clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Friday afternoon Cardinal news and notes

Kenley Grace is holding it down for all of us up in New Jersey, letting them know that Louisville is about to sweep Florida State in football and basketball.

I_medium Spread check: Florida State by 1.

I_medium SB Nation bracketologist Chris Dobbertean says 16 teams still have a shot to earn a No. 1 seed, and ranks Louisville 12th out of that group.

I_medium Mark Titus' college hoops power rankings for The Ringer are always worth your time, but this week he has Louisville at No. 8 and his take on the Cards is terrific. So good that I'm posting the whole thing.

8. Louisville (16-€”3)

We, as a college basketball community, are facing a crisis that has the potential to devastate each and every one of us. And the terrifying part is that most people have no idea it's coming. They're just going about their normal lives, drinking in the stories about UCLA's resurgence, Villanova's pursuit of back-to-back national titles, Gonzaga's unblemished record, Duke's season turning into a reality TV show, Kansas's four-guard lineup, and Kentucky's dynamic freshman backcourt. It makes me sick to my core to see the media continue to pull the wool over so many eyes, which is why I'm here to disseminate the truth: The Louisville Cardinals are good as shit.

No, really. I don't mean that Louisville could maybe, possibly, potentially be good, or that the Cardinals are a fun team that might win a couple of NCAA tournament games. I mean that it's almost a certainty that Louisville will destroy your favorite team and/or your bracket in March. It plays the best defense in college basketball, which is noteworthy in and of itself. What makes that defense truly scary, though, is the fact that it consists of a handful of different looks, making it damn near impossible to crack its code. The Cardinals length, athleticism, and depth paired with head coach Rick Pitino's defensive wizardry gives this team the flexibility to shuffle through a variety of approaches — man-to-man, a 2-€”3 zone, a press that speeds offenses up, a press that slows opponents down, or some combination — on any given night.

I can't overstate how rare this is. I mean, how many great defensive teams in college basketball history have mixed up the defenses they played? Very few. In fact, most great defensive teams succeed precisely because they stick to one approach, practicing it over and over until they've fully mastered it. Louisville has definitely skewed toward using man-to-man and a contain press (designed to slow offenses down, as opposed to West Virginia's press, which is designed to make offenses play out of control) more than other defenses this season, so I should clarify that the Cards don't change up their look on every possession. But the point remains: In the unlikely event that an opponent figures out how to attack Louisville's defense, the Cardinals can always turn to one of a handful of aces up their sleeve.

The concern with Louisville, as is typically the case, is that its half-court offense can be abysmal. It makes no sense how this always happens. The Cardinals have plenty of guys who are capable of offensive outbursts, as seven different players have scored 15 or more points in a game this season, including sophomore guard Donovan Mitchell, who's done it in each of his last six outings. The problem seems to be getting all of these guys — or even half — to play well on the offensive end at the same time. Every so often the Cards come alive on offense, shoot well from the 3-point line, and leave me wondering if they might be the best team in the country. (The best example of this came on New Year's Eve, when Louisville diced up Indiana's defense, went 8-for-19 from deep, and dominated the Hoosiers during a 77-62 win.) Only instead of getting excited that Louisville finally put it all together, I left frustrated that it can't do that every time it takes the court.

So how much does Louisville's offensive inconsistency matter? Well, that's the thing, and why the Cards are so scary: It doesn't matter a damn bit. This is par for the course for Pitino. When he has good half-court offenses, he wins national titles. When he doesn't, he still goes to the Elite Eight. I'm a firm believer in great defense mattering far more than great offense in the NCAA tournament, since it's much easier to have an off shooting night than it is to have an off night with a long, athletic defense that swallows players alive. That's something Pitino figured out long ago. All Louisville really needs is one or two guys to be not completely horrible on offense and it'll be fine. Or perhaps the easiest solution for the Cardinals to is just to make sure that the good version of Deng Adel shows up, seeing how he dropped 18 on Kentucky and 17 on Indiana (Louisville's two most impressive games) but went a combined 10-for-44 in the team's four worst results of the season (three losses and an overtime win against Old Dominion).

Louisville has multiple players who could wind up in the NBA (Mitchell, Adel, Anas Mahmoud, and V.J. King all have potential even though they aren't exactly can't-miss prospects), the best defense in America, and a 16-3 record despite playing one of the most difficult schedules in college basketball. It has wins over Kentucky, Duke, Purdue, Indiana, and Wichita State, while its losses came against Baylor (Louisville led for more than 35 minutes before choking the game away), Virginia (a result that shouldn't even count since the Cavaliers' system is basically Pitino's kryptonite), and Notre Dame (which came at the end of a brutal Cards' stretch of facing four straight ranked opponents). And most importantly, the Cardinals have been to three of the last four Elite Eights in which they've been eligible (they sat out of the 2016 NCAA tournament because of a self-imposed ban), with a Sweet 16 trip in the one season they fell short of the Elite Eight.

I'll say it again: Louisville is good as shit. Don't let the lack of media attention or the inconsistent shooting throw you off, America. The Cards are good enough to win a national championship. Do your part to spread the word. We can't let these bastards sneak up on us in March.

Titus has Villanova at No. 1, followed by Kansas and Gonzaga. I would highly recommend reading the entire post if you're into college basketball and stuff.

I_medium The Muhammad Ali Commemorative Coin Act is cool.

I_medium This is an absurd statistic.

I_medium A high school football website names Trinity as the fourth-most dominant dynasty of the past decade in America.

I_medium Andrew Miller over at Tomahawk Nation breaks down what has been a "storybook" season so far for Florida State basketball.

I_medium Luke Winn's power rankings for Sports Illustrated this week are centered around ranking the teams based on their likelihood to win the national championship. He has Louisville at No. 14.

RECORD: 16-€”3

Case For: The Cardinals rank No. 2 nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency, behind only South Carolina—and based on what they've done against Kentucky, Duke and Purdue, I think the Cards have the higher quality D. They have the nation's best combination of rim protection and ball pressure, with unheralded defenders Anas Mahmoud and Mangok Mathiang manning the paint, and an aggressive turnover-creator in Donovan Mitchell on the perimeter. If they can put together enough late-season offense to complement the D—kind of like what the 2012 Louisville team did en route to a surprise Final Four run—they could make it to Phoenix.

The Flaws: The offense broke out for 1.37 PPP against Clemson on Thursday while point guard Quentin Snider was sitting out with a hip flexor, but the Cards have struggled to shoot on plenty of occasions earlier in the season. Things can get ugly in the games where they have zero effective long-range options, and I worry that their lack of elite shooting will be their second-weekend downfall in the NCAAs.

Next up: 1/21 at Florida State, 1/24 at Pitt

I_medium Delino DeShields will return for his third season as the manager of the Louisville Bats.

I_medium It's another huge weekend in the ACC, and Louisville/Florida State is the showcase game.

I_medium This is new Defensive coordinator Peter Sirmon's son, who is a 4-star linebacker currently committed to Washington.

Sirmon's nephew, for what it's worth, is a five-star quarterback in the 2018 class who is also committed to Washington.

I_medium Shakin' the Southland recaps last night's win.

I_medium Rick Bozich says Donovan Mitchell channelled his inner Russell Westbrook last night.

I_medium ESPN's Myron Medcalf likes the 'Noles in a close one tomorrow.

No. 12 Louisville at No. 10 Florida State, 2 p.m. ET Saturday, ESPN: In its first game without Quentin Snider, sidelined "two to three weeks" with a hip injury, Louisville stumbled into a 21-12 deficit against Clemson on Thursday. Not the typical start for a Cardinals squad at the KFC YUM! Center. But Louisville regained its senses and eventually played the way Louisville, No. 2 in adjusted defensive efficiency on, plays. The Cardinals blocked and altered shots at the rim. They snatched 47 percent of the available offensive rebounds and scored on putbacks. That's the formula that cost Florida State in its lone blemishes this season (Temple, North Carolina). The Owls and Tar Heels attacked the rim the way Louisville attacked Clemson, and both retrieved nearly 50 percent of their missed shots against the Seminoles. But FSU ain't Clemson. Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac guide a team that hasn't lost in Tallahassee this season. Saturday, Louisville will wish it had Snider in the final minutes of this thriller.

Prediction: Florida State 85, Louisville 82 (overtime)

I_medium And finally, Rick Pitino will be back on Ramsey & Rutherford this afternoon to preview tomorrow's game against Florida State. You can listen here.