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Louisville basketball: High expectations, greater appreciation

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Fan bases come in all shapes, sizes, colors, volumes, quantity of teeth, and of course the distance in lineage between individuals on family trees. The University of Louisville boasts one of the best fan bases throughout the entire world of sports. We aren't the loudest, the smartest, the wealthiest, the prettiest, or the biggest, and Louisville certainly possesses its fair share of outliers. Cardinal Fans cannot claim 1st prize in any specific category of imaginary fan rankings, but our unique combination of "all of the above" propels Card Nation forward year after year. The most unique and appealing aspect of Cardinal Fans is our unwavering ability to appreciate no matter the level of expectation.

It is a passionate commitment that at times subconsciously takes over our entire being. No matter what we profess through the entire season, no matter our level of hope, once March Madness begins all bets are off and we live and die with each possession. Every opposing fan base evolves into a big blue nation stepchild, every official is a zebra that should be skinned, and final horns release severe depression coupled with denial or unrivaled glorious rejoicing.

Throughout 2015, Cardinal Fans and our Hall of Fame Coach Pitino attempted to temper expectations. Many claimed that surviving to the second weekend would cement 2014/2015 as a success. Well Cardinal Fans, we made it and the Sweet 16 looms, how do you feel now?

The answer is simple, we want more. Hope is the most tempting and powerful of drugs, and after 80 minutes of basketball in Seattle Louisville Basketball has left Card Nation yearning for more. Confidence has returned, the coffers are filled with chest thumping, and all of a sudden a new tune rings throughout the Commonwealth. This is Louisville Basketball, we don't settle, and if the Cardinals have come this far might as well just march straight onto Indianapolis.

The expectation at Louisville is to compete for championships year in and year out, but it is understood how increasingly difficult capturing that elusive title is. The Cardinal passion for college basketball equals our friends in blue to the east, but we separate ourselves through appreciation. Kentucky ran Tubby Smith out of town because of his failure to win a second national title. Before UK's magical run a season ago there was growing dissension and Calipari resentment. Also, honest Kentucky fans will always hold a special place for Rick Pitino because he returned their beloved program to its "rightful" place atop the college basketball world.

Louisville Fans clamor for championships the same way Kentucky does, but at the University of Louisville we fall in love with the journey, the players, the stories, and when a final horn sounds appreciation is the lasting memory no matter the accomplishment. The 2014/2015 Cardinals aren't the greatest bunch of Birds, but in one weekend they have managed to remind us all just how intoxicating Cardinal Pride can be. This group has earned their place in the storied halls of Louisville Lore regardless of whether the fun marches on Friday night.

As for an actual basketball analysis, how about Quentin Snider for Wooden Player of the Year (maybe one day)? Louisville is a new team with a new ceiling, and most of that is due to the blossoming of a true point guard. Snider has my mouth watering for the rest of the tournament, but also the next three seasons. The kid is a player, a scorer, a creator, and is as cool as the other side of the pillow. Snider scored 26 points, shot 50% from the field, had nine rebounds, sealed a game at the charity stripe, and committed just two turnovers. Those are unreal numbers from a true freshman who took over the team less than a month ago.

Aside from Snider, my three biggest takeaways from Seattle were Terry Rozier snapping out of his way-too-long slump, Wayne Blackshear's aggression no matter the result, and Montrezl Harrell's unheard of, but understandable diminished role statistically. In the tournament, less talented teams figure out the best possible way to stay in the game, and with Louisville, it was fairly obvious all season that if Harrell's role was reduced, Louisville would struggle mightily and lose ball games.

If you would've told me that through 75 minutes of basketball Montrezl would have only accounted for 15 points and six rebounds, I would've bet my house Louisville would be sitting at home right now. UC Irvine and Northern Iowa limited Harrell's ability to impact the game through physical abuse and double or triple teams, and it wasn't until the final minutes of Sunday night's game where he finally crushed their souls by ferociously rattling the rim. As it stands moving forward, the Cardinals have a four-headed monster and there are maybe three or four teams left that can match Rozier, Blackshear, Snider, Harrell and the way they are playing.

Rick Pitino is 11-1 in the Sweet 16; the only loss shall not be discussed. Cat Barber dominated Chris Jones in February and will look to do the same against Quentin Snider, but Louisville has finally found their Siva replacement and I expect Louisville's defensive game plan to vary drastically. Terry Rozier is back, Wayne Blackshear has arrived, and Montrezl Harrell is ready to erase the embarrassment that occurred five weeks ago. Louisville Basketball has added another chapter to its unending offering of lovable characters mixed with pride-inducing accomplishment. The expectations have increased, but appreciation will forever remain unmatched.

All Hail UofL !!