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Louisville Cardinals Return to the Top of the Big East

Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

It wasn’t looking like a good start for the Louisville Cardinals after struggling recently entering their game against the Marquette Golden Eagles.

Louisville watched as Marquette began to rack up points while their point total was stuck at one for what felt like an eternity in the first half. Then, all of a sudden Montrezl Harrell slammed home a thunderous jam to increase the Cardinals’ point total to three and just like that, the game was never the same for the Golden Eagles.

Marquette led by eight early before Louisville woke up and ran them out of the KFC Yum! Center with a dominating 70-51 victory. The win quickly reminded the nation why the Cardinals are without a doubt a national championship contender, regardless of their recent three game losing streak.

After looking dominate to begin Big East action, Louisville suffered its first loss in conference play at home to the Syracuse Orange, then followed it up with back-to-back road losses. The losing streak saw them fall out of the top ten for the first time this season in the AP top 25 rankings, and suddenly the Cardinals heard doubters for the first time all year.

Looking back on the losing streak there was hardly any need to be concerned. The Syracuse loss could have gone either way as the game came down to the final possession. Had any extra bounce or shot gone Louisville’s way in the contest they’d still be a top of the conference standings.

As far as the losses against the Villanova Wildcats and Georgetown Hoyas are concerned, playing on the road in the Big East is about as hard as it gets. The conference has had as many as eight different teams find a ranking in the top 25 at some point this season, with as many as six schools in the same week. Obviously in a loaded conference, teams are going to lose and it’s not because they aren’t good, it’s simply because they are playing against better competition.

Besides, the Wildcats beat Syracuse while Georgetown lost to Marquette and the Pittsburgh Panthers, who the Cardinals defeated in their last game. The same Pittsburgh team that beat the Syracuse team that beat Louisville. Confused yet? Point is, everybody is beating everybody because the Big East is loaded and there’s not a chance this conference could produce a dominate team in the standings. Nobody is pulling away and as of right now the highest win total in the conference is six, and eight teams are currently at that mark.

The Cardinals hit a bad stretch but they aren’t any less of a team than people thought they were. The losing streak came at the best possible time for coach Rick Pitino, leaving him a month to fix the holes before conference tournament time.

Pitino’s reward for surviving the losing streak and recovering with back-to-back victories is Louisville’s upcoming schedule. Four of the next six games will be against opponents with losing records in the conference. In fact, before the Cardinals travel to Syracuse for their rematch on Mar. 2, the six teams Louisville will face before that game have a combined record of 19-34 in conference action.

Just like that, the Cardinals have returned to being the conference’s biggest threat.

Michael covers ACC and Big East basketball along with the Toronto Raptors for Rant Sports, you can follow him on Twitter @MichaelxRoberts