The short answer is: NCAA seeding. The longer answer: all of our hopes and dreams. Heavy stuff.
The last time these two teams faced off, it was just your run of the mill January early evening game. Can't quite remember what happened. Let's
go to the video tape search youtube. Warning, do not watch if you get motion sickness, vertigo, are offended by swear words or want to actually see what happened in the basketball game:
Anyway, neither squad was at full strength that day. Casey Mitchell was serving a suspension and didn't play, and the Cards of course were without Buckles, and lost Dieng during the game to a nasty fall. Also, Kyle Kuric had 0 points and 2 rebounds in 17 minutes. Fans of offensive basketball enjoyed that game, all though fans of offense in basketball likely did not. Two aggressive defenses taking the other team's offenses out of the game, slowing things down, pulling, shoving, rebounding, using the shot clock.....just offensive to watch. It was awful.
Things have changed somewhat in the weeks since that game. Kyle Kuric has been playing like.....well let's just say he's been having some decent nights. Dieng is back, but Jennings is playing better now than he was back then. West Virginia has used their annoyingly effective (unless it is in an Elite 8 game in 2010) defense to win 4 of its last 6. They are clearly in the tournament and tracking towards a #6 seed according to The Matrix. There are too many variables to determine what their BEAST tournament seed is going to be, but suffice it to say, them winning (or losing) affects things. Also, it's Senior Day, and they are sending off 5 guys, including Messrs. Mazzula, Flowers, Mitchell and Thoroughman. Also, Jonnie West, who has a somewhat famous relative who I imagine will be mentioned on the broadcast during the game.
On the other hand, the Cards have their seeding set in the Big East set at #3, and because there are so many variables, don't know which team they are playing. Likely, it will be a rematch with one of the teams that beat us (Cinci, GTown, and if WVU beats us, that means we may play them again) so that will be a nice way to impress the committee for seeing. Which is all, on paper, that is really at stake here. People who don't give Louisville credit this year often point to our road conference record, which stands at 3-5 right now. 9-0 at home in the Big East apparently is what you are SUPPOSED to do, except of course UofL and Notre Dame are the only two teams that did it, and they are in line for a 2 seed.
Anyway, we seem to be ensconced (Heiser) in the 3-4 range, and a win Saturday and one in the Quarterfinals next Thursday night would all but lock up a 3 seed. A loss tomorrow and a loss next Thursday probably gets us a 4. A loss tomorrow and a win or two in New York and we can probably still get a 3, depending on other teams like Florida and Wisconsin. The point is, winning helps, losing doesn't really hurt a ton, and the real test is in New York.
A lot of ink has been spilled on this site from the beginning of the season about expectations, about how this team might actually be decent, about how this team has become a fan favorite that has seemingly surpassed the 2008 and 2009 Elite Eight teams and is neck-and-neck with the 2005 Final Four team. About how maybe last year was the bridge year. About how special this season has been. A loss doesn't change any of that. And NCAA tournament games on neutral sites are different than road games in hostile environments against a tough team on Senior Day, except when you have to play UNC at home. So a loss tomorrow wouldn't be unexpected, and as long as we don't get blown out, would not really take this team's seeding too much out of its hands. And we still are #3 in the Big East, which is quite an accomplishment.
But a win.
But a win.
So what's at stake tomorrow? On paper, there's not a lot for us because this would not be a bad loss, and we can win a game or two in New York and be a solid 3 seed (or the "top" 4 seed facing BYU maybe). But in our hearts? When you start thinking about how a few good games in the next few weeks, a few favorable match-ups, and we are talking about this team becoming the all-time favorite team for a generation of fans old enough to remember Milt and Pervis and LA but young enough not to have been able to fully appreciate the 1980s?
When you look at it like that....