Selection Sunday Countdown

Louisville will learn its NCAA Tournament fate Sunday evening when the field of 65-teams is announced. The Cardinals expect to receive an at-large bid despite an early exit from the Big East Tournament. The question: Will Louisville's seeding be more punishment than reward for a 20-12 season?

When the NCAA Tournament field is unveiled Sunday evening on CBS, Louisville expects to hear its name called for the fourth year in a row. But the Cardinals might not like their seeding after finishing the regular season 20-12, including a disappointing loss to Cincinnati in the second round of the Big East Tournament.

Currently, ESPN.com bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Cardinals into the field as a No. 9 seed. It's conceivable Louisville could get a slightly better seed based on it's high strength of schedule and two wins over probable No. 1 seed Syracuse. If Lunardi's prediction proves accurate, Louisville would play a toss-up game in the first round, then one of the four No. 1 seeds in the second round if it advances. Not exactly a recipe for a long stay?


Louisville expects to earn a fourth straight NCAA bid.
Louisville has been a Jekyll and Hyde team all season. It's a team that dropped games to both Charlotte and Western Carolina at home, and were blown out by St. John's and Marquette on the road. That's the same team that also swept Syracuse this season, handing the Orange two of their three regular-season losses.

The Cardinals have talent to be sure. They're also capable of beating the nation's best teams, evidenced by their two wins over Syracuse. But there's been little consistency from this team, which has frustrated Louisville fans all season.

It's not one area or one weakness that has contributed to Louisville's pattern of inconsistency this season. Stopping teams defensively has been problematic at times. So has rebounding, including a pounding on the boards last week against Cincy in the Big East Tournament. Missed free throws late in the game cost Louisville a win at Pittsburgh. Crucial mistakes down the stretch – and a bad call or two – cost the Cards a big win at West Virginia, the team that won the Big East Tournament. Long scoring droughts proved costly in losses to Villanova, Georgetown and Marquette.

Louisville clearly has missed the all-around talents of NBA lottery picks Terrence Williams and Earl Clark, in addition to the leadership provided by former point guard Andre McGee. The play of Louisville's two captains – Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith – has mirrored the up and down performance of this team. Sosa and Smith have both had plenty of high moments this season. They've also had their struggles.

Most telling is the fact that Louisville only had one player selected to the All-Big East team this year – and center Samardo Samuels was a third team pick. That indicates the talent-level on Rick Pitino's roster is down. Samuels, a sophomore, made positive strides this season. But he clearly isn't ready to carry the load for the Cardinals. Sophomore forward Jared Swopshire also made significant improvement, but not enough to counter the loss of Clark.

To compensate for a lack of talent, Pitino shuffled lineups and substituted liberally, often looking for the hot-hand during a particular game. That worked when Mike Marra and Kyle Kuric got hot against Syracuse. But when no one stepped up off the bench, the Cardinals often faltered. That happened against Cincinnati when key role players Preston Knowles, Jared Swopshire, Terrence Jennings and Kuric failed to produce. Despite solid efforts from Sosa, Samuels and Reginald Delk, Louisville couldn't hold the lead against the Bearcats without it's supporting cast.

Now, Louisville awaits its NCAA fate. Nothing in the Cardinals body of work this season suggests a long post-season run is in the offing. Then again, this team has sprung a surprise or two this season. One thing is clear: You can never count out a Rick Pitino team in March. The Cardinals should be playing later this week in the NCAA Tournament. How long they dance is a major question.


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