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Louisville Cardinals: Big East Have or Have-not?

LOUISVILLE, KY - DECEMBER 30:  Rakeem Buckles #4 and Peyton Siva #3 of the Louisville Cardinals defend Ryan Kardok #13 of the South Florida Bulls during the Big East Conference game on December 30, 2009 at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Jonathan LintnerSenior Analyst INovember 21, 2016

Louisville is in the midst of a quasi-rebuilding season that's become a proving ground for off-court coaching miscues.

 

And as the Cardinals played an up-and-down game that led to an eventual 92-70 victory over Providence Wednesday night—days after No. 3 Kentucky came away with a contested rivalry win—they've left a lot to question.

 

The most prevalent inquiry: As the Big East Conference begins its annual separation between the haves and have-nots, where does Louisville fit?

 

A seven-game spree that includes games against top-tier opponents like Villanova, West Virginia, and Connecticut should paint a picture—which at this point remains as clear as the Cardinals' potential heading into this season.

 

In other words, who knows?

 

After all, Louisville has yet to lay claim to a signature victory in a season that has included very few opportunities to lose.

 

The Cardinals first went on the road at UNLV and lost. They then hosted Charlotte, a mid-pack Atlantic-10 squad, and lost again. Louisville went down once more, at home to Western Carolina, before its most recent defeat last Saturday to Kentucky.

 

Outside of the back-to-back defeats to Charlotte and Western Carolina, the losses have been intermittent.

 

Much of that inconsistency comes with the Cardinals' playing style.

 

They live and die by the three, hope a frenetic pressure defense will coax the opposition into turnovers, and rely on a deep bench to keep players fresh.

 

Oftentimes, such as it did against have-nots like Oral Roberts and South Florida, the plan works. Teams short on depth can't cope with 40 minutes of unrelenting pressure  no matter how many media timeouts and time stoppages are in a game.

 

But when Louisville gets to games against the haves—UNLV or Kentucky, for example—talent overwhelms depth, and the Cardinals stumble.

 

Providence came into Wednesday night's contest running low on both talent and depth, at least compared to Louisville. The Friars still made the Cardinals look like have-nots—as well as haves—throughout the course of the game.

 

Louisville opened on a 14-0 run thanks to an early flurry of three-pointers.

 

The Cardinals opened in have-style.

 

But it wasn't long before Providence came back, handling the press as Louisville's shooting cooled off, claiming the lead going into the half.

 

That's have-not.

 

Louisville's depth eventually kicked in, as it outscored Providence 55-28 in the second half.

 

When there was more have-not, Louisville again showed it has the potential to make traditional Rick Pitino ball work in this season's Big East.

 

It showed that in a season that brought four non-conference losses in 13 tries, that the Cardinals might have what it takes to enter the upper tier of their conference. To overcome the loss of two NBA Draft picks. To prove the critics that assumed it was NIT or bust after three early losses.

 

And become more than just a Big East have-not in a season that was expected to be down—just not this much.

 

Louisville hasn't yet proven whether they're a have or have-not.

 

What the Cardinals have proven is that this season has the potential to sway in either direction, with their next seven games serving as judge.

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