While it wasn’t unanimous, the Louisville Cardinals were selected today as the #1 team in the nation in the AP top 25 poll, finishing right ahead of the Indiana Hoosiers - and that couldn’t be more accurate.
Head coach Rick Pitino has taken talent and experience, and has coached this team to be nearly flawless. Last year, the Cardinals struggled because of their lack of offense, but now with a legit scorer in guard Russ Smith (18.7 points per game), Louisville knows they have someone they can lean on if they need a basket.
The key to the Cardinals is there defense. Yes, there is a ton of talent on the team, as well as experience from a squad that made it to the Final Four last year after winning the Big East title, but if everything goes wrong and falls apart, Louisville has their defense to fall back on. This was evident in a game against the Seton Hall Pirates last week. In a game where the team shot only 42%, they held their opponents to an even lower 35% and forced 16 turnovers.
The most dominant Cardinal defender is forward Gorgui Dieng, who, aside from averaging nearly a double double (9.6 points and 9.8 rebounds), he also averages 1.1 steals and 2.2 blocks a game. Of course, stats don’t tell the whole story. Dieng’s mere presence is something that opposing players fear and make them think twice before entering the paint.
Solid defense is one thing, but forcing turnovers that allow fast breaks brings an entirely new aspect to a team. Louisville has two players who average over two steals a game, three more who averages over a steal a game, and five additional players who are close to that mark, totaling 12 steals per game.
The offense has clearly been helped by three main things: Peyton Siva manning the controls, the emergence of Chane Behanan as a bona fide scorer, and Wayne Blackshear‘s contributions after he was injured last season. And if someone gets into foul trouble? Don’t worry, the Cardinals have nine players who average over 14 minutes a game.
This team is bursting with potential in nearly every area and are tough to beat on any given night. Tonight, Louisville travels to Storrs to take on the surprisingly good Connecticut Huskies. Do I think they’ll win? You bet. I also think they’ll win the Big East, and maybe even the NCAA championship. They’re that good.