Cards post-season hopes in jeopardy

Louisville's (15-8, 3-7) post-season hopes are in serious jeapardy after Monday's 74-68 loss to Cincinnati. They'll need to win some games down the stretch, including Saturday against South Florida, just to make it to New York for the Big East Tournament next month. With upcoming games at Syracuse, No. 1 Connecticut and No. 9 West Virginia, the Cardinals road to New York won't be an easy one.

Louisville's 74-68 loss to Cincinnati Monday night virtually ended the Cardinals NCAA Tournament hopes for the 2005-06 season. Just one year after a remarkable run to the Final Four, Rick Pitino's squad figures to be watching the ‘Big Dance' from the sidelines this March.

"I think our team will look back at that Cincinnati game as a must win," Pitino said. "The bad part is we let a young man who shouldn't even have been playing – had a concussion – dominate."

Cincinnati forward Eric Hicks led the Bearcats with 22 points and 11 rebounds despite suffering a concussion. The loss dropped Louisville to 3-7 in the Big East and, for the moment, has the Cardinals on the outside looking in at a trip to New York next month for the Big East tournament.

"Right now we're not thinking about the NCAA or the NIT, we're thinking about getting to New York," Pitino said.

Only 12 of the Big East's 16 teams make it to Madison Square Garden for the league tournament. Currently, the Cardinals sit tied for 13th place with St. John's and Rutgers. However, both of those teams beat the Cardinals earlier this season and would go to the tournament ahead of Louisville because of those wins if they remained tied in the standings. With remaining road games against Syracuse, No. 1 Connecticut and No. 9 West Virginia, Louisville's road to New York won't be an easy one.

Pitino said Thursday night on his weekly radio show that if his team doesn't turn it around and make the NCAA field, his program would turn down a chance, if offered, to play in the National Invitation Tournament.

"I don't think we'd go to the NIT," Pitino said. "It's not because we think we're better than that, but we're going to have to have some players worked on physically. We've got some bodies that are going to need recuperative time. We couldn't play at home, so we would not play in the NIT."

So how did a program that reached the Final Four less than 12 months ago plummet to this point in such a short period of time? The answers are abundant. Preseason injuries to Juan Palacios and David Padgett no doubt played a factor. But even more so than the injuries have been Pitino's squads inability to make shots (The Cards have made less than 44 percent from the field this season) and rebound (Louisville has been out-rebounded in all but one Big East game, an 89-86 overtime win over Notre Dame last Saturday)

"Excuses are a sign of weakness and we've got some weakness to our basketball team," Pitino admitted. "We have some weaknesses right now. We've got to camouflage these weaknesses by doing other things well. We've got a lot of problems on our basketball, but they've got a great attitude."

With three home games left on the schedule, including Saturday's game against South Florida, the Cardinals seemingly must sweep all three to have a fighting chance to get to New York for the Big East Tournament next month.

"South Florida is going to be a tough game," Pitino said. "They don't go away. They're tough, well-coaches kids. We're going to try some different lineups because we're struggling right now. We're not concerned about developing (players), we're just going to play the guys that match up the best with South Florida."

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