Big East Basketball: Louisville Cardinals Best Chance at NCAA Tournament First Seed

By Michael Roberts
Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Of all the teams in the Big East with a chance to earn a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Louisville Cardinals own the best resume deserving of the honor.

The Cardinals have won six straight and nine of their past 10 games, sitting tied with the best record in conference action. They’ve beaten every quality opponent the Big East has to offer, with the exception of a 53-51 loss on the road to the Georgetown Hoyas.

The Hoyas entered the week slotted higher than Louisville in the AP rankings but Georgetown is hardly a better team than the Cardinals. The Hoyas depend on Otto Porter Jr. for their success way too much for anybody to choose their starting-five unit over Louisville’s starting-five.

Russ Smith, or Peyton Siva can struggle and the Cardinals still have pieces in Chane Behanan or Gorgui Dieng who are capable of picking up the slack. Whereas, if Porter struggled in any contest, chances are Georgetown’s ability to have success in the game have greatly been impacted. That’s not to say the Hoyas don’t have quality pieces surrounding Porter, but three of their four losses in conference action have all come when Porter has shot under 40% from the floor. That is not a coincidence.

A healthy Cardinals team is just as dangerous as anyone, as they possess one of the best back courts in the nation, both from an offensive and defensive standpoint. They own one of the best erasers in the country thanks to the shot blocking ability Dieng provides the team. That trio alone makes Louisville’s defense scary for any opponent to try an exchange buckets with, and that’s still not factoring the size on the wings, players like Behanan, Wayne Blackshear, Luke Hancock and Montrezl Harrell give the team.

As important as scoring is to having success, defense is what carries teams come tournament time. Louisville doesn’t have to worry about offense with the instant production Smith provides or the playmaking ability Siva gives the team. This explains why the defensive presence the Cardinals possess makes running into them in the Big East or NCAA Tournament the last thing any team wishes to do.

How is an opponent going to have success if Smith and Siva are picking their guard’s pockets as two of the top five steals leaders in the conference? Not to mention if they somehow get by the guard tandem, they’ll have to worry about their shot getting swatted into the third row with Dieng’s near seven-foot frame waiting for them.

Pending a major upset, it’s likely Louisville will return to the conference tournament finals. Should they capture the Big East crown once again, there would be no reason not to provide the Cardinals with a one seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It would just be too cruel to give the 15th seeded team, such a well-balanced roster to contend with. Not to mention an upset and motivated one on top of that.

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


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