As the college basketball season nears its destination, one of the hottest teams heading down the home stretch is none other than Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals. Yet despite their winning ways this season, the Cards aren't generating the type of traction with pollsters and bracketologists normally deserving of a team that has won 24-of-28 games.
It's clear that two factors are holding the Cardinals back in the eyes of poll voters and prognosticators - their RPI (24) and strength of schedule (95). ESPN's resident bracketologist, Joe Lunardi, has the Cardinals seeded third in his most recent NCAA projections, but says "the Cardinals have more work to do to hold this spot."
Really? Are the Cardinals simply fighting to maintain a projected 3-seed?
"Two years ago, I thought we were a two-seed based on the RPI and our ranking all season," Pitino said recently, "and it turned out we got a four-seed and everybody was stunned. So I try not to think about it until they say our name."
Pitino's position is a wise one. But we think bracketologists like Lunardi are off-base about the Cardinals entire "body of work" this season, especially considering all the injuries they've had to overcome.
Pitino's team, led by a cast of veteran's, has compiled the nation's third-best road record (7-1) - an important statistic the NCAA selection committee uses for seeding purposes - trailing only No. 1 Illinois and Pacific. Included are impressive wins at Florida, No. 22 Cincinnati, Memphis, Marquette, and UAB.
"We've played our best basketball on the road," said Pitino. "We're a good road team (because) we're a veteran team. This team handled adversity better than they did success. And playing on the road is all about adversity."
Besides boasting a 4-1 record versuses team's projected in this week's NCAA field and a 2-1 record against the Top 25, Louisville also had an impressive 15-point neutral court win over Stanford at the Maui Invitational, and a 23-point victory over Tennessee.
The Ladybirds have had a lot
to cheer - and smile - about this season
"We've had a terrific season," Pitino admitted last week. "And we've overcome more injuries in one season than I've had combined in my coaching career. I'm real proud of these guys and the way they've overcome adversity."
And in another key component the NCAA selection committee uses to dole out seeds - how teams finish the season - the Cardinals are rolling into March. In fact, they've won 9 of their last 10 games and 13 of the past 14. Very few teams around the country can the say the same.
That consistency, along with their ability to win on the road in the face of season long adversity, should gain them favor once the doors close and the selection committee goes to work next weekend.
Of course, there's still two games remaining before next week's C-USA Tournament in Memphis - Charlotte and DePaul, but Louisville's achievments thus far can't be underestimated. Afterall, we're talking about a team that is 24-4 overall, and 12-2 in a conference that will send at least four teams, possibly five, to the NCAA tournament later this month.
Also, don't forget this. Only one team - No. 1 Illinois - has more wins than do the Cardinals. More telling, however, might be the fact that only five teams - Illinois, North Carolina, Kentucky, Boston College and Pacific - still have fewer losses than U of L.
So with two final tests remaining, and provided Louisville can knock off No. 18 Charlotte and DePaul - both sure-fire NCAA teams - later this week, the Cardinals' stock might just rise in the eyes of pollsters and bracket experts.