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Louisville Fans Hoping To Eventually Party Like It's 2012

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The following column appears in this week's issue of The Voice-Tribune

There was a time when it wasn't so easy to be a Louisville basketball fan. The program had been beaten in its first NCAA Tournament game in back-to-back seasons, recruiting wasn't going so well, and the current squad was in the midst of a streak where it had lost five of seven games, including a 31-point beatdown at the hands of a team that would finish the year with a losing record. The number of people expressing their displeasure with the program's head coach was large, with the most common complaint being that he was past his prime and incapable of winning another national championship.

This wasn't in the final days of the Denny Crum era, and it wasn't when Louisville was consistently struggling to win double digit games before the arrival of Peck Hickman. This was exactly three years ago.

The fact that no college program in the country has won more basketball games over the past three seasons than UofL has become fairly common knowledge, so much so that it's almost been forgotten that the era began in a fairly dark place.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, 2012, Louisville was 14-5 overall and 2-4 in the Big East. Just making the NCAA Tournament seemed far from guaranteed, and talk was rampant that if Pitino had failed to lead the talented 2008-09 Cardinals to a national championship, then maybe it simply wasn't going to happen here.

The holiday in 2012 was also significant for being the last time in 1,097 days that UofL would lose a game by double digits. That Cardinal team, of course, wound up pulling itself together and ultimately went on a memorable March run that included a Big East Tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. The program has lost just one NCAA Tournament and no conference tournament games since.

The no double digit loss streak ended for Louisville last Saturday when they were frustrated for 40 minutes by visiting Duke in a 63-52 defeat. The concerns being expressed by the Cardinal fan base in the wake of the loss sound eerily similar to the ones being echoed when The Artist was about to win Best Picture; the team can't score, it doesn't have any shooters, we don't know how to win the big game.

The similarities in the comments are understandable when you consider the pair of products on the floor. The total number of Cardinal points scored in UofL's last four games: 259. The total number of Cardinal points scored in UofL's four games during this same two week stretch in 2012: 261.

"It's almost eerie of how close the two teams are," Pitino said this week about the comparison. "What we did then was we didn't worry about the fact that we weren't a great shooting team, we just tried to be great defensively. It's almost like in baseball when you've got great pithing but not great hitting, and so you just try to have a great defense.

"I'm just praying and hoping that we're gonna have the same result as that team."

Louisville's deficiencies have been well-documented at this point. The team doesn't have a knockdown shooter like Kyle Kuric or Luke Hancock (or even a solidly above average one like Russ Smith), it hasn't received reliable play from any of its three centers, and it has lost its three most important games of the season to this point.

Still, the differences that are apparent between this Cardinal squad and the one that existed at this point three years ago are fairly stark, and seem to work in the former squad's favor.

For starters, this team hasn't lost a game to an opponent that isn't currently ranked in the top 15. Compare that to the 2012 group, which had already lost to two unranked teams at this point, including the previously alluded to 90-59 beatdown at Providence. And while Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng would both go on to be selected in the 2013 NBA Draft, that may not have been the case had they elected to leave school after the 2012 season. You probably can't say the same thing about Louisville's two best players this season, Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier, who both seem like safe bets to be millionaires in a matter of months.

Being frustrated after a performance like the one Louisville gave against Duke is understandable, but giving up all hope is not. Cardinal fans should have learned that lesson three years ago.