Old habits die hard, they say. While my daily battle to avoid slamming down two Pop-Tarts every morning like a 9 year old is a constant challenge there is one habit I have no intention of breaking.
Three. Game. Pods.
While Coach Pitino certainly wasn’t the inventor of the concept he played it up quite frequently over the past decade, and I fell in love with taking on the struggle of the conference slate through the lens of three game pods. With eighteen conference games you could clearly define six independent segments in which the Cards, at a minimum, wanted to “win the series”. While the pods themselves are rarely created equal it almost always seemed to balance itself out with a very challenging three game stretch complemented by one that included a couple lower level teams coming into your building. The benefit to the very simplistic approach was that if you won every pod (2-1) you were guaranteed to finish conference play with a record of 12-6 or better. The significance of that mark is that every single year since the Cards joined the ACC a 12-6 mark would have been good enough to earn them a Top 4 seed in the ACC Tournament at the end of the year. Only once since they joined the conference has a team outside of those Top 4 spots won the whole thing, and that was that small underdog school out of Durham who happened to be a 5 seed back in 2017. As we all now know, that double-bye is crucial in trying to compete for a Conference Championship and ultimately position yourself in a much better spot when the NCAA starts handing out seeds and locations.
Now that we’re nearing the halfway point of the conference season I can’t think of a better time to review what we’ve seen so far and project what will happen in the future, ya know, since I very rarely ever make a mistake [starts deleting football record predictions].
[L] @ PITTSBURGH
[W] @ NORTH CAROLINA
Pod Record: 2-1
Conference Record: 2-1
Heading into conference play I’d assume the vast majority of the fan base would have predicted coming out of this grouping at 2-1. Congratulations, you’re a genius. The bump in the road of course was taking the unexpected loss to Pittsburgh, but by beating UNC things evened out, and in terms of computer rankings I’d trade that Pitt loss for a UNC win every single time. I my mind, POD 1 was a success.
[W] BOSTON COLLEGE
[W] @ GEORGIA TECH
[W] NORTH CAROLINA STATE
Pod Record: 3-0
Conference Record: 5-1
While games against Boston College at home and the fighting Josh Pastner’s on the road appeared winnable NC State was a ranked opponent who could get hot from outside and had already beaten a a Top 10 team at the time in Auburn. Winning the pod at 2-1 was the goal for me so to come out the backend sitting at 3-0 is basically stealing a win for another pod later in the season, an extra win the Cards will likely need. That 3-0 sweep is for you Cat Barber. You disgust me.
[W] @ WAKE FOREST
[L]* NORTH CAROLINA
*Projected Pod Record: 2-1
*Projected Conference Record: 7-2
Last Saturday my gut was telling we there was no way Louisville would come out and shoot the ball as bad as they did from outside the arc on their trip to the Oakland Zoo, not to mention the team had revenge on their mind with Pitt rolling into the Yum! Center. I felt good about that one, but not as good as I felt about Wake, who is….not a great basketball team. A start to the pod at 2-0 means no matter what happens we’ve already won it [pops champagne, high fives my dog] but a win over UNC, similar to what we did in POD 2, would be stealing another win for one of the more challenging pods later this year. A win against UNC would also almost guarantee a conference record at .500 or better, needing just one additional victory to reach that mark. While our expectations as a fan base may have changed since back at the beginning of the season I could have wallpapered my whole house with comments from fans and media alike in December talking about the Cards doing whatever possible to get to 10-8 in conference play and fighting to make the tournament. The Cards are playing really good right now but I think UNC still has a nasty taste in their mouth from the massacre three weeks ago [“21 piece at yo crib”] and they find a way to get the win.
[L] @ VIRGINIA TECH
[W] @ FLORIDA STATE
*Projected Pod Record: 1-2
*Projected Conference Record: 8-4
Life on the road in the ACC is tough, and even though the Cards have played well away from home so far in 2019 (sitting at 3-1 in the four conference battles outside the Yum! Center) the sticking point for me is that excluding UNC the other three games were against teams currently sitting at 71st (Pitt), 95th (GT), and 193rd (WF) respectively in the NET rankings. Although almost every ACC road game is tough, those squads are not exactly world beaters. Virginia Tech on the other hand, even playing through some struggles, is a Top 10 team via NET and will offer a tough environment for the Cards to walk into. I think we see the Cards drop their first road contest in almost a month. Back to back road games are a test both physically and mentally to see if a team is ready to handle the grind of postseason play. I think Mack and the boys won’t allow themselves to drop three in a row and steal a tight one at FSU before they come back home to face ‘Goliath’. While I may be in the minority I like how UofL matches up with Duke and I fully expect a tight one for 35 minutes. Their length and the overall team depth for Duke I think will eventually gain the edge they need to pull away late and leave the Cards with their first losing pod of the conference season. The good news is that 3-0 record in POD 2 means they are still on track to reach
their my goal.
[W] @ SYRACUSE
*Projected Pod Record: 2-1
*Projected Conference Record: 10-5
While I think Clemson is slightly better than many outsiders think they are UofL will refuse to lose 4 of their last 5 games and handles business at home. The next question for the foreseeable future is will Coach Mack dominate that Cuse 2-3 zone like Pitino did during the end of his tenure? Syracuse can give teams absolute fits if they aren’t accustomed to their style of defense (see; NCAA tournament) but they can also appear to be a gaping sieve for coaches who know how to attack it. For the first time as Louisville’s coach Mack will go into the Carrier Dome, sweat through his jacket, and figure out a way to ‘pick’ apart Boeheim just like his predecessor did. Coming off back to back victories the Cards welcome…..Virginia. It will be frustrating, it will be ugly, Virginia will likely have a ball bounce off someone’s thorax before it goes through the basket or some other nonsense, and they get the win in a “blowout” fashion…like 8 points. Whatever. Nerds.
[W] @ BOSTON COLLEGE
[W] NOTRE DAME
[L] @ VIRGINIA
*Projected Pod Record: 2-1
*Projected Conference Record: 12-6
Louisville starts the last pod walking into Chestnut Hill where a handful of people are aware a basketball game is taking place while the rest are scrolling their phones to buy more Patriots Super Bowl Championship gear. A slow start in Conte Forum is inevitable with the crowd and the likely 20 degree temps outside but a realistic shot at keeping one of those top 4 spots in the ACC spurns the Cards to another road victory. Luckily the Cards get an extra day of rest and play on Sunday afternoon instead of their typical Saturday showdown because the Notre Dame fighting Irish are coming to town and you can bet your lucky rabbit’s foot this thing is going to five overtimes. While Kyle Kuric isn’t around to stun the whole cheer squad and Earl Clark isn’t around to emasculate Luke Harangody’s childrens, childrens, children the Cards will bring some fire on Senior night and send Agau, CC, Fore, Rainey, and Nwora (?) out with a dub. Then the Cards go to Virginia, yadda, yadda, yadda, like a sofa with no couch…they can’t pull it out. BUT they won another pod, which means they went 5-1 on the season in the three game pods and finished the year 12-6 which we learned earlier is likely good enough to place them in one of those Top 4 spots.
If Coach Mack and this team walk into [checks what random North Carolina town the ACC Tournament is in this year] Charlotte with a double bye then resurrect Denny Green and “crown him” ACC Coach of the Year and National Coach of The Year for the job he’s done.
We got lots of ball left to play but this is my take on how it all shakes out as of today. I may not get it all right but one thing is for sure....I got a couple Pop-Tarts calling my name.