One game down, five to go.
A wise person once told me something both true and comforting about the NCAA Tournament: You don't have to beat all 67 of the other teams. You only have to beat six.
So here we are in the Round of 32, trying to win number two of six. Sure, it may be unlikely that Louisville goes all the way and wins a national championship this season, but the East region in particular has already seen its top seed fall, paving the way for someone else to head to the Final Four.
And really, if you're not in it to win it, why are you in it at all, right?
Let's take a quick look at where things stand right now.
Virginia, who was perhaps more accurately the No. 1 seed in the East anyway, is still alive. They'll meet Tom Izzo and Michigan State in the first game of the day. Call it a relatively uneducated hunch, but Sparty will probably at least give the Hoos a run for their money.
Whoever emerges victorious from Charlotte this afternoon will meet either No. 11 Dayton or No. 3 Oklahoma in the Sweet 16. For the sake of my bracket and Louisville's chances, another trip to the Sweet 16 for the Flyers wouldn't be so bad.
This leaves us with Northern Iowa, Louisville's opponent in the night cap in Seattle.
The Panthers are slightly favored, putting Louisville in an unfamiliar position as the underdog, but it isn't without good reason. Terry Rozier summed up UNI pretty well Saturday. Here are his takeaways:
- "They got (Seth) Tuttle inside."
- "They got nice shooters."
- "They play nine guys."
First of all, it's no secret that Tuttle makes UNI tick. The 6-8 forward leads the team in scoring (15.3 ppg), rebounding (6.8) and assists (3.3). He's their biggest all-around threat, and while Rozier mentioned that he's a good inside player, he also applies to Rozier's second point. Tuttle shoots a hair over 43 percent from beyond the 3-point arc.
Tuttle is far from the only Panther that can shoot from the perimeter. In fact, pretty much the whole team can shoot from the perimeter. Five UNI players that average 13 minutes or more per game shoot at least 41 percent from behind the arc, while another two shoot 39 and 38 percent from deep.
That shooting ability will provide a tough test for Louisville, one that will be a little different from the one they passed on Friday against U.C. Irvine. Irvine had shooters, but Northern Iowa has more of them. The trade off here is that UNI's tallest player that will see the floor is 6-9 forward Nate Buss. That will be refreshing.
As for Rozier's final point, when he says that UNI plays nine guys, he means it. As in, nine guys play 13 or more minutes per game. For the sake of comparison, Louisville used nine players against Irvine, but only six played double-digit minutes, while the other three didn't even come close.
Fatigue won't be the biggest factor tonight, though, since Louisville is used to seeing six players (or so) get a heavy dosage of minutes. Moreover, it just makes sense for the Cards this year.
As we know, there isn't a whole ton of firepower on Rick Pitino's bench, meaning Rozier, Montrezl Harrell and Wayne Blackshear are given a big responsibility to carry the offensive load. Seeing Quentin Snider step into a scoring role in the first round (second round, whatever) was a very good sign.
And those free throws. Great, great free throws, Q.
Just as Rozier gave his quick thoughts on Northern Iowa, here are some quick thoughts on how Louisville might deal with the Panthers:
- Louisville has the size in the paint to bother Tuttle and others down low, but that alone won't be the reason the Cards win.
- Shooters can be an issue for the Cards, particularly if they aren't making shots of their own, meaning Louisville will need to make a concerted effort to get out and guard the perimeter.
- Defense so often dictates Louisville's tempo and ability to play in transition, and trying to speed Northern Iowa up with pressure may be a good way to get the game going in Louisville's favor.
- Speaking of speeding UNI up, the Panthers play, well, deliberately. Think Virginia here. No, seriously, Virginia and UNI are both in the country's bottom five when it comes to possessions per 40 minutes. Disrupting that preference to slow the pace could play a big factor for Louisville.
It's going to be a bit of a late night, so make sure to take advantage of Sunday being the designated day of rest. Red Bull and other beverages can also help. Either way, mindset is everything, really.
Let's go get win number two.