The Cardinals will open Big East Tournament play Thursday at noon with a quarterfinal matchup probably against either Providence or Cincinnati. Louisville beat both of those teams last month on their way to a 16-2 league record that earned them the Big East title outright.
Winning the Big East this year was no easy feat, says Goodman. Three of the nation's top five teams in this week's Associated Press poll are from the Big East – No. 2 Pittsburgh, No. 3 UConn and No. 5 Louisville. No. 10 Villanova, No. 18 Syracuse and No. 21 Marquette also rank in the AP's Top 25. The Cardinals finished 4-1 against that elite group of teams this season, their lone loss coming in early February to UConn at Freedom Hall.
With the title under their belts, Louisville now is generating significant buzz as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. ESPN.com Bracketologist Joe Lunardi projects the Cardinals as the No. 1 seed in the West Region his latest bracket update. Still, Louisville has their critics – those who point out non-conference losses to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV. But each of those three teams is projected into the NCAA Tournament field by Lunardi – something that should help the Cardinals with the selection committee.
"They had the three losses but all three of those teams could be in the NCAA Tournament," Goodman said. "My deal is if you win the regular-season Big East title how do you not get a No. 1 seed? Yeah they probably lost a couple games they shouldn't have but over a two and a half month period they were the best team in the best league in America."
Goodman attributed Louisville's early season hangover to the loss of center David Padgett.
"Part of Louisville's struggles early in the season was they didn't know how to run their offense without David Padgett," Goodman said. "It took a while for them to figure it out with Terrence Williams being the guy to facilitate everything."
Williams has been a star for the Cardinals this season, earning first team All-Big East honors and second team All-America honors by FoxSports.com. In the Cardinals 62-59 win over West Virginia Saturday that earned Louisville the Big East title, Williams led the way with 20 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and six steals.
"I never thought Terrence Williams would be on my second team All-American," Goodman said. "He's tough. What separates Terrence Williams from some of those other guys like Jodie Meeks is his toughness. He makes his teammates better and he's got that will not to lose."
Goodman said he believes Louisville, Pittsburgh, North Carolina and Oklahoma will be the four top-seeds when the NCAA Tournament brackets are released Sunday night. Goodman also thinks Michigan State, UConn and Memphis could wind up a No. 1 seed if everything shakes out right for them.
"If UConn wins the Big East Tournament and Louisville loses in the first game then maybe you've got yourself a situation," said Goodman. "As of today I would give it to Louisville. It would be hard to imagine Louisville getting worse than a two-seed winning the Big East regular-season. I just don't see it."
What about Louisville's chances in the NCAA Tournament?
"I still think they're a shade below Pittsburgh, Carolina and UConn," Goodman said. "I think those are still the top three but the separation is minimal. I think there's five more teams that have a chance and it all depends on matchups. If you're one of those other teams you've got to hope you don't have to go up against one of those teams or that one of them gets knocked off early."
While Goodman says the Panthers, Tar Heels and Huskies are the favorites, he quickly pointed out the trio is nowhere close to invincible.
"They could all be upset," Goodman said. "I could visualize a Final Four without two of those three elite teams. They could all be beaten. If Pittsburgh doesn't make shots from the perimeter they can be beaten. UConn doesn't really have anybody right now that can guard a big-time scoring wing. Carolina can't defend. ..they're hardly intimidating."
Goodman believes the tournament is wide-open this year. Having won 17 of their last 19, Louisville seems to have as good a chance as anyone else in the field, especially after surviving the nation's toughest conference and winning the regular-season Big East title over two of the three teams Goodman says are teams to beat in the NCAA Tourney.
"I think it's whoever plays their A-game of those top eight teams can win and beat any one of the other ones depending on matchups and health," Goodman said. "If (Louisville's) point guard play is above average they can win it all. If it is they can reel off six games in a row and win it all because they've got three guys who can get you 20 any night and they've got the pieces around them. And they got Terrence Jennings. I think that was a huge move for Rick Pitino to throw him into the mix. He's a shot blocker and he's athletic. He's a guy that can out-run most opposing five-man in the open court."