When the Louisville Cardinals faced off with the Saint Louis Billikens in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament, the results were ugly. At halftime, the score sat at just 25-16 in favor of the defending national champions, but neither team was inspiring confidence with how they were performing.
Though you can call it good defense that was being played, many of their struggles were the result of sloppy offensive play. Turnovers, missed shots, poor decisions and a number of other mistakes were abundant for both teams in the first half. Things improved in the second half, mostly for Louisville though as they were able to secure a 61-45 victory and move on to the Sweet 16.
Despite the fact that they gathered themselves and were able to pick up an eventual victory, the defending national champions looked vulnerable. In fact, they’ve looked quite vulnerable in their first two contests of the tournament as they’ve found themselves in dogfights on both occasions. A big reason for that is how dependent their offense can become on the services of Luke Hancock and Russ Smith.
Against the Billikens, Hancock and Smith combined to take 25 shot attempts, and Hancock alone hoisted 12 three-point attempts. They combined for a solid 32 points in an ugly and often offensively-challenged game, but it was staggering how often the Cardinals looked to them for a bucket down the stretch.
I understand that you want your playmakers to be the guys taking shots when the game is on the line, but there’s a fine line between that happening and those guys seemingly taking every possible shot. When the latter is happening, a talented defensive team is going to be able to shut it down and possible leave your team offensively helpless.
The duo of Smith and Hancock is certainly talented. However, as the Cardinals get deeper into the tournament and more than likely find themselves in more close games, I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up keeping them from repeating as champions.