I’m not a moral victory guy and I don’t make excuses when we lose. But if you look closely at 3 of Louisville’s losses this season you will see just how good this team really is and potentially how good they can be. I want to take a closer look at the losses to Baylor, Florida State and Monday night’s game at Virginia to point out a few things that I believe prove Louisville is a Final Four team. Keep in mind that making the Final Four is all about match-ups and what bracket you are seeded in. The best team doesn’t always win the tournament but there is no team out there that I would be scared for Louisville to play this year.
- (#20) Baylor – 66 (#10) Louisville – 63
In front of a crowd of just 1,655 people in Nassau, Bahamas, Louisville played their third game in three days. At the time, we didn’t know just how good Baylor was. Turns out they are a very good team. Last week they were ranked #2 in the AP top 25. Louisville played great early on and built a 22 point lead. They only committed 7 turnovers all game and out rebounded Baylor by 4 as Donovan Mitchell led the team in points (17), rebounds (6) and assists (4).
All people want to talk about is blowing a 22 point lead but I see a Louisville team who got tired. Before they got tired they were blowing out another potential final four team. You can bet that Rick Pitino will have this team in top physical shape come March and we won’t see them get tired ever again. Having Baylor down 22 and then having several other games early in the season where they had large leads only to hold on to win by single digits showed there was a problem with the execution once the game seemed out of reach. Now you see that adjustments have been made and when they have a lead they keep grinding instead of settling for shooting three pointers. If Louisville and Baylor play again, Louisville wins by 15 points.
- (#10) Florida State – 73 (#12) Louisville – 68
The hardest thing to do in a college basketball is to win a conference game on the road. Not to mention against a top 10 team. As if a road conference game wasn’t hard enough, try winning without your starting point guard (Quentin Snider) and playing your second game within 40 hours. Despite FSU scoring the first 14 points of the game, undermanned Louisville never gave up and showed heart when they pulled within one point twice in the second half, including 69-68 with 2:04 remaining. Louisville just couldn’t get over the hump. I was quick to point out the poor decisions late in the game made by Tony Hicks, who led Louisville with 16 points.
While I blamed Hicks for his poor decisions, it clearly was not his fault. I applaud Hicks for his effort. Hicks has a role on this team and it’s not to be the leader. It’s to give Quentin a breather here and there. I believe Hicks averaged around 5 or 6 minutes a game prior to the Quentin’s injury. He played 32 minute versus FSU. Pitino once said of Stephen Van Treese that there are certain things he does well. I put him in to do those things then I get him out. The longer I leave him in the more opportunities he has to make mistakes. I believe the same is true with Hicks. By no fault of his own, his role changed. He responded nicely but my thought was that Hicks is a 5th year guy and he is not going to improve. He is what he is so why not let Sophomore Donovan Mitchell run the point and let freshman VJ King get more experience. Both of those guys have room to grow and help the team in the future.
So, to go on the road vs. a top 10 conference opponent without your starting point guard and to have a chance to win in the final minute shows just how good this team is and how good it can been when healthy. Also, when Mitchell picked up his 4th foul Pitino said he didn’t want to take Mitchell out but felt that he was starting to count his misses and that it was starting to affect his defense. Mitchell has learned a valuable lesson and has been on fire since the FSU loss. This bodes well for Louisville as the season gets closer to March.
- (#12) Virginia – 71 (#4) Louisville – 55
Virginia is just that team that Louisville can’t seem to figure out. It’s like they hear the term Pack Line Defense and they feel like they have no shot. Take into account that Snider and Hicks were both out due to injury and Mangok Mathiang and Deng Adel both were serving a 1 game suspension, Louisville played with just 7 scholarship players. Again, several players were asked to play different roles that they are not accustomed to playing. Ryan McMahon averages 2 or 3 minutes a game and he played 19 minutes. David Levitch played 23 minutes. Both scored 3 points. The bright spot was VJ King. He only averages 14.5 minutes per game and he played 37 minutes while scoring 24 points on 8 of 14 shooting and 3-5 from three.
Without those 4 players Louisville realistically had a very small chance to win. However, the fact that those guys playing different roles were able to take a 2 point lead to halftime at Virginia proves that this team is very talented and capable to make a run to the Final Four when fully healthy.
As Always, GO CARDS!