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Cardinals' 2012 Adversity is a 2013 Advantage

Despite multiple injuries, a pair of head-scratching slumps, and increasing concern whether Rick Pitino still "has it," the Louisville Cardinals made a surprising run to the Final Four. With lofty preseason expectations set for a team returning key experience and adding a top 5 recruiting class, a Final Four berth would not have been a surprise...in October. However, expecting a Final Four run would've been a different story in December...and January...and February...and, well, even in March. But, that's what we got from the Cards. Now, the table is set and projections are already aloft for next season. I've yet to see any of the "way too early preseason rankings" place us outside of the top 3 for the 2012-2013 campaign.

But, let's stay with the 2012 season for a moment. Does an injury and adversity-free team still reach the Final Four? Beyond? Maybe. It would be easy to assume so. The fact is we faced adversity and still reached an exceptional result. But, what would an adversity-free 2012 team have set us up for next season? We all play the "what if" game a lot. So, let's play that game now, as I see it.

1. If Wayne Blackshear was healthy all season, we possibly wouldn't have gotten development of Russ Smith. We also would've gotten much less Russdiculous. Also consider that a healthy Wayne was potentially a one and done candidate.

2. If Rakeem Buckles recovered more quickly and did not get injured again, we would've seen far less Chane Behanan and gotten less experience for him.

3. If Stephen Van Treese had not gotten injured, Gorgui Dieng would've played fewer minutes, probably not have broken the team's block record, and would not have had to concentrate so much on learning defense without fouling.

4. If Mike Marra had not gotten injured, guys like Angel Nunez and Kevin Ware may not have gotten the little time they did get.

5. If Peyton Siva had not injured his ankle and he had the expected lineup around him, he probably would've met the lofty expectations had for him, and the potential of jumping to the NBA would've appeared.

6. If the midseason slump had not occured, the team may not have drawn closer as a unit, which is a big factor in the run they ultimately made.

7. With none of the adversity, there's no discussion about this having been one of Rick Pitino's best coaching jobs. It may not have drawn him as close to the players as it did. Rather, a Final Four run in an adversity-free season would've been "meeting expectations."

So, what does all this mean? I believe we have a team returning next season with an increased sense of chemisty, talent, and drive. Guys like Blackshear, Marra, and Van Treese should be motivated with a full, healthy season. Guys like Hancock and Ware should be motivated to get a full season of eligibility. Guys like Price and Nunez should be motivated to contribute and meet their potential. Terry Rozier should be motivated to join a hot team getting a lot of attention. Peyton Siva should be salivating over the talent, heart, and desire surrounding him on the court. And, finally, Rick Pitino should be looking at this team and next year's roster and giving the same fist pump he gave after Siva's late three in the Kentucky game.

As for us fans, it's a long way until November. We need to enjoy this past season, enjoy other Cardinal sports, and enjoy each other. But, it's not bad to look ahead a little, and think this season's adversity was good for next season.

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