Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals earned a No. 1 seed and will head up the Midwest region in the 2013 NCAA tournament when play commences on March 19.
Widely considered to be one of the favorites for the title when the season began, the Cards won a share of the Big East regular-season title before winning their second straight Big East tournament over Syracuse on Saturday.
The momentum, the talent and the No. 1 seed are all on Louisville's side. Now, it's time to put it into action.
The Cards will take on the winner of North Carolina A&T and Liberty during their second-round game in Lexington, and will keep a watchful eye on the two teams as their "First Four" game kicks off on Tuesday night in Dayton.
While it's no doubt that Louisville is a favorite to make it to the Final Four (according to ESPN's Stats and Information, nearly 20 percent of all brackets had Louisville as the champ just a few hours after Selection Sunday), there's also the potential for an upset—as per usual in the NCAA tournament.
Here's a look at the three toughest seeds that might have something to say about Louisville coming out of this region unscathed. Peyton Siva, Russ Smith and Gorgui Dieng will all take this thing one game at at time, but if they do happen to look ahead, this is what they will see standing in their way.
No. 4 Saint Louis
The Billikens are a dangerous mid-major, even if their seed suggests that they've been in a major conference for the last decade.
As far as mid-majors go this year, though, Saint Louis is king.
They've beaten Butler three times, VCU another—culminating in the Atlantic 10 tournament championship and a 15-1 mark over the final 16 games of the season. While the Billikens are certainly vulnerable to the weaknesses of a lesser schedule, there's also little doubt that Dwayne Evans, Cody Ellis and the rest of this team has a shot to make a dent in March Madness.
That dent could come in the Sweet Sixteen, where both Saint Louis and Louisville will land with a 2-0 start. These two teams would be two of the hottest teams in the nation if they both reach that point, making for an interesting game against the two sides.
No. 7 Creighton
Creighton gets a nod here, because if it does make it to the Elite Eight (the spot in which it would face Louisville in the expected bracket) that means Doug McDermott is getting all kinds of help from his supporting cast, and the resume will (likely) include wins over Duke and Michigan State/Memphis.
All three of those teams could make a deep run in the tournament and as such would make the Bluejays a hot pick to knock off the Cards at that point.
Led by leading scorer McDermott and a supporting cast that went to the third round of the tournament last season, Creighton has a solid resume, beating Wisconsin, Akron and California—all tournament teams.
The Bluejays also lead the nation in field-goal percentage, optimizing chances on the offensive end behind McDermott's 56.1 shooting percentage. Grant Gibbs and Austin Chatman keep things moving with nearly 10 assists per game between them, and that helps the Bluejays get good looks and remain efficient.
It's going to take efficiency to beat the Cardinals—the team that is second in the nation in steals per game. Creighton is disciplined and has a top-flight scorer to use against any of Louisville's individual defenders, and that could give them the upper hand if Louisville can't play a half-court game.
No. 2 Duke
If all we knew about Duke in the regular season was that they beat the Cardinals when Pitino's team was No. 2 in the country, that would be enough to spice up this potential Elite Eight matchup.
Thankfully, we know more—including the fact that Duke has integrated Ryan Kelly back into the lineup successfully and has one of the best one-two punches in the tournament down low, with Mason Plumlee and Kelly doing inside-out damage.
Seth Curry, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon round out the best scoring options for the Blue Devils—the only other team in this bracket that has both the talent and the pedigree to be considered a favorite against Louisville at the time of the matchup.
Duke got to the line 27 times in the first game between the two, fouling out Kelly and getting four on Sulaimon. Despite only shooting 5-of-20 from three, getting out-rebounded by six and otherwise getting outplayed on the box score, Duke managed to play at the right pace and limit the team to six steals—all by Siva.
The way Louisville played in the conference tournament makes all these matchups relatively simple to forecast right now—the Cardinals will be favored.
However, that seldom means anything in March, so get ready for Louisville to have to perform at a top-notch level to reach the Final Four again.
Make your picks for the 2013 NCAA Tournament here with the Bracket Challenge Game.
To complete your tournament experience, make sure to continue hitting refresh on the live tournament bracket for all the latest scores and advancements through the field. For a more traditional approach, you can print off the 2013 PDF printable bracket, too.
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