The Louisville Cardinals entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, and they have not disappointed to this point. They will make their second straight trip to the Final Four after a fairly easy run through the Midwest Region, winning three of their four games by more than 20 points.
As the Cardinals look to finish this season by cutting down the nets, here is a look at their road to Atlanta.
Second Round: North Carolina A&T
Final Score: 79-48
Louisville easily handled the No. 16 seed Aggies, setting a tournament record for the school with 20 steals along the way. Overall the Cardinals forced 27 turnovers, and the outcome was never in doubt.
The backcourt of Russ Smith (23 points, eight steals and three assists) and Peyton Siva (six points, eight assists, four steals and two rebounds) led the charge for the Cardinals, with center Gorgui Dieng (eight points and seven rebounds) and forward Wayne Blackshear (12 points, five rebounds and four steals) also contributing.
Third Round: Colorado State
Final Score: 82-56
The outcome was never in doubt again here, as the Cardinals forced 20 turnovers and outrebounded the No. 8 seed Rams 29-24. Colorado State shot the ball fairly well (47.5 from the floor), but only had 18 attempts in the first half and 40 total for the game.
Smith again led Louisville in scoring with 27 points, going 4-for-7 on three-pointers, along with three rebounds, two assists and two steals. Deng (12 points, three rebounds, two steals and one blocked shot) and Siva (10 points, five assists, three rebounds and two steals) also had significant roles, and forward Montrezl Harrell scored 11 points off the bench.
Sweet 16: Oregon
Final Score: 77-69
The Cardinals led by 18 points with around nine minutes to go, but the No.12 seed Ducks cut the deficit to six before running out of steam late. Louisville actually turned the ball over more (13 times) than Oregon did (12 times), but a 42-34 advantage on points in the paint helped them win their 13th straight game.
Siva was limited by early foul trouble and did not put up a great stat line (four points, three assists, three rebounds), but Smith tied his career-high with 31 points in the game to pick up the slack. Deng was a force on both ends of the floor (10 points, nine rebounds and four blocked shots), and guard Kevin Ware put up 11 points off the bench.
Elite Eight: Duke
Final Score: 85-63
Ware’s gruesome right leg injury has gotten most of the headlines from this game, but not enough has been said about Louisville’s domination of the Blue Devils. The Cardinals took control with a 13-2 run early in the second half, and Duke simply had no answer as they went just 19-for-52 (36.5 percent) from the floor.
Smith continued his excellent tournament run with a team-leading 23 points, with Siva (16 points, four assists, two rebounds), Deng (14 points, 11 rebounds, four blocked shots and two steals) and guard Luke Hancock (10 points, three rebounds and two assists) also scoring in double figures.
A Look Ahead
Louisville heads to Atlanta as the favorite to win the national title, and coach Rick Pitino will make sure they do not overlook Wichita State on Saturday. An upset could happen and send them home before next Monday night, but I think the Cardinals are equipped to finish the job this year and win the national title.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him on Twitter @bradberreman24.