|The Cardnials are so good because they stay so strong so late into the game. (US Presswire)|
We know all too well that top-ranked Louisville is really good this year. Here's another case file of evidence for why it could be the best team in the nation.
Think about what makes hoops teams great. What are the universal values? Consistent coaching. Superb play bolstered by obvious, elite talent. A group that functions as one, moves the ball well and communicates better than identical twins. And, above all else, those within the game value defense. Stubborn, unflinching, reliable-as-a-cement-floor defense.
Louisville has it. This isn't a secret. The numbers show the Cardinals allowing 56.4 points per game -- second in its league -- in addition to keeping opponents under a 10-assist average. Then there's the astonishingly good/unprecedented 79.4 adjusted defensive rating on KenPom.com. (Basically, that means Louisville is allowing less than 80 points per 100 possessions; the national average hovers close to a point allowed per possession/100 per 100. Nuts!) No team has finished a season by cracking the 80 barrier.
All that said, how about a different kind of revelation regarding Rick Pitino's team? I love this one. So, when Louisville hosts Syracuse on Saturday, it could very well be a good game. I think we all hope it is. But recent, extended evidence indicates it might not be in doubt down the stretch, that Louisville could be in control, especially with the game at the KFC Yum! Center. That's because, in its past 10 games, Louisville has not been tied or trailed with less than 10 minutes to go.
That streak is so long that 342 teams have lost since it began. The last time that Louisville trailed with 25 percent of the game or less remaining was against Illinois State on Dec. 1, when John Wilkins sank a jump shot with 4:25 remaining to give the Redbirds a 61-60 lead on Louisville. The Cardinals went on to win 69-66 and haven't lost since.
There has been a close call amid the streak; Memphis had a lead with less than 11 left in the Dec. 15 Louisville road game against the Tigers. Even games that started out against U of L, like the 13-3 early deficit on the road against Providence, eventually swung heavily in the Cards' favor. Also keep in mind that Louisville did a lot of this without NBA-bound big man Gorgui Dieng, who sat out with a broken wrist from the middle of the Missouri game on Nov. 23, to the big UK battle on Dec. 29. In fact, the tipster who sent along this unique nugget (that I've fact-checked) indicated Louisville's only two games all season where it's been behind in the final 10 minutes came in the Nov. 24 loss to Duke and the Illinois State game.
Just wow. You want to know how and where Pitino's conditioning and intent to harass pays off? Here it is. Other teams can't keep up late into the game.
In any sport, the ability for a team to close is paramount to long-term success. As of now, no squad is finding its foot on the neck of its opponents like Louisville.
(H/T, C.D. Bradley, who passed along the information.)
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