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Louisville 87, Rutgers 50

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Ordinarily one's excitement is tempered after witnessing his or her team prevail in a game in which it had far more to lose than to gain, but if what took place inside Freedom Hall Saturday afternoon didn't have you at least momentarily giddy, then perhaps you should go ahead and sit these last two months out.  

It's not even that Rutgers was coming into the game playing far and away its best basketball of the season. Even if the Scarlet Knights hadn't just beaten Pitt and Villanova, it wouldn't have made it less absurd to see any team in this conference beat another by 40.

Yes the loss on Monday stung because it was one that appeared to be there for the taking, but it doesn't change the fact that this team was still one made shot away from knocking off arguably the hottest squad in the country, at their place.

It's February, and Louisville is playing its best basketball of the season. The question now is how many games out of these last nine will playing your best basketball win you? There is nothing left on the conference slate that even the most confident of fans could possibly refer to as a "gimmie." The Cards' easiest days in the Big East are most certainly behind them, but if you can't beat the best teams in your own league then you're probably not going to make a considerable amount of noise outside of it.

Starting tomorrow, it's show-me time.

Rebounding, turnovers and perimeter defense.

Rebounds: Louisville 39, Rutgers 34

Turnovers: Rutgers 24, Louisville 11

RU Three-Point Shooting: 6-for-21

My guess is that the starting lineup we saw Saturday will be the same one - barring somebody completely falling apart - we see from here on out.  While Pitino usually makes it a point to be loyal to veteran players (see Brandon Jenkins a year ago), I think what he's figured out is that Juan Palacios and Andre McGee are mature enough to not be phased by having to come off the bench, and Edgar Sosa and Earl Clark aren't.

It seems like a great move.

Another great move? Getting the ball to Clark for the last shot before the half against the man defense. If a team isn't going to zone you, then why not exploit the biggest mismatch on the floor? For us, that is almost always going to be E5 vs. whoever is playing the four for the other team.

If Preston Knowles would like to marry any of my family members, close friends, casual acquaintances or chicks I saw once and thought were kind of cute, he has my blessing. The shooting isn't always going to be there like it was yesterday, but knowing that the defensive intensity always will is so refreshing, and such a weapon.

That's officially the second straight I'm Happy And Good At Basketball Edgar appearance. His lows are brutally low, but boy it's fun to watch his highs. If he can just stay up there after missing his first three shots and making a bad pass in the first couple of minutes, that Edgar Sosa will make us a hell of an out come March.

Somebody might want to think about making every third home game an '80s theme, because this was easily the best the student section has been all season. The Terrance Farley chants were extremely audible and very much deserved.

Big thumbs down to both the guy in the Pacers jersey and the camera person who kept filming him. I guarantee there's something red in your closet pal, slip it on next time you land sweet tickets and decide you're going to jump around after every made basket. Nobody cares what NBA team you cheer for.

There's no point in trying to deny it, 87-47 or 90-50 would have been a lot cooler. I don't know why Fred Hill doesn't play that white kid that came in at the end of the game more. Pretty sure he could help with that 31% three-point shooting.

Can't say my playing more man prediction came to fruition, since I think we abandoned the zone for all of 37 seconds. All four guards did a great job at the top, and the back guys - with a couple of exceptions - closed quickly when the ball came to the wings and corners. Of course when you're as athletic as Williams and Clark, you can be a step or two out of position and still alter somebody's shot pretty drastically.

Earl's continued periods of apparent apathy on defense are still disappointing, but Pitino - who grabbed him by the jersey during a timeout after one of said instances - said after the game that he thinks it's more about Clark thinking too much about what he needs to be doing than him being lazy. I thought this was the best postgame quote of the afternoon:

I talk to Earl almost 32 times a week. What Earl just needs to do is - he is not going to remember everything and he will make some mental mistakes - he just needs to be an athlete and that is what I am trying to drill into our guys. Regardless if you make mental mistakes if you hustle and give extraordinary effort you are always going to look good. And he is a tremendous athlete. Even when he makes a mistake in zone defense and in the press it doesn't matter. That is what we need to get him to do - just run, jump, play and pass and have some fun.

It's the old "if you're going to make a mistake, make it full speed" adage that we all heard growing up, but it's one whose worth isn't diminished by its overuse. If Earl can find some sort of happy medium between constantly thinking about what he's supposed to be doing and playing completely based on pure instinct, then he's going to be scary good before he's supposed to be scary good. Because we all know that's his career's ultimate destination.

Despite the occasional mental lapse, Earl was a man on the boards, and so were Williams and Caracter. I thought we did a better job positioning ourselves for rebounds in this game than in any other all season.

The Derrick Caracter three-point sequence was hilarious. You could tell that he really wanted to take it, and that first guy yelling "shoot" was all the encouragement he needed. The dude could have just as easily been asking somebody next to him to be quiet, but Derrick was taking that shot. Didn't matter that his man reacted well and got out on him pretty quickly, it was going up. And he buried it.

But the most impressive thing Derrick did Saturday was stroke four free-throws when we were leading by 40 or more points. There's no way he makes any more than two in the same situation 12 months ago.

The Sosa/T-Will mini synchronized dance was awesome. And I guarantee that they thought it up so it could be used in videos or promos from here on out, because that's exactly what I would be doing.

This is what the offseason is for, kids. Fall baseball in high school meant two things to me: 1) Looking cool in my Under Armour. And 2) Coming up with new post-home run celebrations and synchronized outfield hand signals.

I have no idea how I'm not in the show right now.

Hope you got your Stu Miller/Lee Steiden fill, because I'm going to go out on a limb and say that that's the last time you'll see them sans warm-up this season.

Halfway home and 6-3, but it's going to take a monumental effort to take six more out of the next nine. This is going to be as intense a stretch run as any I can recall. There are simply no games left to not feel antsy about. Buckle up.

Also, enjoy mini-Marquette week/day.