NCAA Bracket 2012: Louisville Will Give Top Seed Kentucky Toughest Challenge Yet

Justin WeltonAnalyst IIMarch 26, 2012

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 24:  Chris Smith #5, Peyton Siva #3 and Russ Smith #2 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrate with teammates after defeating the Florida Gators 72-68 during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball West Regional Final at US Airways Center on March 24, 2012 in Phoenix, Arizona.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Kentucky Wildcats are the best team in college basketball. They should be able to win the national championship.

But that's why they play the games.

The Louisville Cardinals will give the Wildcats their toughest challenge of the 2012 NCAA tournament when they meet up March 31. 

Rick Pitino's crew has won eight-straight games. They are playing their best basketball at the right time of the season.

Peyton Siva has proven to be a guy capable of playing well even when he's not shooting the ball with a high success rate. He's averaging seven assists per game in the NCAA tournament. 

Gorgui Dieng has improved drastically throughout the course of the season and from last year. He's a rim protector that is capable of altering numerous shots around the rim.

He'll have the edge in height over Anthony Davis, actually. Those two will have a great battle down low.

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 22:  Derrick Nix #25 of the Michigan State Spartans goes up for a shot over Gorgui Dieng #10 of the Louisville Cardinals in the second half during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball West Regional Semifinal game at US Airways Center on Marc
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Russ Smith gives the Cardinals a high value of production coming off the bench. He poured in 30 points in Louisville's regular-season loss to Kentucky 69-62 on December 31. 

Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric are capable three-point shooters that can potentially get hot at any moment in any game. Kuric leads the team in scoring with 12.7 points per game and Chris Smith adds 9.7. 

Chane Behanan has been sensational for his first go-around in the NCAA tournament. He's averaged 14 points and 7.7 rebounds through four games. 

Louisville certainly has the players capable of playing with the Wildcats.

They also have the unity to play well against the Wildcats.

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 24:  Head coach Rick Pitino yells over at Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals in the second half against the Florida Gators during the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball West Regional Final at US Airways Center on March 24, 2012 in Phoe
Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Louisville's defensive unity has been on center stage since the Big East tournament. Their defense has held opponents to 56 points per game in the past eight games. 

Defense is what will keep Louisville close with Kentucky.

Despite how great Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb and Marquis Teague are, they have areas of their games that need improvement.

Exposing their weaknesses will give Louisville a chance to compete. There are few coaches that can do it better than Pitino. 

Playing great defense while forcing Kentucky to shoot as many outside jump shots as possible will allow Louisville to hang around, assuming they aren't hitting those shots. 

Another area that could be exploited is Kentucky's ability to beat a full-court pressure style defense. 

Louisville creates some turnovers when it utilizes its full-court pressure accompanied by quick hands from its guards. Louisville gets nine steals per game.

Finally, the confidence factor from their previous game with Kentucky should help. Louisville hung around with Kentucky with nobody from the starting five scoring in double figures.

Russ Smith scored 30 points that game. He kept Louisville around.

The game was in Lexington.

The Cardinals are going to give the Wildcats a great game. They're playing well, they can do different things on defense that can throw Kentucky off and they have a great coach.

Don't count the Cardinals out yet.