I'm going to go ahead and get this out of the way first, because it's what's bothering me most right now: Pittsburgh wanted that game more than our guys. They did. The thought first entered my mind sometime in the middle of the second half, but I just as quickly dismissed it. By the end of the game I'd accepted it as fact.
I'm not saying they outworked us, because our guys always play hard, but they smacked us around a little down low at the beginning of the game, and from that point on you could see just a hint of doubt on the faces of some of our guys. And that morsel makes all the difference in the world. We were just a tad slow, just a tad confused, and just a tad unsure of ourselves all night.
Louisville's opponent was the one more focused and dedicated to playing on Friday night, and because of that they earned (and deserve) the right to do so.
One guy who was anything but intimidated was Earl Clark, who gave his third straight really gritty performance in a row. E5 led the team in both points (19) and boards (9), and was the one player who consistently stepped up when the Cards had to have somebody make a play.
His three-point play to put us up one at 54-53 elicited probably my biggest overreaction of the year, a jump/swinging fist accompanied by a token "come on!" I then rocked the "pissed off for no real reason" post-celebration walk, which is only seen outside of sporting events in the form of drunk guys at bars acting like they want to fight when they know full well that the hoards of people around them will never let it happen. This is what Louisville basketball does to me.
I have heard that there is something wrong with Earl's right arm/shoulder, and that he tweaked it again last night (right before the two free-throws he tried to shoot through the backboard). I'd be worried if he hadn't played so sensationally, even after the re-aggravation.
Earl Clark playing the way he is right now is one of the biggest positives we can draw from over the next seven days.
This was the main reason I wanted to win the Georgetown game so badly. The league title would have been nice, having the inside track for a two seed would have been swell, but avoiding these guys in the first round was the top prize in my eyes...guys.
The Panthers are a handful of wins away from having a legitimate gripe about the name of this tournament not being changed to the PIT ("Pittsburgh Invitational Tournament"). They are our antonym when it comes to success in Madison Square Garden and in the Big East Tournament, and I'd just as soon stay away from them in this thing for the next 100 years.
This sounds silly because it's one of those things you can't prove, but I really think that we would have beaten any one of the other three first-round winners. I picked Pitt to finish third in the preseason, and I honestly believe that they would have been right there with us and Georgetown if the injuries to LeVance Fields and Mike Cook hadn't occurred. I'm still not sure if they're a team capable of making it to the second weekend without Cook, but with Fields healthy - and he looked quite healthy Thursday night - they're going to be a hell of an out for somebody.
CardsFan922 is completely right, you can get by with one lights-out shooter (Humphrey, McNamara, Dixon) and a streaky supporting cast, but you take that one guy out of the equation and great teams become good teams awfully quickly. This team is nothing more than good when Jerry Smith is shooting the ball the way he is right now.
People do go through slumps, though, and it'd be acceptable if this were the only thing Jerry was doing wrong, but it isn't. He was consistently out of place when we were in zone, he lost Ramon on sideline out-of-bounds plays multiple times, and the ill-advised pass he made on the break at the end of the second half as well as the bullet pass to nobody to start the overtime were both crucial and inexcusable mistakes.
Still, he's never not going to play hard, and you have to love him for that.
I honestly cannot believe I'm about to say this, but Derrick Caracter should have played much more. Twice I found myself calling for DC out loud, and both times my father was quickly sent on a cold wash cloth errand to help allay the subsequent spins.
Perhaps the more educated among us could have foreseen something like this after those bizarre six turnovers three weeks ago in the Steel City, but I never thought that David Padgett would play so poorly in a game of that magnitude. Padgett has held his own all season against guys who had him in either size or quickness, but against a guy like Blair who has the edge in both, he really struggled. It seemed at times that he was so focused on the physicality of the game that he wasn't able to do anything else. There were instances when he was working so hard to shove Blair and Biggs around to get in rebounding position, that when the ball actually came to him he was completely unprepared to handle it.
Caracter, on the other hand, is every bit Blair's equal in natural size and skill, and he was able to achieve things tonight that David couldn't. He hit 5-of-7 shots, drew a couple of fouls on the freshman, and actually played fantastic defense. These are the games Derrick Caracter was bred for, and it would have behooved us to have had him on the floor for more than 14 minutes.
Maybe I'm just getting greedy, but I could use a little more Preston Knowles, especially when Smith is playing the way he was Thursday night. In 14 minutes, the guy got his hands on four balls (laugh 8-year-olds), made two clean steals, knocked down a tough jumper, and was actually banging down low for rebounds harder than any of our bigs at the time, and came away with a pair to show for it.
I understand why he can't play 20-25 minutes every night, but we were better against Pitt when he was on the floor.
I think I speak for a lot of people when I say that I'm ready to see some non-Big East opponents. There's certainly a place for the "big guys shoving other big guys and trying to make lay-ups or draw fouls" style in college basketball, but after last night I'm more than ready for a change in scenery.
It'll also be nice to get away (hopefully) from the horribly inconsistent officiating that accompanies the aforementioned style of play. Two-hundred seventy-pound dude lowering his shoulder into 265-pound dude? Let 'em play. One-hundred eighty-pound dude putting his right arm on 185-pound dude's left hip? Let 'em shoot two.
Although I'm certainly not going to praise their work, I'm not blaming last night's officials for anything. I thought the calls were equally inconsistent on both sides, which only makes it slightly less infuriating.
We probably don't make it to overtime without T-Will's three to cut the lead from eight to five with about seven minutes to play, but what in the world was he thinking the rest of the night? The first minute and-a-half of overtime was especially troubling. First he stares down a wide-open Earl Clark under the basket, but decides not to pass it to him and instead try a heavily guarded runner from the right side, a maneuver he's had about a 2.3% success rate over the past three seasons, and then he does the exact same thing - sans the Clark snub - on the next possession.
He went through stretches where it seemed as though his mind was somewhere far, far away, and it appeared as if Pitino got on him at least once about not passing. He simply can't do this for us to have any shot at winning a pair of games next weekend, and if we don't win a pair of games next weekend then he can completely forget about the NBA for another 12 months.
I really, really like the kid, but he needs to answer the bell in a big way next week.
I think we're a four, but my expression wouldn't change the least bit if we popped up as a five on Sunday. I'm not holding out any hope that we steal a three, so my only concern at the moment is hoping for the best possible matchups. We'll take a look at possible first-round opponents over the weekend.
I thought Edgar Sosa played as well as he has all season in the first half when he handed out four assists, and really should have had at least two more. Still, the undeniably negative expression on his face that was captured by the ESPN cameras when he was taken out near the end of regulation was disappointing, and you have to think that if that hasn't changed by this point, then it simply never is. I've resigned myself to the fact that when he's good, Sosa's going to be really good, and when he's bad, he's going to be every bit as atrocious.
Andre McGee didn't do anything particularly poorly besides put up a doughnut from the floor, and forget once again that he's 5-10 and lacks the ability to shoot the ball through people. We need both his steady presence and the occasional knocked down open three to win tight games, and he hasn't provided either in the waning moments of the last two losses. This team continues to look panicked at the end of close games, and if McGee is truly going to step into the captain's role next season, then he needs to begin to act as a Padgett-esque calming influence when the ball is in his hands and the game is on the line. I'm fairly certain he'll get another shot before his junior season ends.
There's no way Sam Young was only 8-of-19 from the field. It's simply not possible. I yelled "good" when he caught the ball in the middle of our zone and went up for an open jumper approximately 60 times, and I'm 99% sure that he made all 60. So I guess it was around the third time that they flashed a statistic saying he was 3-for-11 or so that I became certain ESPN was lying.
It's amazing how many different emotions I went through in the last two seconds of regulation. It was like the basketball stages of grief.
With 2.0 seconds left I was certain we were going to commit a stupid foul. With 1.7 left I was certain we were going to overtime because Fields had just let fly an impossible fadeaway shot from the left corner. With .9 seconds left I was terrified that the shot might actually go in. With .3 seconds left I felt nothing, because I was positive that the shot was going in. And then when the horn sounded I went through about 15 more, highlighted by No. 9: blacking out.
While Juan Palacios' awkwardness (did anyone actually think for a second that he was going to finish that dunk from where he took off?) is both hilarious and exasperating, he's effectively shed his "soft" image and played like a beast down low over the last three weeks or so. He actually banged on the boards as well as anyone on the team last night, came down with five, and got his hands on about six or seven others. While I still scream for him to pass every second the ball is in his hands, you can't have enough guys who play as hard as JDP, and I'm going to miss him next year.
Jim Burr is not good at his job.
The main purpose of this week's election was to take responsibility for whatever happened in New York off of my shoulders, but I still have to come clean here: the only two games I can remember not Tivoing all season are the last two.
I just realized it about two hours ago, and I'm still struggling to come to terms with how it happened. I was fully aware of the faux-pas after the Georgetown game, and to make the same error twice in less than a week is enough to make a man listen to The Smiths for 10-hours straight (I'm in hour three, and beginning to break).
I also switched up the wardrobe and went with red long-sleeved "Louisville Cardinals" across the chest in white, which has been equally abysmal in all sports for the last year or so. No idea where I'm turning on Thursday or Friday, but there's plenty of time for soul/closet searching.
If that weren't enough, Carolina March also chimes in with its theory about why things have gone so wrong since last Saturday.
Basically, we've got a whole heap of mojo that needs to get righted over the course of the next seven days.
I guarantee that I'm every bit as down right now as the lowest among you, but I trust that feeling to die the moment I see our name flash on the screen Sunday night.
This team has the ability to beat any other in that field of 65, and that's still something to be excited about. We all look forward to this time of the year too much to spend the next week obsessed with what went wrong last night.
This is when you put your faith in the head coach and your senior leaders, and I think we're pretty set in both areas.
There's Cardinal basketball left to be played, and that's cause for joy whenever you can say it truthfully.