Louisville has seen the No. 4 seed a lot recently. Counting this season, the Cards have received a No. 4 seed three times in the last four tournaments. In 2012, it led to a Final Four appearance. Last year, it led to the Sweet 16.
Yes, Louisville was also a No. 4 seed in 2011, but nobody who was on that team is on this year's team, which is why we're cutting it off at 2012. Also, nobody wants to talk about 2011.
Since today's the day Louisville will embark on yet another Tournament as a No. 4 seed, let's take a look at the makeup of this year's road compared to the last couple and see what we find.
First round - No. 13 Davidson (2012 - W, 69-62), No. 13 Manhattan (2014 - W, 71-64)
How they compare to this season: As is usually the case, Louisville faces a tournament champion from a small conference. Keep in mind Davidson resided in the Southern Conference back in 2012. UC Irvine will probably give Louisville a challenge at some point with its size and solid perimeter shooting. But like it did against Davidson and Manhattan, the talent gap should make the final difference as the Cards get their feet wet in the tournament. That's the plan.
Second round - No. 5 New Mexico (2012 - W, 59-56), No. 5 St. Louis (2014 - W, 66-51)
How they compare to this season: More similarities here, as Louisville will likely face fifth-seeded Northern Iowa should it advance to the Round of 32. Like New Mexico and St. Louis, UNI is a top team outside of the power conferences that shouldn't have any trouble advancing past their first round opponent. The Panthers can really shoot it too, meaning Louisville will need to come ready to score to advance.
Sweet 16 - No. 1 Michigan State (2012 - W, 57-44), No 8. Kentucky (2014 - L, 74-69)
How they compare to this season: Here's where the first major difference lies. Michigan State was actually a No. 1 seed, while Kentucky was a No. 1-2 seed masquerading as a No. 8 seed. Talent-wise, the Wildcats were on par or close any of the other No. 1 seeds last season. Either way you look at it, this is where the rubber will meet the road for Louisville, assuming they reach the Sweet 16.
Villanova doesn't have a Kentucky standing in its way this season, so it's relatively safe (relatively being the operative term) to say that they'll likely be Louisville's Sweet 16 opponent if the Cards get there. If 2012's result against a No. 1 seed is any indication, well, let's move along and find out.
Elite 8 - No. 7 Florida (2012 - W, 72-68)
How it compares to this season: This kind of luck almost certainly won't happen this year, as some viewed No. 2-seeded Virginia as a No. 1 seed this season. Of course, if any No. 7 can knock them off, Michigan State is as good a bet as any. This gets trotted out every season, but Tom Izzo can make a lot happen in March. If Sparty can get past Virginia, they'll like their chances against whoever stands in their way in the Sweet 16, and could make for a fun (and more favorable) Elite 8 opponent if the Cards meet them there.
Final Four - No. 1 Kentucky (2012 - L, 69-61)
How it compares to this season: The top two seeds that could arrive at the Final Four from the South Region are Duke and Gonzaga. Obviously, we know how Louisville played against Duke earlier this season, but the Cards and Blue Devils aren't strangers, which could be a little more comfortable. After Thursday, Gonzaga is unlikely to run into too much trouble en route to the Elite 8. If Louisville gets this far, Rick Pitino probably won't overwhelmingly love his match-ups either way, but either team is a much more palatable option than seeing Kentucky — particularly this year — in the Final Four again.
Every season is different, and the makeup of this season's Louisville team is certainly different than the other two fourth-seeded teams mentioned above. Still, the road looks similar, if not a bit easier in the end, than the previous two the Cards have faced as a No. 4 seed.
Wayne Blackshear is the only player left that remembers how the run to the Final Four in New Orleans felt, and it would be a fitting end to his Louisville career if he could lead the Cards back there. Indianapolis would make for a nice, easy road trip.