Here we are. Indianapolis. The Sweet Sixteen. The Regional Semifinals. The third of six stepping stones to a championship. The road to Atlanta continues or ends here. After today and tomorrow’s games, two teams will remain in Indianapolis to continue their path to victory.
The Louisville Cardinals would certainly love to be one of the eight teams left standing come Saturday night. All of that is certainly much easier said than it is done. To advance, Louisville will have to go up against what Rick Pitino calls “The most underrated team in the country.” The Oregon Ducks are that team that Coach Pitino is referring to. The Ducks, in case you hadn’t heard, are this year’s PAC-12 tourney champs and were ranked in the top 10 in the AP Poll at one point this year. They’ve had their struggles, but at 26-8 and winning their conference tourney, they deserve better than a 12 seed. Ask any educated college basketball fan and I’m sure 99.99% of them agree with this. I mean, it’s easy to undersell Oregon, and underselling a team that’s definitely as good as Oregon is will ultimately lead to defeat. Thankfully, Coach Pitino has realized what it means to underestimate a team and how embarrassing it is to lose to that team that you undersold.
As is usual, Louisville’s defense will need to be on and ready to go on Friday night. As I discussed in my interview with Justin Phillips of www.autzenzoo.com, Oregon will need to be prepared for Louisville’s press, but as he said, Louisville (who isn’t immune to the turnover bug) may have to worry a bit just due to the fact that Johnathan Loyd (G-Oregon) has begun to start getting some steals of his own, much to the Cardinal’s chagrin.
Louisville needs to just be there offensively. Those first two games this year were spectacular. Russ was in great form and could simply do no harm. If Louisville wants to keep playing past Friday, they’ll need to make sure that everyone-not just Russ Smith-is mentally focused and prepared to do well shooting the ball. They’ll have to be able to keep up with Oregon offensively, but are depending on that defense as a crutch just in case they do fall behind to the Ducks. The Cards will also need to look to get more playing time for Van Treese and Harrell over Hancock tomorrow, simply due to the fact that Oregon’s big men may not necessarily have a skill advantage, but they are very big in the frontcourt. Perhaps Oregon’s best big man, Tony Woods, is 6’11. In fact, they may not play all that much, but Oregon has two 6’11″ centers (significant since Louisville’s tallest player is 6’10″). Dieng will have his work cut out for him rebounding-wise if he is to be able to out-do Oregon F Arsalan Kazemi, who averages roughly 10 RPG.
Oregon is also skilled in many facets of this game. Oregon has some quality players that Louisville will need to lock down defensively, the first two coming to my mind being E.J. Singler, brother of Duke star Kyle Singler, and Damyean Dotson. Both of these players play at different areas of the court, but both are equally as lethal to an opposing basketball team. As Phillips also said, “but the Ducks have a secret weapon of sorts….the bench. Oregon’s play off the bench has been awesome this season. Emory and Loyd on offense, Austin and Carter on defense.” Oregon may have a skilled bench, but so does Louisville, who perhaps has the best depth of any team in the nation.
Will the Cards be one of those Elite Eight teams that remains in Indy on Friday night? Or will they be just a one seed that was dispelled by a largely undervalued 12 seed? This is the third chapter in Louisville’s six-part book. What will be written on those pages? Will the Cards sear the ink with the scorch of defeat (giving Pitino his first-ever Sweet 16 loss), or will the Cards write a chapter full of absolute consummation of an achievement, one that seems quite minuscule in the grand scheme of things. It’s time for destinies to be fulfilled. Go Cards.