The Case For Louisville

No team across the country gained more from its conference tournament last week than Louisville.

The Cardinals entered the Big East Tournament with work to do to make a legitimate argument for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They left Madison Square Garden not only as champions of the Big East-both the Tournament and regular season-but also as the overall No. 1 seed in the Big Dance.

Because of the way it played down the stretch and because of the fact that it won the country's toughest league outright, Louisville was deemed the best team in the country by the Tournament's selection committee.

But it's because of their depth that the Cardinals will win the National Championship.

Highly-touted teams that bow out of the Big Dance early typically rely too heavily on one player who struggles either because of foul trouble or an inability to get going on a particular night. (Think Pittsburgh.) Other favorites that depend on outscoring opponents are upset when they are exposed by a poor shooting night. (Think North Carolina.)

The Cardinals, however, suffer from none of these flaws.

Louisville is easily the deepest team in the country, as head coach Rick Pitino has the confidence to use 10 players in any game. Utilizing reserves is somewhat of a necessity for Louisville, as Pitino employs a four-guard rotation to spearhead arguably the toughest full-court pressure defense in the country. Unlike a shooting slump, defense is a constant. And Louisville can expect to generate easy transition offense through its press every time it steps on the court.

Offensively, the Big East champions are balanced largely because of the versatility of do-everything forwards Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, the team's two leading scorers.

Throughout the season, Louisville demonstrated that it can thrive against either a man-to-man or zone defense. Preston Knowles, Jerry Smith and Williams are all capable of filling it up from the outside. Freshman sensation Samardo Samuels continues to progress as an inside presence in case the Cardinals' touch goes cold.

Perhaps the only question mark for the Cardinals is the lack of playmaking ability in the backcourt, which was exposed in surprising (and early) non-conference losses to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV. The playmaking ability of Williams and Clark, both excellent passers, will be crucial down the stretch in close games.

But those two made plays when it mattered in New York City last week. And if they can do so again, look for the Cardinals to celebrate in Detroit just as they did at the Garden.


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