It is time to start judging the Louisville Cardinals based on what they have done this season, not what they might do, or what they are expected to do, or what they have done in the past. Louisville entered this season ranked third because they won the NCAA Championship last season, and returned all but two of their rotation players from that championship roster. I’m fine with the preseason ranking, but what about them not beating any good teams this season? What about losing every time they played against a talented team? This team is not as good as their ranking, and definitely not as good as their preseason expectations.
Louisville has zero wins over teams ranked in the top 50 of the RPI, and only have one win over a team in the top 75. Seven of the Cardinals’ 11 wins have been against teams ranked 192nd or worse in the RPI. So, not only are they not beating good teams, they aren’t even playing good teams. They had two games against ranked opponents — North Carolina and Kentucky — and in both games the Cardinals came up short. But not just short, they were never in position to win either one. Louisville trailed by double-digits with less than two minutes remaining in both games, before narrowing the deficit in garbage time.
Earlier this year I wrote that Memphis was the best team in the American Athletic Conference, but I am starting to believe that Louisville isn’t even the second-best team in the AAC; that might be UConn.
Louisville has continued to be ranked high because all of the advanced analytics say they are good. The only problem with that is that the advanced stats cannot take into account just how bad the teams Louisville has beaten really are. The further the season progresses, the more the stats will even out, and pull Louisville down, but yesterday’s loss to Kentucky should do that as well. Going 0-2 in your only opportunities against ranked teams is going to start to let the human emotion creep in to the voters head’s.
In previous years, Louisville would not be hurt by early season losses, but they are no longer in the Big East. Louisville was able to play a weak non-conference schedule in years past because the Big East was so deep. The AAC still has Memphis, UConn and Cincinnati, so it’s not like they won’t play other ranked teams, but the real problem is that they will be playing more really bad teams in conference play than they are used to playing. Louisville’s non-conference strength of schedule ranks 126th in the country, and now they lose the old Big East teams; this is going to be a tough road to hoe for the Cardinals.
Louisville will still have a great record, and still make the tournament, but don’t be surprised when the seeding for the NCAA Tournament comes around and the Cardinals receive a lower seed than expected.
Follow Robbie on Twitter @rmarbury