LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Louisville is this year's VCU. This year's George Mason.
Any idea how scary that is?
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Louisville is this year's "it" team in the NCAA tournament, the team with the great coaching and the enthusiastic playing and the bizarre system that cannot be duplicated, cannot be prepared for, cannot be beaten with anything short of a great game. Louisville is that team, with one rather significant difference:
Louisville is doing it with Louisville athletes.
Louisville did it to Colorado State on Saturday, breaking the mentally tough Rams late in the first half and then coasting to an 82-56 victory to advance to the Sweet 16. The Cardinals will shift from one neighborhood facility to another, leaving behind Rupp Arena for Lucas Oil Stadium at Indianapolis, another short drive for a fan base that filled Kentucky's gym with red this week.
Louisville fills the floor with players, more than five at a time, much of the time. That's the way it looks, anyway, when Louisville starts pressing and swiping and doing what VCU does when it unleashes the frenetic style it calls "havoc." That's what Louisville is doing, too. It's wreaking havoc, outhustling and outworking its opponents in the same way George Mason did when it reached the Final Four in 2006, and VCU did in 2011.
But again, Louisville isn't playing with George Mason athletes or VCU athletes, undersized and overlooked at most positions. Louisville has a 6-foot-11 future NBA center in Gorgui Dieng and a handful of future NBA players among 6-foot-8 Montrezl Harrell, 6-foot-6 Chane Behanan, 6-foot-5 Wayne Blackshear and even tiny guards Russ Smith and Peyton Siva. They won't all play in the NBA, I'd guess, but most of them will. How many is that, six potential NBA players? Playing VCU's style, with George Mason's heart?
Scary, I'm telling you. Nasty. Withering.
And Colorado State wilted. Understand, that's no small feat. The Rams pride themselves on one thing, and one thing only: toughness. That's what new coach Larry Eustachy insisted on when he arrived before this season, adding onto the foundation set by now-Nebraska coach Tim Miles.
On Friday, Rams star guard Dorian Green said Eustachy brings "a big sense of toughness, both physically and mentally. They push us from Day 1 to be tougher [than our opponent]."
Colorado State wasn't tougher than Louisville on Saturday. Wasn't close. And it didn't take Louisville even one half to break the Rams. The breaking started with about 11 1/2 minutes left in the half and Colorado State holding the last lead it would see this season, 16-14. Over the next seven minutes the Cardinals turned over Colorado State eight times, including three times with their full-court press and three other times by simply jerking the ball out of a Colorado State player's hands after the Rams crossed halfcourt.
By the time that run was finished, Louisville led 43-26, more than halfway to the 30-point beating I had predicted on Friday, a prediction that riled up one Louisville coach in the media room and a whole lot of Colorado State fans on Twitter, fans who had seen their team be the breaker, not the broken, this season. Colorado State led the nation in rebounding margin and was 12th in fewest turnovers, two hallmarks of a physically strong, mentally tough team.
Louisville broke Colorado State on Saturday. Made it look easy. Made it look painful, really. After Harrell converted a ridiculous shot at the halftime buzzer, a catch-and-shoot inbounds play that started with 0.5 seconds on the clock, Colorado State trudged off the court trailing 45-31. They were too tired to sprint, too demoralized to fake it. This was a physical game, a 10-round boxing match, and the look on Colorado State's face said, "We have five more rounds of this?"
Barely. That 14-point halftime lead was 21 -- at 57-36 -- with 14 minutes left in the game. It grew to 26, topping out at the final score, which means I was wrong. Louisville didn't win by 30.
Colorado State averaged 10.8 turnovers this season, and it had 11 -- at halftime. The Rams finished with 20. And about that rebounding margin ...
The Rams outrebounded their foes by an average of 12.4 boards per game this season. On Saturday the tally was 29-24 -- in favor of Louisville.
Colorado State is strong, don't get me wrong. It is tough. But Louisville was stronger, tougher, better.
A lot better.
A lot better than everyone else in the Sweet 16? We'll see. I'm not ready to say that. Notice that I compared Louisville to a pair of teams that reached the Final Four, but didn't win the title or even play in the national championship game. Is that the fate awaiting Louisville? We'll see.
But I'm damn sure not ready to say that, either.