For those who do not think Louisville can defend its national title, consider that not very many college basketball teams play anything close to resembling a structured defense.
The Rick Pitino-led Cardinals not only showed that by way of their 82-58 win over host and shockingly bad Temple on Friday night, but by leading the nation in forced turnovers. This was a team with three starters returning from what was unquestionably the best team last year and are coached by someone with star power in Pitino. Star power on the bench is one thing, but if supplemented by a first-round NBA draft pick makes for a team to watch in the NCAA tournament.
Can the Cardinals repeat? Sure. Firstly because there are no great teams; even unbeaten Syracuse needed a prayer to beat Pittsburgh the other night. They are coached by Pitino, one of the five best in the game. They have a player they can build around in power forward Montrezl Harrell, who had 22 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots in the win over Temple.
Harrell is 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds and is a consensus late first-round draft pick by almost all of the scouting services and it is easy to see why because he is a classic No. 4 and there aren’t too many of those around anymore. He can score, rebound, block shots and has a nice intermediate jumper.
He also is a key to the middle of Pitino’s defense.
While VCU gets a lot of credit for its havoc defense, Pitino employs a similar trapping style — in the frontcourt, though, not the backcourt — that might be even more effective. When picking those teams in March who might go far in the bracket, it’s always a good bet to advance a team that knows how to play defense.
Louisville does and it, with Harrell leading the way, can be a team that lasts deep into March.