Many believed that the Louisville Cardinals were undervalued when they received a 4-seed in the Midwest region. But if you follow college basketball, you know that seeds only matter when you're filling out your bracket. Once the Big Dance starts, all of that goes out the window. In the Cardinals' first game, they escaped against a pesky Manhattan squad. They then found their stride in the round of 32; defeating a good Saint Louis team, 66-51. But Louisville isn't done quite yet - the Cards have their sights set much higher than the Sweet 16.
First things first, they must win their next game. And their next matchup is against their bitter rival Kentucky.
The Wildcats won't be an easy out by any stretch of the imagination. They became the first team to take down a 1-seed in this year's tournament - Wichita State. But not only will Louisville win this game, it will be cutting down the nets in April - yet again.
That's right, the Louisville Cardinals will repeat as National Champions. Here are 4 reasons why:
4. They Got Hot At The Right Time
Louisville has had its share of winning streaks this year, but none as impressive as its current seven-game winning streak. During the streak, the Cardinals are 3-0 against ranked opponents, and that does not include their two tournament wins. They also destroyed Rutgers by a whopping 61 points. The way that Louisville finished the year had some, including head coach Rick Pitino, thinking the Cards were headed for a 1-seed. As it's well-noted, the committee didn't feel the same. But they don't care - they've found their stride and are peaking at the right time.
3. They Have An Elite Defense
Louisville has one of the top offensive attacks in the entire country - coming in 15th in Ken Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency rankings. But what's impressive is, unlike most high-scoring teams, they have a dominating defense to compliment it. Over the Cards' last six games, they've held their opponents to only 53.3 PPG. Talk about suffocating defense.
They play both sides of the ball with the same intensity and efficiency. And everyone knows, and is sick of, the old cliche "defense wins championships" but it is true. Louisville has already proven that it can win ugly in the tournament when the ball isn't going in the basket as often as the Cardinals would like.
2. Russ Smith
Championship teams usually have an experienced guard who is capable of taking over a game. Meet Louisville's Russ Smith. The senior guard from Brooklyn, NY, has been a consistent scoring threat all season. Three times he hit the 30-point mark, including a 42 point outburst against Houston two weeks ago. But, it's not just scoring that defines Smith.
In Louisville's most recent contest, against Saint Louis, the senior only scored 11 points. Yet, he was able to do other things, the little things, to help lead Louisville onto the Sweet Sixteen. He amassed seven assists and went 3-of-4 from the free throw line down the stretch. Despite a tendency to be a bit "Russdiculous", the Cardinals are in good shape with the ball in his hands, which it will be a lot over the next few weeks. Look for Smith to continue his phenomenal season - he doesn't want his illustrious career to end quite yet.
Not many teams boast the NCAA Tournament experience that the Louisville Cardinals do. They are led by the aforementioned Smith, senior Luke Hancock, junior Chris Jones, junior Wayne Blackshear and sophomore Montrezl Harrell. They worked their way through the bracket last year, have been here before and know what to expect in each round. No team in the tournament returns that combination of experience and success.
Put the champagne on ice, Louisville.