Louisville Cardinals Propelled by the "Little Guys"

straitpinkieCorrespondent IMarch 24, 2009

DAYTON, OH - MARCH 20: Preston Knowles #2 of the Louisville Cardinals defends Demonte Harper #22 of the Morehead State Eagles during the first round of the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Tournament at the University of Dayton Arena on March 20, 2009 in Dayton, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

For those with a national perspective on this Louisville Cardinals basketball team, three  reasons come to mind that show why the Cards are still alive in this year’s NCAA Tournament: The coaching prowess of Rick Pitino, the pro potential of superstars Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, and the low-post presence of freshman Samardo Samuels.

While those reasons have paid major dividends for Louisville, most notably Terrence Williams’ incredible stat line in the 79-72 victory over Siena in the second round Sunday, the “Little Guys”—both literally and figuratively—on this U of L squad will be the ones to carry the team to its maximum potential.

Louisville’s last lost came 12 games ago on a cold Thursday night in South Bend, Ind.  The 90-57 beatdown Notre Dame imposed on Louisville was one that dampened nearly all expectations of a lengthy late season run, even from the most die-hard of fans. 

However, since that game, it has been the job of the "Little Guys" to restore confidence in the team, and it all started with a tinkered microwave.

Coach Pitino used the term “microwave” to describe his substitution patterns for the guards up until the Notre Dame game. Before, starting nods went to juniors Edgar Sosa at the point and Jerry Smith at the off guard. The starting backcourt routinely lasted six minutes until the other team’s starters began showing slight fatigue. Then Pitino would order up the microwave.

The first microwave component—or as Terrence Williams referred to him, “Pit Bull No. 1”—was Andre McGee, the 5'10", 180-pound senior out of Moreno Valley, Calif. Though not much of a defensive presence during his first three years in a Cardinals uniform, the co-captain has developed a role this season as a fierce defender who embodies the heart and soul of this Louisville basketball squad.

“Pit Bull No. 2” was the name given to Preston Knowles, the 6'1" sophomore from Winchester, Ky. Though the stat-based fan may recognize Knowles as the Big East leader in three-point shooting percentage, the second year player out of George Rogers Clark High has improved his defense dramatically from his first season at Louisville. 

Together McGee and Knowles brought an extra fire to the lineup, which produced wins in 10 of 11 games from the turn of the calendar until the game with the Irish.

After leaving the starting lineup of Sosa and Smith alone for one more game after the Notre Dame debacle—a dominating 99-54 win over DePaul at Freedom Hall—Pitino officially broke up the microwave by starting McGee in Sosa’s place every game since. 

The results cannot be argued. Eleven games and 11 wins by an average of 12.5 points later, the Cards are rolling into their NCAA Regional Semifinal matchup with Arizona on Friday night on their best run of the season.

If anything, the presence of a “constant microwave” with either Knowles or McGee almost always in the lineup has inspired the rest of their backcourt mates. 

Edgar Sosa, the man CBS Sports play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson nicknamed “El Tigre” two seasons ago during his 31-point performance in a 72-69 NCAA Tournament Second Round loss to Texas A&M, has been playing superb defense in the tournament. This was highlighted by his futile dive for a loose ball in front of the Louisville bench during the Siena game, which led to an excited Pitino congratulating the point guard.

Though the big names on the team may read Pitino, Williams, Clark, and Samuels, fans tuning in to this Louisville team for the first time this season may come away most impressed by hustle, character, and the refuse-to-lose attitude of the "Little Guys."

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