Reasons for Near-Unchecked Optimism

Like all UofL fans, I was down in the dumps after the 5 OT loss to Notre Dame last Saturday night. But looking back on the stretch of games we just completed, only a defeatist would not have reason for optimism.

The facts:

  • We've gone 4-4 in our last 8 games.
  • Seven of those 8 games were played against Sagarin Top 50 teams, and the 8th game was a 20-pt road win against a Rutgers team that had beaten Pitt at the RAC earlier in the season.
  • We went 3-4 against those Top 50 teams, with 4 of those games being played on the road, 3 at home.
  • We went 2-1 at home and, 1-3 on the road, in those seven games.
  • Our 4 losses have been by a total of 16 points against the #6 (home), #50 (away), #17 (away), and #29 (away). Excluding the Nova game, 3 losses have been by a total of 7 points.
  • Our 3 wins have been by a total of 37 points against the #40 (away), #7 (home), and #22 (home) ranked teams, with Pitt pulling a UK and hanging in there on the scoreboard (3 point margin) while being dominated in reality.
  • We lost at ND by 3 in 5OT, where we haven't won since 1994 (had the lead throughout the 2nd half but gave it away at the very end several times).
  • We lost at GTown, whom we haven't beaten since 08-09, by 2. (blew a chance to tie or win at the last second)
  • We lost at home to a top 10 Syracuse team (had the lead throughout but gave it away at the very end).
  • We lost to Nova in a week where they beat both us (had the lead late in the 2nd half but gave it away down the stretch) and Syracuse.
  • Sagarin has our schedule right now as the 4th most difficult. Our overall position in the ratings is 3rd.

We had every chance to win the four games we lost, but didn't get the job done. That is a fact. We may not have played our best. But we played well enough to give ourselves a great chance at winning. On the other hand, in the three games we won, we clearly won the game. There were no moments of one bad call or one missed play. The games were over and done with. Clear victories.

The future:

  • We play the #70 Sagarin (home) , #114 (away), #104 (home), and #146 (home away from home) teams in our next four games.
  • We play the #6 (away-revenge), #19 (home-first time ever at Yum + revenge for last year), and #29 (home-revenge) teams for our final 3 scheduled games.
  • We have an opportunity to run our record to 23-5 going into the final 3 game stretch. That is where the Big East regular champion will likely be decided. 14-4 should be good enough to grab a share.

Player observations:

We still have all the power in our hands to make this a very special season. It does come down to how Peyton Siva plays, for better or worse. There's no denying that in our recent losses, the only game in which he played fairly well was the game at Villanova. And these next four games represent a chance for the young man to really gain some confidence heading into the final week of the season against some relatively weak competition. We know he can do it.

I think Chane regained some confidence in the ND game. He looked dominant, which he should have, against a weak front line. Needs to remember to bend his knees on his FTs. Most of his misses come when his legs are stiff.

Gorgui continues to gain confidence in his shot. Defensively, he's our best player. Would like to see him set more physical screens/picks.

Harrell has ups and downs. He's a freshman. But against poorly coached teams and undisciplined teams, he can feast, without exposing us too much defensively. He should fare well against our next 6 opponents.

Wayne could be more consistent offensively, but if we get between 15-20 points from the 3-spot, we should win. Wayne and Luke are both confident shooters now. There may be some situations where we need both on the floor at the same time (late game or end of half scenarios).

Russ definitely needs to work on his end of game situations. Not sure how you can simulate that in practice, but I'm sure Rick will find a way. But his defense and rebounding have definitely been there.

SVT just needs keep up what he's been doing. Maybe set some stronger picks/screens to let other teams know we mean business. Never hurts to spend a foul in the first half on the offensive end if it sends a message.

K-Ware has been pretty steady since his return. I don't expect much offensively, but we do occasionally need someone to beat his man off the dribble from the wing or baseline, and K-Ware seems up to it.

In summary:

Everything we've all dreamed of since the Final Four last year is still right there. The key is once again Peyton Siva. But also remember, even if he does have an off night, we will still have a chance to win, as long as everyone else is doing their jobs. But to win a title, as we all hope and want, we'll need #3 to do his thing. Go Cards!

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