It began with an uncharacteristic and head scratching defeat by the North Carolina Tarheels. Cardinal fans shrugged it off. It escalated when Kentucky cruised to victory in the second half at Rupp Arena. The red and black faithful scratched it off as a poor performance in a hostile environment, with soon to be realized outside distractions. Then, the cyclical January panic set in after an unexplainable, twilight zone-esque meltdown against the Memphis Tigers when the most spirited events of the game took place after the final buzzer.
Rick Pitino has stomped our sidelines since 2001, and like clockwork, Louisville fans collapse into hysteria every January, they lower expectations and the rumor mill starts working overtime. Since the loss to Memphis, Louisville has played its four best games of the season. And just like that, in a blink of an eye, the city of Louisville is foaming at the mouth with anticipation for March. We do not know how the season will play out and we do not know how long the current hot streak will last. All we have is history, and if the past has a lesson for us, it is that the glass ceiling of potential for Louisville basketball was made to be broken through.
Regardless of the outcome of the 2013-14 basketball season, the facts of this year are 100 percent certain. Our University and city is blessed once again to have a great group of kids representing us both on and off the court. Whether one is a rabid fan or a casual bystander, you can't help but like the kids wearing red and black, laughing with each other and the fans, ensuring Pitino has to keep plucking those gray hairs, and hustling every second while on the floor working tirelessly to improve. It is undeniable that Russ Smith will be a Louisville legend for the rest of our lives and will long be remembered as an all-time favorite, both for his unbelievable talent and speed, but more importantly for his infectious personality. Rick Pitino is a hall of fame coach, and if this season has proven anything, it proves his motivation is at an all-time high, and his ability has never been greater. His molding of this group has certainly been one of his better coaching seasons.
With all the ooey gooey stuff out and over with let's get down to brass tacks. How far can this team go? Do you buy and hold or do you play the options market with this bunch? I like to make money quick as much as the next guy, but with these Cardinals, they'll be in my portfolio all the way to Dallas. As previously stated, I am a history man, and those who forget the past are doomed to repeat its failures. If the history of Louisville basketball has taught us anything, and I am talking pre-Rick Pitino as well, it is that our Birds always start to soar the highest in February and March. Coach Crum's best teams, and almost all of Pitino's, reach their peak in the weeks leading up to the tourney. This year's squad has hit a hot streak in mid-January, but as our coach reminds us there is still so much room for improvement.
Louisville, contrary to popular belief, is an extremely young, but talented team. Luke Hancock and Russ Smith aside, not one player on our roster has averaged over 21 minutes a game prior to this season. Our guys are evolving on the go, learning their roles, learning the importance of defense, and the first glimpses of success these past four games has been illuminating. Compare game film from now to the first month or so of the season. I'd guarantee you would be shocked with the difference in aggression Harrell has shown on the glass. Your mouth would hit the floor with how well Blackshear is starting to move his feet. The cool, calm confidence of Terry Rozier was completely absent just weeks ago. Don't be scared to admit it, but you might even catch yourself happily comparing Mangok to Gorgui.
I also fully believe that Chris Jones has learned a lot during his absence, and will be another cog in the machine when he returns. We need Chris Jones; we need his speed, his scoring and his presence. If he values the team and defense the way the others have, Chris Jones will only make us better, that's a fact.
These Cardinals are a joy to watch, and just like everyone else, I will treasure these final months with Luke Hancock and Russ Smith. This little scrappy team of goofballs has all the pieces to make a run at a repeat championship, and I wouldn't trade any of them away for all the tea in China. If history has taught us anything, it is to bet on the Cardinals in February and March. The scary news for the rest of America: it is only January and our Birds are beginning to take the shape of a championship caliber team. I am buying Louisville basketball, the peak isn't here yet, but the climb to the top has just begun. See you in Dallas Cardinal faithful, and remember, our basketball teams don't rely on potential, they exceed it.
All Hail UofL !!