The Louisville Cardinals Are Bringing Swagger to the Final Four

CardinalsI remain impressed that the Louisville Cardinals beat Duke by 22 points last weekend to advance to the Final Four, played today in Atlanta.

I watched the game, saw the runs in the second half. I certainly saw guard Kevin Ware’s leg snap twice right before the end of the first half – but when I saw the box score this week it looked strange.

I know Louisville won, but to beat Duke 85 to 63, especially after losing to them earlier in the season is damn impressive.

Duke and Mike Krzyzewski looked perplexed.

The speed and execution of Louisville left them stymied and unable to run an offense.

I have made the case earlier this season that there are no great teams this year in college basketball. Nothing like the Kentucky team that won the championship last year that was full of NBA first round picks.

But Louisville is a great college team. They have incredible balance, and senior leadership, which is rare in these days of one-and-done players.

Their guards, Peyton Siva and Russ Smith are lightening quick. Siva never pulls up his dribble. It’s like the ball is on a yo-yo string for him. He keeps the offense attacking, while Smith is bombing away and cutting to the basket, averaging 26 points in the tournament.

He is undefendable in open court.

If it were just Louisville’s guard play they could be managed, but there is no cheating on defense with the Cardinals, because forwards Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan are active, can catch the ball and put it on the floor to score.

Then there is Gorgui Dieng in the pivot. At 6-11, 245 pounds, Dieng is a problem for everyone. He’s mobile, agile, has good hands and can finish. He also has the timing and leaping ability to reject opposing players’ shots without fouling.

There is no answer for him among the three remaining teams in the tournament.

In reserve is guard/forward Luke Hancock. This 6’6″ junior is a stone cold shooter.

Louisville will send some guys to the NBA, but it’s questionable if any will be impact players.

That has no bearing on their ability to win two more games and give head coach Rick Pitino his first championship at Louisville.

This group has been focused on returning to this precise game since losing in the same game last year to Kentucky.

This time around there is no team like the Wildcats standing in Louisville’s way.

You have to like the Card’s draw thus far, perks of a 33-5 regular season record. They cruised into the Final Four by beating NC A&T (16), Colorado State (08), Oregon (12) and Duke (2), by an average of 21 points.

Now they get to play Wichita State, a (9) seed.

It doesn’t mean the Cards will automatically win, but the odds are in their favor that they can out-talent the Shockers.

The short-book on Wichita State is they are led by upperclassmen who make good decisions, don’t turn the ball over, and out-rebound opponents.

They average 38.4 rebounds per game, which is eight more than they allow opponents, and get 13 offensive rebounds, which allows for extra shots. Problem is they are not a big team and not the best shooters, though they have shot well in the tournament.

Their best player is Malcolm Armstead, a 6’0″, 205 pound senior, who is deceptively fast, shooting over 40 percent, and shutting down opponents’ guards.

Unfortunately he must contend with both Siva and Smith. That would tire most anyone out.

For Wichita State to be successful it probably should attempt to slow the game down, run out the shot clock and limit possessions for Louisville.

That sounds easier said than done.

The Shockers like to get up and down the court, and may not have the best type of personnel to try a slow down game. All of Louisville’s players will be pressing and cutting to the ball, which means Wichita’s big guys will be forced to catch the ball under pressure in the open court and dribble.

My guess is eventually the unrelenting pressure will cause a crack in Wichita’s game. If they start turning the ball over early it will open the scoring floodgates.

Vegas have Louisville as a 9 1/2 point favorite, and the Cards have covered all season.

The X-factor for this Louisville team is Kevin Ware. His broken leg went viral this week. Ware has handled the media crunch with care and grace, which has only made this shy role player a bigger star.

There is no matching the motivation the Cardinals feel to “Win-for-Ware.”

He was on Letterman doing a Top 10 list this week, there was the emotional ESPN interview he did with Reese Davis – his story has overshadowed all the teams and the games themselves.

[KEVIN WARE ESPN INTERVIEW]

Pitino is a master motivator, and this unfortunate injury gives him a trump card that he will use all the way to a championship.

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