Louisville entered the NCAA Tournament with a 10 game winning streak. The last three of those were wins over Providence, Villanova and Syracuse in the Big East Tournament to capture the Big East Crown.
The Cardinals are fueled by the outstanding forward duo of Senior Terrence Williams and Junior Earl Clark, a relentless full court press and their ability to wear down opponents with their depth.
UConn's Hasheem Thabeet and Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair shared the Big East Player of the year award. There is no question that Williams was every bit as deserving of the award. He averaged 12.7 PPG, 8.7 RPG and 5.0 APG. He has the ability to dominate games on nights when his scoring is down.
T-Will is the kind of player that lives for the big moments. In the tournament he has stepped his game. He has averaged 18.5 PPG and 12.0 RPG. He is the most versatile player in the country and means more to UL than any stats can indicate. He is the team leader and Louisville's most irreplaceable player.
Clark is a mega talent that also contributes in multiple ways. He averaged 13.9 PPG, 8.8 RPG and 3.3 APG. He provides length and quickness in the middle of the UL press, runs the floor extremely well and has the ability to create his own shot in a set offense.
The loss of David Padgett following last season created a hole in the middle of Rick Pitino's lineup. Freshman Samardo Samuels entered in the fall as the big man anointed to replace Padgett. After an inconsistent freshman season, Samuels has improved greatly in the Cardinals first two tournament games. He has averaged 14.0 PPG, 7.5 RPG and 3.0 BPG in the Cardinals wins over Morehead State and Siena. Those are up over 12.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG and 1.3 BPG in the regular season.
The Cardinals ability to get the ball inside has been a key through the first two rounds. Williams, Clark and Samuels have combined to score 89 of the Cardinals 153 points through the first two games. That comes to 60.1 percent.
Guard play could be a key to Pitino getting UL to a second straight Elite Eight. Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith and Andre McGee have all shown the ability to score 20 points on a given night. Preston Knowles adds an adept three point shooter off the bench.
McGee is one of best defensive players in the country, Smith is one of the country's best shooters and a physical guard that can get to the basket and harass opponents backcourts, Sosa shares the point guard position with McGee and has shown the ability to hit the big shot. Knowles averages 16 minutes per game.
Louisville's ability to go eight or nine deep every night has been the key to being able to press and play pressure defense the routinely. Terrence Jennings gives the Cardinals rebounding and defense off the bench.
After rolling through the Big East Tournament, the Cardinals haven't played like a number one seed. They have struggled through the first two games. They were tied with Morehead State at halftime and didn't put Siena away until the final minute.
If the Cardinals are going to live up to their number one overall seed they are going to raise their level of play. To continue playing, they are going to need to continue getting quality shots, cut down on turnovers and continue their stellar defense.
Louisville has shot 53 from the field and 43 percent from three-point range in the first two rounds. Next up is Arizona and their match-up zone defense. Getting the ball up court quickly and finding Williams, Samuels and Clark will be a key to victory.
Louisville has been one of the best defensive teams in the country this season. Through their first two NCAA Tournament games, the Cardinals have held their opponents to 40.5 field goal shooting, 31.4 three point shooting and forced 29 turnovers.
In the Big East Tournament the Cards had poor first halves. They had to overcome eight point halftime deficits against Villanova and Syracuse. Another bad first half against Morehead State in the first round had to have UL fan concerned. Dominant second halves during all three games led the Cardinals to victory.
Stepping on the gas early and not letting up is going to be important. Arizona has shown the ability to comeback in games, but has has trouble closing out late. How far this Louisville team advances will ultimately determine their place in an already rich Louisville and Pitino history.
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