Losing to Kentucky. No Big Deal. Losing to North Carolina on the road by 1. No Big Deal. Even Losing to Duke at Home. Again……No Big Deal.
However, sum up all 3 of those losses collectively and you have A BIG DEAL. It’s early and though January is typically a time where Louisville spins its wheels the most, the Cardinals MUST build a résumé for the NCAA Tournament. Losing to these teams don’t necessarily hurt, but they do limit UofL’s seed potential come March. And then the question becomes: “If Louisville isn’t beating top programs, is it really a top team?”
Watching the Duke vs. Louisville 2013 Regional Final, one thing became clear. The title team had been through some battles….and won. Knowing how to win goes a long way and right now there aren’t a lot of Cardinals who have been through major battles and come out victorious.
Think back to that championship team. They had been through Big East schedules & Big East Tournaments. They had played on the big stage that was the Big East Final. They had been through Regional Finals, and played in Final Fours. The 2014-15 version of Louisville is still cutting its teeth, trying to learn how to win. Montrezl Harrell & Wayne Blackshear played roles on that championship team…off the bench.
Last year, through the American Athletic there were a few teams that could challenge the Cardinals. Even the eventual National Champion really didn’t test the Cards. UofL in 2013-14 lost to North Carolina, Kentucky twice, Cincinnati during a sleep-walker at home, and Memphis in a March heart-breaker. The games that were close that Louisville won last year? At Rutgers, At Cincinnati, and vs. Manhattan in the NCAA Tournament. Not huge stages, not huge programs.
These Cardinals don’t yet have that winning experience in the major battles that will propel them to a Final Four. So games like Duke, North Carolina, and Kentucky are HUGE to gain that experience. Because it’s one thing to have the will to win…it’s another to know how to.
Duke pulled a wild card that Louisville should expect from here on out. The Zone. It’s no secret that this Louisville team is not a great shooting team. But it must get better, and it must find a player who can hit a mid-range jumper. If Mangok Mathiang is going to play the Center position 26 minutes, he MUST take those foul line jumpers if for no other reason to keep the defense honest. OR Louisville is going to have to find a 3-point shot. Tonight it didn’t have it against the Blue Devils. The Cards shot 29.5% and just 16.5% from the 3-point line and it lost by 11 at home.
Losing games in January to Top 10 teams at home is not a big deal. But it is if a team doesn’t know how to win the big one. The question now is whether or not Louisville is just a 2nd tier team in the NCAA this year, or if they can rally like Pitino teams usually do in the middle of the year. The Cards have a week off before playing at Pitt and then at Boston College. Sitting there after that is a CRUCIAL 3-game stretch: revenge vs. North Carolina, and @ Miami, and @ Virginia.
By February 7th everyone will know if this Louisville team can learn how to win at the top level, or if this is just a 5-7 seed team that hopes to make a run at the Sweet 16.
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