Louisville Cardinals' Blueprint to Win the 2014 NCAA Tournament

Gideon Rubin@@RubinGideonFeatured ColumnistMarch 17, 2014

Louisville Cardinals' Blueprint to Win the 2014 NCAA Tournament

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    The Louisville Cardinals are marching into the Big Dance with a chip on their shoulder.

    The defending champions are hoping to join elite company by becoming just the third post-UCLA dynasty team to repeatFlorida (2006 & 2007) and Duke (1991 & 1992) are the others. But they'll have to get there the hard way after being seeded fourth in the Midwest bracket by the NCAA selection committee. 

    The seeding itself left analysts scratching their heads. The red-hot Cardinals, the AAC regular-season and tournament champions and winners of 14 of their last 16 games, were projected by many as a No. 1 seed.

    “Absolute shock,” analyst Seth Davis told CBS' Greg Gumbel after the seedings were announced.

    But the Cardinals could have the last laugh by winning the entire tournament once again. Here's how:

First Things First

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    Poor Manhattan College.

    It's not the Jaspers' fault that the selection committee flubbed the Midwest bracket by dropping a Louisville team that really shouldn't have been any lower than a No. 2 seed to No. 4. But the Cardinals need to take out their frustrations on somebody, and the opening round game against the Jaspers is the first chance they'll get to show the selection committee that they dropped the ball on this one.

    The MAAC champions are led by senior guard/forward George Beamon, who's averaging 19.2 points and 6.6 rebounds. However, the Jaspers are making their first tournament appearance since 2004 and may ultimately become the real victims of the botched seeding.

Experience Counts

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    Everyone competing in the NCAA tournament has at some point dreamt of winning a national championship. Russ Smith and Luke Hancock don't have to imagine anything, however, as the Louisville seniors were a part of last year's championship run.

    Both have played big roles on this year's team as well. Smith, a guard, leads the team, averaging 18.3 points and 4.7 assists per game. Hancock, who plays both guard and forward, is the team's third leading scorer, averaging 11.7 points per contest.

    Their experience winning a national title gives the Cardinals an edge going into the tournament that few teams have.

Play with Emotion

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    That teams have a tendency to take on their coach's personality has a lot do to with Louisville's success in recent years.

    Coaching legend Rick Pitino is known as much for recruiting elite talent and getting his players to implement intense full-court pressure as he is for getting them to play with the same emotion he brings to the game.

    When Kevin Ware suffered a gruesome leg injury during last year's tournament, the Cardinals responded by rallying around their fallen teammate.

    Pitino has a propensity for getting elite talents to give more and play for something bigger than themselves. That little extra effort he gets out of his players could put the Cardinals over the top again this year.

Dominate with Defense

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    Louisville has stepped up a suffocating defense in recent weeks, which has been a key factor during their late-season drive.

    Just how effective has the Cardinals defense been?

    They held Connecticut to 29.4 percent shooting in an 81-48 win on March 8. The Cardinals also held Cincinnati to 28.6 shooting in a 58-57 win on Feb. 22.

    Look for Louisville's defense to be a big factor in a deep tournament run as well.

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