Key Wins: @UNLV, @Kentucky, West Virginia, Marquette, @Marquette, Georgetown, @Pittsburgh, Notre Dame
Key Losses: N-BYU, Dayton, N-Purdue, @Seton Hall, @UConn, @Georgetown
Key Stat: 10-2. The Cardinals finished with ten wins in their last 12 regular season games, making them one of the hottest teams in the country heading into the Big East Tournament.
Most Important Player: Terrence Williams.
The return of David Padgett from injury in January seems to have turned Louisville’s season around, but the key player for Louisville’s Tournament success will be Terrence Williams. The junior athletic superfreak does everything for Pitino’s Pups. T-Will actually owns two triple-doubles; storied Louisville only has four in its history.
His passing deserves special recognition as Williams led the team in assists, along with points and rebounds, last season. He often runs a version of the point forward famously executed by Scottie Pippen of the 90’s Chicago Bulls.
Tremendous improvement has been shown in shooting with range. As a true threat from the outside T-Will possesses a nearly complete game in just his third post-scholastic season.
The turnovers hurt and they hurt badly. Williams handles the ball so much that he can get slip into treacherous turnover territory.
More than six times Williams amassed five turnovers in one game. The problem plays are not typically in the halfcourt as Williams, the exceptional defensive rebounder, loves to tuck it and run. The Seattle native botches a few too many fast-break opportunities.
Defensive Principles: Rick Pitino loves to press and just last year regained the depth and talent to do so. One aspect of his Kentucky teams that Pitino chooses not to replicate is the man-to-man defense. The Cards play a 2-3 zone that challenges opponents to beat them from the outside. Rarely does a team simply ravage the zone, but Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell (8-14 on 3pt FG) did quite easily in January. Despite breaking out of the 2-3 zone, Louisville maintains that “spurtability” RP’s teams are famous for. By Valentine’s Day UL racked up 35 separate runs of 8-0 or better. Two such runs can decide a game in the Cards’ favor.
X-Factor: Ah, the saga of Derrick Caracter. Countless times DC looked to be done at Louisville. For whatever reason Pitino has stuck with him.
“If he didn’t change he had no chance of making it in life, never mind basketball. It is a fight. It is a fight all the way to get him to change his ways,” said Pitino.
Even on-court performance wanes as Caracter somehow managed to foul out of six games before February. Nearly gamely Pitino took DC out of a game to protect him from foul accumulation.
At times Caracter visibly dominates the post and unveils talents few possess. It’s an embarrassment of riches just frequently dormant.
How They Crumble or Stumble: The key for the Cardinals is the turnover battle. During the first four losses of the season UL averaged just nine assists per game while coughing it up over 13 times per.
The point guard position is bizarre. As mentioned T-Will likes to run things, Andre McGee has some press break duties, and Edgar Sosa should be the featured PG.
Most of the late game plays, obviously called from the sideline, have Sosa driving to pass. Remember Sosa had an incredible NCAA Tournament a year ago as a freshman. To assume heavy responsibilities at the point guard position, the NYC Dart needs better passing instincts.
Deepest Run Last 3 Years: Tello Palacios and a few remarkably athletic wings traveled all the way to the 2004-2005 Final Four.
From He Who Knows Them Best (Rick Pitino): “I call it the 20% shot. I charted both from the NBA and the collegiate level. If you take challenged shots over the course of the season at the collegiate level you are going to shoot 28% or less, at the professional level 38% or less. That has held true for a long time.”
“Certain teams can make challenged shots. We are not one of those teams. We have got to take open shots and move the basketball around.”
Know This: The Cardinals shoot an assortment of triples but rely on a strong post to set up the shots. David Padgett and Palacios are the kind of passers who earn the hockey assist, that pass that sets up the assist. When the Cards are truly clicking Jerry Smith is shooting a wide open three-pointer. It is not the number of outside shots that win for Louisville. The quality of each particular shot means everything to both the system and program.
Editor’s Note: Louisville’s come on very strong since the start of Big East play, and David Padgett’s return inside has been the reason. He gives them a consistent post presence and takes the pressure of Derrick Caracter. Earl Clark is an underrated component as well. Edgar Sosa might have taken a step back this year, but the Cards’ overall team might be a notch better. Don’t be afraid to pick them through to San Antonio in the right region…