The Louisville Cardinals are a dangerous team to think about when filling out your NCAA tournament bracket.
After finishing the regular season 22-9 (10-8 Big East), the Cardinals got red-hot and stormed through the Big East tournament, beating Cincinnati for the tournament title.
For their efforts, they were rewarded with the No. 4 seed in the West region to face No.13 Davidson.
After beginning the year 12-0, Rick Pitino’s bunch suffered a serious midseason swoon; losing five of seven games to set themselves back in the polls and among the computers. Big East play provided plenty of ups and downs.
Yet with the combination of strong rebounding and a defense that holds opponents to 34.7 percent shooting in man-to-man defensive formations, this team knows the formula for how to win in the NCAA tournament.
Here are the gory details on a team that has Final Four potential.
The Cardinals truly represent the term “team” and that bodes well for a single-elimination tournament. Worrying about foul trouble isn’t an issue.
Despite failing to possess a NBA lottery pick that shines every night, two players stand out as guys that have to play well for the Cardinals to advance:
Kyle Kuric, F
The senior leads the team in scoring at 12.9 PPG and pulls down 4.6 RPG in addition to 1.3 steals. He is the leader both on and off the floor. While he may be experiencing a down year from downtown (34 percent), you can’t leave the sharp-shooter alone.
Kuric has the ability to beat a team by himself if he gets red-hot from three-point land.
Gorgui Dieng, C
The 6’11’’, 235-pound beast is incredibly raw offensively, but continues to improve by the game. He averages 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocks. Dieng is incredibly difficult to box out and any team with little bulk upfront is in deep trouble against Dieng.
I envision a 15-to-20 rebound game in his future.
The Cardinals don’t have the deepest bench, which means Russ Smith is an indispensable part of any March success.
The 6’0’’ sophomore guard is the spark plug off the bench that averages 11.9 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.0 assists in just 21 minutes of action.
He may only play half a game, but his impact is vital for the Cardinals…especially when the offensively-challenged club goes into a prolonged slump.
There is going to be a lot of pressure on junior point guard Peyton Siva to penetrate into the lane and create open looks for the shooters out on the wing. His 5.4 assists during the regular season for an offensive handicapped team is a testament to Siva.
He has a terrific first step and strong vision in the paint with the chaos surrounding him. Siva has to create open looks for Kuric and Chris Smith on the perimeter.
It’s a pretty easy formula: drive and dish.
With the lack of one-on-one scorers and talent, this is how the Cardinals will survive and advance.
Louisville prides itself in strong man-to-man defense that sometimes turns into a zone in the middle of a possession. It confuses opponents that have never seen this particular philosophy in the past. That’s why they were so strong out of conference and struggled in the Big East against opponents that are familiar with it.
They hold opponents to a 37.9 percent clip from the field, which is 13th best in the country. With points at such a premium in the tournament, this is the main reason you have to be excited about the Cardinals against teams that have little time to prepare for their unique style of play.
Don’t forget about their patented full-court press that can turn into a real weapon as well.
Davidson is going to crumble under the intense pressure of the Cardinals. They don't have a shot.
Next up is the winner of New Mexico vs. Long Beach State, another very winnable game either way. The Cardinals have a easy road to the Sweet 16.
But that's when the road gets rocky.
Michigan State is red-hot and behind the senior leadership of Draymond Green a favorite to win the title. It's going to be difficult for the Spartans to keep up offensively, while not getting pounded on the glass.
This could be the toughest test of the entire tournament, not just in the West region.
The Cardinals lucked out with their matchups in the first two rounds.
Unless the offense completely melts down, I see two 20-point wins in the next week.
But that's when the party stops.
Michigan State is deep, tournament tested and have one of the best coaches in the game in Tom Izzo. They are on a collision course to meet Kentucky in the Final Four and Louisville is not going to get in their way.
But a year after a shocking first-round upset, I think collecting two wins this year would make this season a success.