Regular season a success, Cards ahead of schedule
Saturday night the Louisville Cardinals wrapped up a very successful second regular season under future Hall of Fame Head Coach Rick Pitino with a 100-59 trouncing of Charlotte on ESPN. The win improved the #15 ranked Cards record to 21-6 and guaranteed them the 3rd seed in this weeks C-USA Tournament in Freedom Hall. Quite a remarkable achievement when all things are considered.
And don't forget, this Louisville Cardinal basketball program is just two short years removed from finishing 12-19 in Denny Crum's last season at the helm. During Crum's last four seasons, the Cards were an after thought at best on the national scene, recording two losing seasons and wining just 50% of its games during that span.
Enter the magical Pitino. In just two seasons in Louisville, he has clearly returned the Cardinal basketball program to national prominence with hard work, dedication and his trade mark style of play. Sell out crowds, national television appearances, high profile recruits and a national ranking all indicate the Cards vital signs on the national collegiate basketball scene are strong and flourishing. The regular season accomplishments of Pitino's second team at Louisville are truly remarkable and have firmly established the foundation of future success for this rejuvenated basketball program.
Despite losing five of its last eight games late in the season due to the NCAA investigation of Marvin Stone and the season ending knee injury to Ellis Myles, these Cards continued to battle back from adversity just as it had all season. The old saying goes that adversity builds character and this team certainly demonstrated true heart, determination and character to finish the 2002-03 regular season strong. Even with the late season defeats, the accomplishments of this team deserve recognition both for their importance in reestablishing the program on the national stage and setting the stage for brighter things in the future and the tremendous improvement from the previous season.
A 19-13 NIT team just one season ago, the 2002-03 Louisville Cardinals are a lock for this season's NCAA Tournament, the programs first bid since the 1999-2000 season. At 21-6, the Cards have shown improvement in virtually all areas of the game this season. Perhaps the single most impressive improvement is the Cards play away from Freedom Hall. Last season, the Cards struggled away from the friendly confines at the KFEC and won just two of ten games on the road, including costly defeats at Saint Louis and East Carolina. This season, however, the Cards learned to win away from home, recording eight victories in eleven attempts away from home. The 2002-03 Cards recorded impressive road victories at Seton Hall, Ohio State, Tennessee, and in Milwaukee against #6 Marquette. All four games were seen by national television audiences and in each the Cards came from behind to claim victory!
But the regular season accomplishments don't end there. The Cards, who finished 10-3 on the national airwaves, exploded against rivals Kentucky and Indiana to avenge double digit losses to each the previous season. The Cards ripped the #2 Cats by 18, 81-63 on CBS in late December and came back from a 16 point first half deficit to knock off the Hoosiers by 19 in Freedom Hall. The Cards also posted a 17 game winning streak that was tops in the nation at the time and was ranked as high as #2 in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls. The Cards also spent several weeks atop both the RPI and Sagarin computer rankings.
With a convincing victory over Charlotte Saturday night, the Cards now appear poised to make a solid run during the post season. These Cards are battle tested and have overcome adversity all season long and you can bet they won't wilt under the pressure of the post season spotlight. With the C-USA Tournament being held right at home for the Cards, you can never count them out from running the table and gaining the conferences automatic NCAA bid. And if the Cards win their NCAA appeal early this week to reinstate center Marvin Stone, the Cards chances for a memorable run through the post season certainly increase significantly.
With or without Stone though, the Cards have had an excellent regular season and are intent to make their first NCAA appearance in three years one to remember. Don't forget.......We Got Pitino!
- 81-63 victory over #2 Kentucky
- Three point victory at #6 Marquette
- 8-3 road record, including come from behind victories at Seton Hall, Ohio St. and Tennessee
- #15 final regular season ranking in the RPI
- 17 game winning streak, second longest in UofL history
- #2 ranking in both the AP and USA Today/ESPN polls in early February
- 10-3 record on national television
- Senior guard Reece Gaines surpassed Milt Wagner and Derek Smith to become the schools #4 career scorer
- First 20 win season since the Elite Eight team in 1996-97
C-USA Rankings (conference games only)
- First in scoring offense (79.1)
- First in scoring margin (10.1)
- Second in field goal % (.458 %)
- Second in field goal percentage defense (.398)
- Second in three point field goal percentage (.371)
- First in three point field goal pct defense (.278)
- Second in blocked shots (4.5)
- Second in assists (16.4)
- Second in turnover margin (+3.31)
- Second in assist/turnover ratio (1.22)
Below is a chart that shows the Cards progress from year one of the Rick Pitino regime to this season. And just for fun and some perspective, I've also thrown in a comparison to Pitino's second team at UK that finished the season 22-6.
Note: highlighted numbers indicate the team is the best in that statistical category.