1. I rarely find myself feeling overconfident, especially heading into a game against a better-ranked opponent in March, but that's where I had been all week regarding the Notre Dame game.
I know Rick Pitino said earlier in the week that Notre Dame's guards are better defensively and more athletic than they've been in past years, and I know he talked after the game about what an awful overall matchup it was, but let's be real, the Fighting Irish are one of the worst defensive teams in the ACC. They gave up 87 or more points three times in the month of February, and walked into Wednesday night's game ranking No. 148 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, easily the worst of any team currently ranked in Ken Pomeroy's overall top 25.
On the other side of the coin, the things that Notre Dame does really well on offense -- shoot the three, get easy shots around the bucket, not turn the ball over -- are typically the types of things that Louisville does a good job of conquering. Instead, the Cards showed little ability to keep the Notre Dame guards (or forwards) in front of them, they didn't switch effectively, they offered help when they didn't need to, and they allowed careless mistakes to turn into easy Fighting Irish points.
It was a bizarre evening because when Louisville was good (erasing an 11-point halftime deficit in, like, 35 seconds), it was as good as we've seen them all season. But when the Cards were bad, they were ... 2009-10 team after the last game in Freedom Hall bad. There was no in between on Wednesday, and that was strange to see from a group that, even when they had shot poorly in the past, had typically still been able to get decent enough looks and play good defense.
I don't know what this means for the rest of the month, other than that I'm probably not going to be overconfident again.
2. If it felt like a while since this has happened, there's a reason.
Tonight was Louisville's first regular season home loss in March during the Rick Pitino era, who had been 15-0 in those situations before (to answer what you're thinking, the 2012 South Florida game was on Feb. 29). The last time the Cards had lost on their home floor in March was the NIT game against Temple during Pitino's first season.
The loss also knocked Louisville out of the running for the No. 3 seed in the ACC Tournament, which means the Cards will be playing the second afternoon game (30 minutes after the noon game ends) on Wednesday and/or Thursday next week. Let your weekday afternoon commitments know ahead of time that they can either get 0 percent from you in person, or because you're literally not there. It's March in Louisville. They always knew this was the risk.
As for the Cards' chances of earning the No. 4 seed and the final double bye, the simple way to get there is by beating Virginia on Saturday.
Louisville will get a double bye in the ACC Tournament if they beat Virginia OR NC State, Miami, Pittsburgh, and Duke win on Saturday.— Kelly Dickey (@RealCardGame) March 5, 2015
Keep in mind that Louisville has won 19 straight regular season home games against teams they played on the road earlier in the same season. Of course they also had all those numbers we just talked about going for them tonight, so ... shrugging emoji.
3. Terry Rozier took full blame for the loss after the game, which is certainly over the top, but it goes without saying that he has to be much better for Louisville to beat anyone of any real consequence.
Rozier hasn't shot 50 percent or better from the field in a game since Louisville's win at Boston College on Jan. 28. That would be fine if he was putting up five or six shots per night, but he's taken 14 or more shots in nine of those 10 games. In total, Rozier is just 52 of 161 from the field since the calendar flipped from January, good for just 32.3 percent.
As easy as it is to begrudge Terry for shooting so much, it's also impossible to simply dismiss the facts that he, 1) Doesn't have a whole lot of other options surrounding him on the court; and 2) Was making a lot of these same shots during the first two months of the season. Still, the sample size is large enough now to leave no doubt that there's a trend in play, which means that it's probably time for at least a minor change.
The bad news is that Louisville's next opponent is the best in the country when it comes to forcing its opponents to take challenged shots. I'm not sure the Cards can beat Virginia without Rozier hitting double digits in shot attempts, but I'm also not sure they can win if Terry posts another 3-for-15 or 2-for-11.
The solution? There's no question that the Cards have to force UVA into more turnovers than they did in the first meeting and get some easier transition points for Rozier and company that way. Aside from that, it's kind of going to come down to the same thing we've spent so much of the season talking about: just making shots.
Rick Pitino ended his press conference tonight with this:
"It's going to come down to, when we get in the tournament, to matchups. We get the wrong matchup, we're going to have an exit. We get the right matchups, we're going to have a chance of winning. Matchups are going to be crucial for us."
A lot of us, myself included, like to talk about the 2012 team as if they were a Final Four squad all season long and something magically clicked when they took the court against Seton Hall in the second round of the Big East Tournament. Improved play certainly had a lot to do with that season ending in New Orleans, but the other reality is that they got a really, really good NCAA Tournament draw. If Louisville gets fellow No. 4 seed Indiana's draw that year, they run into Kentucky two rounds earlier in the Sweet 16. Instead, they took care of Davidson and New Mexico before holding an offensively limited Michigan State team to the lowest point total for a No. 1 seed in the history of the tournament.
Having said all that, the parity that exists between the teams ranked, say, 9-30 this year in college basketball means that Louisville's draw really isn't going to matter all that much if they don't play much better on both ends of the floor than they did tonight. The good news is we've seen them create open shots before, we've seen them make open shots before (a few times), and we've seen them play much (much, much, much -- tonight was really bad) better defense before.
We've seen what happens in the postseason label entire seasons unfairly before. An overwhelmingly positive and fun 2010-11 will now forever be most remembered by a last-second upset loss to Morehead State in which the team lost its star player to injury and played one of its worst games of the season. A year later, an overwhelmingly negative and tedious (it was way worse than this year, in large part because we hadn't won a national title 23 months earlier) November-early March was completely wiped out by an unforgettable four week run.
I don't know how this thing plays out. You never do. Am I less confident about it ending well than I was heading into tonight? Honestly, yes. But I've been surprised before, and I'm hopeful that I'll be surprised again starting Saturday.