Just because the Louisville Cardinals self-imposed a post-season ban, that doesn't mean tonight's game against the Syracuse Orange is less valid or counts any less for us. Besides, when Syracuse and Louisville get together, all the other stuff doesn't really matter anyway.
While some of the commentariat have denied that the Louisville Cardinals should really be considered a "rival," I would have to disagree.
First of all, you've got two HOF coaches battling it out. Jim Boeheim got here first, but Rick Pitino has certainly made quite a name for himself over his storied career. They've got three National Titles and eleven Final Fours between them. It's only fitting that every matchup has been cant-miss TV for a while now.
In this week's ACC coaches' teleconference, Pitino had this to say:
"I don't necessarily like coaching against him (Boeheim). He's too damn good for that."
Secondly, the Cardinals lead the all-time series 15-8, but the Syracuse Orange have taken three out of the last five. Last year, a couple of weeks after self-imposing our postseason ban, we showed up for the Carrier Dome crowd and beat Louisville by 10.
Just to give you an idea of how close the past several games between these teams have been, the final count for each has been 58-49, 70-68, 58-53 and 78-63, the latter in the championship game of the Big East Tournament.
Last, but not least, along with Pitt and Notre Dame, Louisville is a familiar face from the "old" Big East. I think that all three teams will always rank among our rivals because of the competitive games and shared conference-related experiences. They may not quite be the caliber of our Duke or Georgetown rivalry, but they still deserve an equal amount of respect. As we've now come to know, you can't take any team lightly in the ACC.
Win and We're In
It's that point in the season where teams either control their own destiny or have to rely on the results of other teams to secure their NCAA Tournament selection fate. The rankings are so muddled right now, what with several of the Top-25, even Top-10, teams losing every week. Every game is just as important as the last.
I don't know about you guys, but I thought we were looking at an NIT-at-best season about a month and a half ago. Boy, have times changed drastically since then. In the most recent iterations of "Bracketology," we're looking at a 7-seed, 8-seed, or 10-seed finish... in the NCAA Tournament. To me, it's further proof of how important a coach is to his team, and that's not at all a knock on Mike Hopkins. I think Hop will be a great head coach in due time. This is Boeheim's team, though.
Also, it's always good to have some momentum heading into the postseason. It's a definite confidence booster, as long as the players don't get cocky about it. Aside from tonight, I can see three winnable games left on the schedule: at home against Pitt, at home against NC State, and at Florida State. We have a second date with No. 5 UNC looming on February 29th, and even that matchup's predicted result is up in the air after the Tar Heels's loss to Notre Dame last week.
I think that we have a realistic shot at going either 3-2 or 4-1, heading into the ACC Tournament.
Numbers Don't Lie
I wanted to take a quick look at how Louisville and Syracuse compared to each other on paper.
In points per game, the Orange are scoring an average of 71.1, while the Cards are scoring 77.9. Syracuse has made 42.6% of their shots, Louisville 47.8%. The most important statistic this year for Syracuse is 3-point FG%. The Orange have made 36.6% of their attempts, while the Cards have made 36.5. It's one of only two categories that Syracuse has the advantage. The other is steals per game.
Overall, it seems as though Louisville has a slight advantage, but not by very much. As we all know, it all comes down to what happens on the actual court that really matters. What the stats do tell us is that both teams are pretty darn good.
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Tonight's game is sure to be another classic, this time at the KFC Yum! Center. Let's hope the Orange keep this five-game winning streak going and make it six!