Remember that scene the next time you hear a coach trying to explain that NCAA tournament seeds are meaningless.
The Louisville players spent a lot of time in press conferences and in their locker room in New York last week, lobbying for a No. 1 seed. Then they went out on the court and built the strongest case of all. The regular-season champions in the Big East Conference went out and won the Big East tournament, defeating Providence, Villanova and Syracuse to conclude their “body of work” with a 28-5 record.
On Sunday, the NCAA selection committee rewarded Louisville, not only with the No. 1 seed in the Midwest Region but also with the overall top seed in the tournament. That may have surprised some who follow the seeding process closely. The Cardinals had not seriously entered the No. 1 seed discussion until a week ago, but their regular-season Big East title put them in the spotlight and they delivered by winning the conference tournament.
That is a remarkable accomplishment in a conference that produced three No. 1 seeds. Pittsburgh (East) and Connecticut (West) were the others, as the conference became the first to put three teams on the top line. With Syracuse and Villanova receiving No. 3 seeds, the Big East had five teams among the top 12 in the tournament.
“For me personally, being part of this team is great,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said. “I love the fact that we did it in the toughest year in the history of the Big East.”
It was an impressive show and the Cardinals, who enter the NCAA tournament on a 10-game winning streak, now get our endorsement as the team to beat. Despite a strong Midwest bracket that includes No. 2 Michigan State, No. 3 Kansas, No. 4 Wake Forest, and No. 6 West Virginia, look for the Cardinals to advance to the Final Four, where they will produce coach Rick Pitino’s second national championship. His first came at Kentucky in 1996.
Louisville stands out from the rest of the tournament crowd right now for several reasons. Since Jan. 1, the Cardinals have lost just twice. They enter the postseason as perhaps the most consistent team in the nation the past month. The Cardinals may be playing the best basketball in the country and they open Friday night in Dayton against either Alabama State or Morehead State with an incredible amount of momentum.
“It’s non-stop,” said Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn, perhaps the best point guard in the nation. “To put it so you can understand it, it’s like being chased by a pit bull and you’ve just got to keep running for your life. Rick Pitino does a great job of rotating fresh bodies in and you just don’t have a chance to stop.
“I think those guys do call themselves the Louisville Pit Bulls. That’s a good name for them.”
Louisville senior guard Andre McGee describes the defensive attack as “relentless.”
“Even breaking our press through dribbling, is a hard thing to do,” McGee said. “That wears guards out trying to dribble through two, three, four guys and we're bringing in so many different guys and we lose nothing when we go to our bench. Our depth is one of our great assets, so when guys come in ready to keep pressure on the ball it really helps us out and teams do end up wearing out late in the second half.”
“They’re going to gamble and you’re going to get some open shots,” Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said of trying to beat Louisville’s pressure. “You have to make them, and when you don’t, you know, they’re going to score on the other end.”
The Cardinals got away with some bad opening halves in New York. The Cardinals seem to sense they have the luxury of putting teams away in the second half. That’s a dangerous habit to acquire and one that won’t go very far in tournament play. But this team is smarter than that. The Cardinals understand they’ve been building to this moment.
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