The Louisville Cardinals season concluded with a deeply felt loss to Cal in the NCAA tournament.
The Cardinals capped off their season in the exact opposite manner of how it started.
Before the season even began, Louisville was tagged as the No. 19 team in the nation, commending sizable expectations coming in.
In the Big East preseason poll, Louisville was elected to finish fourth in the conference with a sustainable edge over other Big East teams.
So before the season, saying the Cardinals would only grasp 20 wins and lose in the first round of both the conference and NCAA tournaments, was an understatement.
Just four weeks into the season, Louisville was dropped out of the rankings. This was most likely the effect of them being blown out by 22 at home against Charlotte.
Instead of redeeming themselves, the Cardinals continued to disappoint.
Soon after the loss to Charlotte, the Cardinals followed up with yet another disheartening loss to Western Carolina at home.
This pushed the Cardinals to a 5-3 record, and earned them a disappointing gaze from the Cardinal Nation after dropping three out of their last four.
But just when people where trying to count Louisville out, the run started.
Louisville racked up five straight wins to end non-conference play. At the end of conference play, the Cardinals closed it with a 10-4 record after losing to Kentucky by just nine points.
After starting the conference season undefeated with a 3-0 record, the Cardinals slipped up against Villanova, Pittsburgh, and Seton Hall, which knocked them to 3-3 and put pressure on them to answer the arrant stretch of bad play.
Thereafter, Louisville started to roll, racking up eight wins over the next 12 games, highlighted by a season sweep of Big East-leading Syracuse.
Despite the rough stretch early in the conference season, the Cardinals' 11-7 record enabled them to finish sixth in the Big East and acquire a first-round bye in the conference tournament.
Since Louisville was the conference and regular season champion last year, many envisioned a possible takeover of the Big East championship, particularly following their game against Syracuse.
However, their conference tournament defense was brief and they fell to the Cincinnati Bearcats in the first round, 69-66.
Soon after, the selection committee slapped Louisville with a No. 9 seed in the South region, which permitted the Cardinals to host the Cal Golden Bears in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Many thought Louisville was going to get a win here, possibly compete with Duke, and become one of the Cinderella team of the NCAA tournament.
Comparable to the regular season, Louisville failed to meet expectations and were bounced right out the gates, again.
An early 12-0 run and an 18-point deficit proved to be too much to overcome for Louisville, as they fell to Cal in the opening round of the tournament.
So just like that, the Louisville season is over and senior players Sosa, Delk, and Smith are splitting ways with Louisville, seeing that they all reached their final year of eligibility. Here is how they fared this season:
Since he began his stay at Louisville, he has been the leader of this team. This year, Sosa’s number were all career-highs, highlighted by his 26 points, five rebounds and four assist performance in a rout of Providence. In addition, Sosa also hit the game winning layup against UConn to win the game.
He finished the season with a career-high 433 points, complementing his 150 assists. That is an average of 13.1 points and 4.5 assist per game.
Sosa is the one player that Louisville is going to miss most. Talk about a player that spreads the ball around the floor and makes this Louisville offense go.
Jerry Smith was the player known to knuckle up with the opposing team's best player. This year, he had this Louisville team as one of the better defensive programs in the Big East, with a deadly 2-3 zone and press.
Smith has racked up just 38 steals through 30 games, almost more than he had in just 34. Smith's defensive intensity will definitely be missed, but that's not all he was to this team.
Smith could get it done on the offensive side of the ball as well. Talk about a player that averages about three baskets a game, to complement his 40 percent shooting from the field.
Another defensive-minded player that ignited this Louisville defense. After playing a small role in Louisville’s success last year, his defensive intensity positioned him in the starting lineup.
Delk was the player that did the little things right. Sometimes the things he did on the court never showed up in the box score, which may be the reason teams overlook him.
One game, I witnessed Delk put it all on the offensive end—double-digit scoring in six-games this season. Then I witnessed a more defensive effort, whether it was on the glass, steal, or just plain out intensity, the 6’5’’ senior always seemed to step up and play his role well on this team.
Now as for the rest of the Cardinals, I do not contemplate any possibility of a player leaving for the draft so the future is certainly bright for the Cardinals.
Although senior guard Edgar Sosa was the most influential player on this team, the season MVP was Samardo Samuels.
Talk about a player that averages around 15 points a game to complement his seven rebounds.
Samuels played in all 33 games this season, and scored in double-figures in 28 of those games. Not to mention, his double-digit rebound totals in six outings this season.
Samuels was more than offense and like the year before, he paced himself with 1.1 blocks per game, highlighted by his four-block performance against Villanova.
This season may have been underachieving or maybe disappointing to most, but I approach it as a start—a start of something great.
Peyton Siva could just as well be another Edgar Sosa, possibly even better. Rakeem Buckles has proven he can play, and with Pitino’s coaching, his skill set can still be enhanced.
Not to mention, the Cardinals still have Kuric, Samuels, Swopshire, Knowles, and more on the roster to complement the new freshman class coming in next year.
Although this was the first time that Louisville has not made it to the Elite Eight, Cardinal fans have to be happy with the future ahead.
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