Reasons for shaded optimism

This team is most likely not going to cut down the net in New Orleans this year. So let's just discuss what I think they can do based on the following (I'm not saying any of the below is impressive or discouraging; I'm just stating facts).

1. With the exception of the Providence game, this team has been competitive in every game and sometimes just downright unlucky not to win a handful of games (Georgetown, Notre Dame, Cincy, first game vs. Cuse).

2. Our only non-conference loss was to UK, at their place, yet we were competitive in the loss.

3. Our only losses this season, with one extremely notable exception, have come to NCAA tournament bound teams.

4. We have 2 victories over 100% lock non-conference tournament-bound teams (Vandy, Memphis).

5. We have 2 victories over teams from smaller conferences that have at least a 50/50 shot at making the tournament (LBSU could get an at-large but probably needs to win the Big West, Ohio needs to win the MAC but they can definitely pull it off)

6. We have 3 wins over currently projected NCAA teams in the Big East (UConn, Seton Hall, WVU).

7. Our overall record against likely NCAA tournament teams (including LBSU): 6-8.

I think what all this shows is that we are definitely not an elite team, but we can put a lot of game pressure on elite teams because of our solid defense and streaky shooting. Also, due to our offensive inconsistency, we are a likely candidate to lose to a team we "shouldn't" lose to.

Looking at the Big East tournament, we will face either Providence or Seton Hall. Seton Hall will be playing to lock in their NCAA berth, so it's likely to be them. To be honest, despite our setback to Providence, I like our chances against either team. If we do win, then we would go up against Marquette. This is a team we jumped on early and then couldn't find the basket at their place. On a neutral floor, we will compete in this game, and it would be a close one probably down to the wire. Marquette does not have a great track record in the BET. If we were fortunate enough to win this, we would get a matchup against ND or USF (likely). Who wouldn't want to play those teams again when the stakes are equal? USF needed that win against us to get into the dance (they still need one more win after losing to WVU at home). And ND managed to beat us to prevent their season from collapsing after we gifted them 6 points in the final minute by inexplicably not guarding the 3-pt line. But there's a reason why we are likely to receive a higher seed in the NCAA. We are the better team. We just need to show it. Hopefully we get the chance.

The final would then be against someone coming out of GTown/Cuse/UC/UConn. Probably Cuse. We can play with any of those teams. Though we wouldn't be favored (except possibly against UConn or maybe UC).

So the chances of us winning the Big East Championship are not as bad as they appear based on how we finished the season. Of our last 4 games, we played 2 teams scrapping to get into the tournament and needing a marquee win. And a third game was at the #2 team in the country. Not making excuses. Just providing facts. It was a much tougher final stretch than it looked on paper. We all thought that we would at least go 2-2, likely 3-1, possibly 4-0. Instead we finished 1-3. Unexpected? Yes. End of the world? Definitely not. When everyone is playing for their lives, games usually take a funny turn. I really want to see our guys play like everything is on the line, as it will be on Wednesday night.

On to the NCAA tournament. Unless we get to the semifinals, finals or win the whole BET, I don't see us getting anything above a 5-seed. I also don't see us getting anything worse than a 7, unless we simply did not show up to play Wednesday night (that won't happen). To be honest beyond the 4 seed, most 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 seeds are fairly interchangeable. The fact that UofL, Notre Dame, UConn and UC will likely end up in this group is proof enough of that. So the real incentive is to get to that 4-line. Which if we win a couple games in the BET, we can do.

Our record is very much a mixed bag. For me it's not even the ranking of the team. It's always about the style of play. Our success in the tournament has depended on what type of team we get matched up with. The worst type of team for us over the years has been a team that spreads the floor and hits the 3. this year, we've been so inconsistent, it's hard to get a feel for what type of team is bad for us. But I think it's fair to say that if a team can generate an inside-out game against us, we will lose. Look at GTown, ND, @Cuse, UC. Those were all games where we got beat because of the inside-out game. We defended neither the interior nor the three. Against ND, we did, until the final minute. I really do feel that this year of all years, it won't really matter who we get matched up with. It will be if our guys decide to put forth the defensive effort that we know they are capable of. If that happens (they can defend against pretty much anyone: see UK, see Cuse games), we have a great shot at reaching the Sweet 16. If they don't defend well, we'll be bounced opening weekend.

We also know that this team is capable of streaky offensive play (mostly feeding from how well we defend). Two or three good runs (8-0 or better) during a game is enough to knock out most teams. We really just need some of our shots to start falling. Kyle has got to shoot long. I really want to see him brick something. Because that will mean he is shooting confidently. everything has been short and delicate lately. Chris has got to stop twisting his body when he goes up. I think Pitino mentioned working on Chris's form this week. Russ pretty much needs to stop shooting 3s, pump fake and take his man off the dribble. He's great at getting to the line that way. and we need that kind of scoring. Getting to the line is a great way to mask poor offensive execution.

I refuse to throw in the towel with this team. There are too close to playing at a high level to simply give up now. I don't think this past week was good for the team at all. But if there's one thing we know about this team and Pitino teams in general. Right when you're ready to count them out is exactly when they start to come back.

I'll be at the Big East Championship on Wednesday. Hope to see a bunch of fellow Cards fans there. There is no bigger game for this team than Wednesday night's game. I expect the defensive effort to be there and that should in turn help out our offense.

Go Cards!

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