the stretch. Louisville operates best with a control chaos pace and that’s something that becomes harder to achieve the deeper a team goes into the tournament.

Photo by Nancy Hanner / The Louisville Cardinal