Hey, you remember these guys, right? Our sort-of rivals, the Louisville Cardinals, are back on the schedule after a one-year hiatus and you have to be pretty happy about that. Sure, Syracuse's season has careened toward disaster, but facing Rick Pitino's squad is usually rewarding and entertaining, and should be again tomorrow night.
So Saturday was a bit disappointing for both the Orange and Cardinals... what happened against NC State?
That's a good question, and one that I think most Louisville still don't really know how to answer.
The most obvious explanation is that Terry Rozier, who had been averaging right around 22.0 ppg in ACC play, fouled out and scored a season-low 7 points. It was actually the first time he'd been held to fewer than 15 points since Dec. 5. Montrezl Harrell only taking 5 shots and scoring 7 points of his own certainly didn't help either.
The bigger thing, I think, was Louisville only getting two steals and defending really poorly both inside and on the perimeter at the game's most critical stages. It was a really disappointing performance from a team that has always used its defense to stay in games despite being really offensively challenged in the halfcourt.
Terry Rozier's been one of the most improved players in the country. What's been the key to his big jump in production this season?
Probably just playing on a team without Russ Smith. I think most people knew Rozier was capable of being great last season, but he was a freshman playing the same position as a consensus first team All-American. Still, it would have been foolish for any of to expect him to be as good as he has been -- averaging nearly the same point total that Smith did a year ago, ranking second in the ACC in steals, and second on the team in rebounding.
How's Louisville's first season in the ACC thus far? Experiencing some bumps in the road, or do those have more to do with the roster than the competition?
It's been fun, but up until Saturday it had been oddly similar to Louisville's 2013-14 season in the AAC where the Cards beat up on the teams they were supposed to beat but struggled in their games against the league's other powers. The margins of victory were obviously smaller this year, but it was the same type of phenomenon. I think fans expected more games like Saturday's, but the disparity between the top five and the rest of the league has been so great this season that U of L had been able to take care of business in the games where they were a favorite before NC State.
Overall, though, the ACC's been really great for Louisville fans. Going to Chapel Hill and Charlottesville, hosting Duke; it's definitely still new, but it's been a blast.
Speaking of the ACC: Did you miss us during that one year apart? Because we (some of us, anyway) oddly missed Louisville.
Absolutely. The games against Syracuse were always great, and the Syracuse media/Internet contingent was always so fun to interact with. Kyle Kuric also kept asking if you were getting his messages, which got a little annoying after a while.
Can the Cards contain Rakem Christmas on Wednesday night? Seems Duke and BC have started to map out a blueprint for Syracuse opponents in the last week.
Louisville hasn't gotten much out of its five spot on either end of the floor so far this season, but with the exception of Jahlil Okafor, they've still been able to do a pretty good job on opposing big men. I think Christmas may have gotten a little carried away with the individual matchup against Okafor and trying to impress the NBA scouts in attendance, which is understandable given his current circumstance. I'd expect him to be far more efficient on Wednesday, even with U of L's Chinanu Onuaku (Onuaku!) playing much better as of late.
This Cardinals team doesn't seem as strong as some recent versions that ran deeper into the tournament. How do you see the 2014-15 season ending for this squad?
A lot of people have made the comparison to the 2011-12 Louisville squad, and it really is eerie how similar they are. That team was left for dead at the end of the regular season, and then ripped off four wins in four days to win the Big East Tournament, and then got a great draw in the big dance and took advantage by making a run to the Final Four. That team could have just as easily lost in the round of 64, which could also be said for this group. If the tournament started tomorrow, I could see Louisville dropping its first game or making the Final Four. Like most years for most teams, it'll come down to matchups and a break here or there.
U of L has two really great players and two pretty good ones, and a year ago we saw how -- again, with the right draw and the right breaks -- far that formula can carry a team. At the same time, UConn probably should have lost in the round of 64 to St. Joe's. I think the biggest thing is Louisville's defense is always going to give it a chance. They were two or three made shots away from beating Kentucky and Virginia, and even though they were horrible against Duke, the still held the Blue Devils to 63 points and would have been right there had they been able to make anything.
So, yeah, nothing would really surprise me with this team over the next six or seven weeks.
Predictions: Can Louisville get back on track with a victory over the Orange?
I think they should. It's not a bad matchup for this team, and U of L has historically had some pretty good success against the Orange. I think it's a really important game for Louisville because it will give us a better idea of what Saturday meant. If it was a wake-up call, I'd expect the Cards to come out and give a tremendous effort inside the Carrier Dome. If it was a sign of a greater problem that's only going to get worse, well, then I suppose that won't be difficult to see either. I'm expecting (and hoping) to see the former performance.