The answer is simple: Not if they continue to play with the same lack of effort and intensity that got them run out of Madison Square Garden by a team that had previously won only two of ten Big East games this year.
Right from the start Thursday night it was apparent the Cardinals had no sense of urgency for a team needing wins in February to earn a spot in next month's Big Dance. After falling behind 12-0 to start the game, Louisville swam against the stream the rest of the night.
Louisville's performance against St. John's was puzzling considering how hard they played at Pittsburgh and West Virginia. Sure the Cardinals came up short against both of those teams but they didn't lose because of a lack of effort or intensity.
Surely the story that broke Thursday morning that Rick Pitino's intermediaries had contacted the New Jersey Nets to express interest in their coaching position on the UofL coaches behalf didn't help Louisville's pre-game focus. A fragile team facing two tough road games simply didn't need those kind of distractions. Though Pitino quickly denied the report, the results on the court last night indicate the damage had already been done.
"When someone speaks an untruth it's a bit of a distraction," Pitino told reporters after the game. "When people speak an untruth, it bothers you. There is no truth to it (but) it's a distraction, a nuisance."
Before last night's loss, Louisville was one of ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi's last four teams 'in' the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals certainly didn't help their cause last night with a loss to the No. 90 team in the RPI rankings.
Now, Louisville has their back squarely against the wall heading into Sunday's game at third-ranked Syracuse. On the positive side, the Orange present a tremendous opportunity for the Cardinals to notch their first signature win of the season. But getting a win at Syracuse appears a daunting – if not impossible – challenge. The Orange are 24-1 this season and feature Wes Johnson, one of the best forwards in the country.
Time is running out for Louisville. The Cardinals will take a 15-9 record and a 6-5 league mark into the Carrier Dome. With only seven games left to improve their NCAA resume, Louisville probably needs to win five, possibly six, of their final regular-season games to reserve their spot in the tournament.
That might not be realistic to attain for an inconsistent team. After Sunday's game against Syracuse, Louisville still has games left at home against the Orange and ninth-ranked Georgetown, plus tough road games at Connecticut and Marquette.
Before last night's woeful performance, Louisville had shown steady signs of improvement. Perhaps their clunker game in New York will prove a blip on the radar, much the same as last February's blow out loss at Notre Dame.
"It was our worst game of the season.....four or five of our guys had their poorest game of the season," said Pitino.
It's been a frustrating season for the Cardinals, filled with plenty of ups and downs. But don't count Pitino – or his team – out yet. The Louisville coach has been known to pull or late season surprise win or two during his career. Louisville definitely faces an uphill battle to get back into the NCAA's. That fight continues Sunday in upstate New York against a team closing in on the Big East title.