Louisville Basketball: Cardinals' Easiest Road to Winning the 2013 NCAA Title
Louisville earned the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament with a ferocious regular-season finish and Big East tournament title run. The Cardinals cruise into the Sweet 16 riding a 12-game win streak, and the team hasn't lost in regulation since Jan. 26.
Rick Pitino and Co. have roughed up tourney opponents. Louisville outscored North Carolina A&T and Colorado State by a combined 57 total points.
The opening week of tournament competition eliminated 52 squads, trimming the field to a small collection of title contenders. Examining every end of the bracket, the following scenario presents the path of least resistance for Louisville on its way to a national title.
Sweet 16: No. 12 Oregon Ducks
This one is set in stone. Louisville encounters upstart Oregon Friday evening in Indianapolis.
It's apparent the Ducks were significantly underseeded by the NCAA selection committee. Oregon was tagged with a No. 12 seed despite claiming the Pac-12 tournament title and four victories against nationally ranked opponents.
The Ducks toppled fifth-seeded Oklahoma State (68-55) and fourth-seeded St. Louis (74-57) en route to the Sweet 16. Oregon is a hot-shooting team from beyond the arc, particularly freshman Damyean Dotson (16 three-pointers in the last five games).
Oregon isn't opposed to spending the game on the run. Expect Louisville to implement a press defense early and often against the Ducks in order to take Oregon out of its rhythm.
The Cardinals own a clear edge in the frontcourt and could pull away early if Oregon's guards are overwhelmed. This battle between conference champions features two of the hottest teams in the tourney.
Elite Eight: No. 3 Michigan State
Louisville moves on to face the winner of Michigan State-Duke in the Elite Eight. Either way, we're looking at an elite coaching matchup between Rick Pitino and either Mike Krzyzewski or Tom Izzo.
It's in Louisville's best interest to avoid the Blue Devils, who boast one of the nation's most efficient half-court offensive sets. Michigan State is a strong perennial power, so the Elite Eight isn't going to be a cakewalk for the Cardinals regardless of what happens Friday night.
Michigan State standout guard Keith Appling is nursing a shoulder injury, which occurred in the round-of-32 win over Memphis. The Spartans present a formidable frontcourt and get after rebounds with tenacity that has become Izzo's trademark in East Lansing.
The Cardinals' electric guard Russ Smith may be able to exploit Appling off the dribble and presents a unique defensive matchup for Michigan State. This round presents the toughest hurdle on Louisville's journey to a national championship as we've constructed it.
National Semifinal: No. 13 La Salle
If the Explorers manage to advance to the Final Four in Atlanta, you can bet most of the nation would be rooting for underdog La Salle in this game. Louisville outclasses La Salle in most departments, particularly end-to-end athleticism and interior size.
The Explorers' defensive effort is inspiring and could rattle the Cardinals' cage at certain points. Louisville would likely dominate in the paint, putting the pressure on La Salle's gifted long-distance shooters.
Louisville presumably would be a double-digit favorite in this matchup. The talent disparity is extreme, but the Cardinals still can't afford to coast against a tireless opponent.
National Championship: No. 15 Florida Gulf Coast
The Eagles are the talk of the tournament through three rounds. Florida Gulf Coast became the seventh No. 15 to knock off a No. 2 when it toppled Georgetown in the round of 64.
The team made history again in the next round. FGCU put on a high-flying performance en route to a win over San Diego State, becoming the first 15th-seeded squad to advance to the Sweet 16.
It's been a thrill to watch the Eagles sprint up and down the court with a lob-oriented fast break that quickly earned the label "Dunk City." It's hard to imagine Pitino's masterful press defense falling apart at the seams against a largely unchallenged FGCU backcourt.
Cardinals big men Chane Behanan and Gorgui Deing would have a field day against the Eagles' undersized frontcourt.