Few teams in the country have looked better than the Cardinals over the past month and a half, with Louisville capturing the Big East Tournament Championship, extending their current win streak to 10 games.
The Cardinals have won 13 of their past 14 games, with the lone loss coming in a five overtime contest against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. The Big East Tournament Finals against the Syracuse Orange proved that even when the Cardinals don’t start off with their best performance, at no point is the game safe for their opponents.
Syracuse looked dominate and right at home underneath the Madison Square Garden lights, owning a 13 point lead in the first half of the finals. Louisville quickly erased any doubts they were the top dogs in the Big East, outscoring the Orange by 30 points in the second half, on their way to a 78-61 championship victory.
By dominating the competition since the beginning of February in arguably the most competitive conference in the country, the decision to make Louisville the top overall seed was a no brainer.
The Cardinals possess one of the best backcourts in the nation with Peyton Siva and Russ Smith, who are the exact type of duo every coach wishes they had in their guards. Siva’s playmaking ability and Smith’s instant offense have combined to give the opposing team’s coaches fits as the opposition struggles to find match-ups that can contain the duo. On top of their impressive offensive abilities, Siva and Smith are also more than capable of picking the pocket of the guards they just scored on, as both finished in the top four in steals in the Big East.
Behind the guards is where the team’s X-Factor sits and waits, protecting the basket from opposing guards with aspirations of attacking the rim. Gorgui Dieng is one of the most intimidating presences in all of college basketball with his 6-foot-11, 245 lbs frame. The junior finished second in the conference in rebounding and third in shot blocking, making him a defensive force no team can take lightly.
Part of the reason Smith and Siva are able to gamble on steal opportunities is because they know Dieng is behind them ready to erase or alter any shot attempt in the paint. Only a handful of teams in the country have guards with quick hands able to swipe the ball away, who are backed up by an athletic shot blocker. It’s a defensive trio every opponent must respect and often fears.
As impressive as the trio are, they are only part of the reason Louisville was granted the tournament’s top seed.
Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear complete the starting-five unit for the Cardinals, with both being able to score and rebound the basketball. Most of Behanan’s offense comes close to the basket, with his relentless hustle on the glass and explosiveness leaping ability, while Blackshear generates more offense from the perimeter.
Meanwhile, if any of the starting-five need a rest, Louisville is filled with options, especially after receiving 41 points from their bench in the tournament final.
Freshmen Montrezl Harrell only continues to get better as the season progresses, highlighted by the 6-foot-8 forward’s 20 points and seven rebounds against Syracuse. Junior Luke Hancock has been a dependable offensive option all year, proven by the fact he managed to score in double-figures every tournament game, including 10 points in the finals. Sophomore Kevin Ware has even shown he’s able to provide quality minutes despite being buried on the depth chart, highlighted by his nine points in 13 minutes against the Orange. Junior Stephan Van Treese even chipped in with two points in his two minutes of playing time in the finals.
Louisville’s bench isn’t the best in the nation by any means, but they are more than capable of giving their starting-five a breather, a starting-five that is easily one of the best in the nation.
Due to the Cardinals’ best players being able to play both sides of the ball just as good as anyone, along with a deep roster, it’s no wonder Louisville is the top seed.
Which explains why numerous brackets between now and tournament tip-off, will be filled out with the Cardinals claiming the 2013 National Championship.