Rick Pitino thinks that 11 league wins will guarantee his Cardinals a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Louisville currently has nine Big East wins, meaning they'll need to win two of their last four games. First up for the Cardinals – a 7:00 p.m. showdown against No. 11 Georgetown Tuesday night.
"We're trying to win two of the next four games and it'll be a great challenge," Pitino said. "After these four games we'll probably be number one [strength of schedule]. It will be a fun stretch and our guys are eager to play Georgetown."
Since dropping a 77-74 decision against West Virginia, Louisville has reeled off five wins in their past six games, including a 68-59 win over DePaul in Chicago last Saturday.
"We've had to get them focused on the goal at hand," said Pitino. "The guys have stayed with what we've had to do. They all want to play in the tournament and they realize how tough it's going to be in these last four games."
At 9-5 in conference play, Louisville has a shot to receive a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. While the top four teams in the Big East receive a double-bye, the Cardinals were alone in fifth place, just one game behind Pittsburgh and West Virginia (lost at UConn Monday), before Monday's games. Georgetown is right behind Louisville in the Big East standings tied with Marquette at 8-6.
"I haven't been think about it," Pitino said of the double-bye possibility, meaning the Cardinals would start Big East Tournament play in the quarterfinals. "We've had smaller goals and I'm still not thinking about it. We're just thinking about winning against Georgetown, which is a big hill to climb."
Though Louisville's NCAA hopes looked shaky after a blowout loss to St. John's, the Cardinals have climbed back into the Big Dance picture. ESPN's Joe Lunardi has UofL playing in the 8-9 seed game in the first round in his latest NCAA projections.
"I think our guys have done a really good job of being resilient," Pitino said. "I've been saying this for a long time. We're getting better in baby steps in a lot of phases of the game – half court offense, half court defense, transition defense. We just need to get better in small increments in terms of execution and the players getting better."
Pitino has seen solid improvement from his inexperienced frontcourt, a unit comprised of three sophomores and a freshman.
"Jared Swopshire has taken quantum leaps since the beginning of the year," said Pitino. "I think Rock [Rakeem Buckles] and TJ [Jennings] have gotten better. Samardo [Samuels] has improved in many facets of his game. I think our guys have gotten better."
Georgetown, ranked No. 11 nationally, has dropped its last two games against Rutgers and Syracuse. Despite their recent losing streak, Pitino realizes the Hoyas are a dangerous team coming into Tuesday's contest.
"You could flip a coin who is going to win these games," Pitino said of Louisville's last four regular season games.
Georgetown is led by 6'11 sophomore Greg Monroe, who leads the Hoyas in rebounding and is second on the team in scoring and assists.
"He's significantly better [this season]," Pitino said. "He's a great passer, runs well and is much more explosive scorer in the low post. He's very quick and a good rebounder."
While Monroe is the catalyst, point guard Chris Wright's play often determines whether the Hoyas win or not. When Wright scores, the Hoyas usually win. Georgetown is 16-0 when Wright scores in double digits, but only 2-6 when he's held to single digits.
"I think it's a valid stat," Pitino said. "He drives so much and creates so much that he's very difficult to defend. When you have him and Monroe and the outside shooting they have....they're a terrific passing team and they're very difficult to defend."
Louisville will surely try to wear out a thin Georgetown bench with their depth. The Hoyas have four starters who average more than 33 minutes per game. Pitino routinely plays nine or ten guys off the bench. Syracuse's bench out-scored Georgetown 24-0 in a 75-71 win last week.
"It hasn't hurt Georgetown in any of the games we've seen," Pitino said. "Now if you get a key player in foul trouble or you get somebody that's physically exhausted in the final five minutes......"
GAME FACTS - Louisville (18-9, 9-5) vs. Georgetown (18-7, 8-6)
Date: Tuesday, Feb. 23
Time: 7:00 p.m. ET
Site: Crum Court / Freedom Hall (18,865), Louisville, Ky. (UofL 683-140 all-time in Freedom Hall)
TV: ESPN2 will televise the game with Dave Pasch (play-by-play) and Len Elmore (analyst)
Radio: WHAS (840 AM) with Paul Rogers (play-by-play) and Bob Valvano (analyst)
SIRIUS: SIRIUS Satellite Radio Ch. 127 (XM Channel 203)
Series History: U of L trails 5-4 all-time (2-2 in Louisville, 1-2 in Washington, 1-1 neutral)
Next U of L Game: Feb. 28 at Connecticut, 2:06 p.m. ET (CBS)