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Shockers nytimes

There are no easy games in the madness we call the NCAA Tournament however, higher ranked teams are supposed to be rewarded with what appears on paper to be, “easier” games. There’s several reasons why it’s called March Madness and there is plenty of madness stirring around the city of Louisville after they were, ahem… rewarded with a four-seed, in a region that includes two other teams that were in last years Final Four with them in Michigan and undefeated Wichita State.

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Photo – Nytimes.com
No.11 Luke Hancock goes up for a shot in the Final Four last year vs. Wichita St.

Oh, and did I forget to mention that the Cards’ hated in-state rival and uber-talented Kentucky Wildcats are in the Midwest Region with them as well as perennial power Duke? Yeah, that seems like a sensible seed for a team that went 12-1 since a loss to Cincinnati on Jan. 30, and is fresh off an AAC tourney title in which it routed Rutgers, Houston and UConn by an average of 33.3 points and finished No.3 in the final ESPN/USA Today Coaches Poll.

Obviously, I’m saying that sarcastically and tongue-in-cheek, but I digress. Let’s take a quick look at what lies ahead if the Cards are going to go to their third straight Final Four and repeat as National Champions.

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Julius Randle and his Wildcats look to get a chance to knock off No.1 seed Wichita St. and a possibly their in-state rival Cardinals

*Round of 64Manhattan (25-7, 15-5 – MAAC) – The Jaspers, coached by former Pitino and UofL assistant, Steve Masiello, have been hot as of late, winning 11 of their last 12 games and defeating a good Iona (22-10, 17-3) team in the MAAC championship game to make the big dance.

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Photo – nydailynews.com
Steve Masielo and his Manhattan Jaspers look to upset the reigning champions

Top playersGeorge Beamon: 19.2 ppg, 6.6 reb. 1.6 stl.- Michael Alvarado: 12 ppg., 2.8 reb., 1.4 stl. – Rhamel Brown: 10.1 ppg., 6 reb., 3.7 blk. *364 career blocks 

Best out-of-conference win w/ opp. (RPI)– La Salle (98)

Best overall win w/ opp. (RPI) – Iona (59) twice

Worst losses w/ opp. (RPI) – Fordham (226), Fairfield (289)

RPI rank – 60

Strength of schedule – 171

Record vs. RPI (1-25) DNP (26-50) 0-1 / (51-100) 5-1

Last NCAA Tournament – 2004, defeated Florida in first round, lost to Wake Forest in second round.

 

*Round of 32 – If the Cards beat Manhattan, they will get the winner between 5-seed, St. Louis (26-6, 13-3 A10) vs. the winner of the play-in-game of 12-seed, N.C. State (21-13, 9-9 ACC) / 12-seed, Xavier (21-12, 10-8 Big East).

Top players St. Louis: Dwayne Evans 14 ppg., 6.4 reb., 1.4 ast. / Xavier: Simaj Christon 17.1 ppg., 2.7 reb., 4.2 ast.  /   N.C. State: T.J. Warren 24.8 pts., 7.2 reb., 1.1 ast.

Best out-of-conference win w/ opp. (RPI)STL: Indiana St. (71), Xavier: Cincinnati (21) , NC State: Tennessee (42)

Best overall wins  w/ opp. (RPI)STL: VCU (13), Umass (23) Xavier: Creighton (10), Cincinnati (21)  NC State: Syracuse (16), Pittsburgh (39)

Worst losses w/ opp. (RPI) – STL: Duquesne (188), St. Bonaventure (89) – Xavier: USC (176), Seton Hall  (128) twice  NC State: Miami (110),Wake Forest (113)

RPI rankSTL: (26), Xavier: (48), NC State: (55)

Strength of scheduleSTL: 73 Xavier: 26 NC State: 33

Record vs. RPI (1-25) – (26-50) – (51-100)

STL: (2-3) – (3-1) – (4-1)

Xavier: (2-4) – (2-2) – (5-3)

NC State: (1-7) – (2-2) – (3-2)

 

*Round of 16 – Assuming the Cardinals get to the Sweet 16, they will have to most likely have to beat either Wichita State (34-0, 18-0) or Kentucky (24-10, 12-6). As every UofL fan is aware of, the Cards put the Shockers out in the Final Four last season, 72-68, and lost to UK this year, 73-66, in their most recent games with the possible road blocks. Both the Cats and the Shockers have the talent to make deep runs and pose some difficult problems for the Cards.

Many knock the undefeated Shockers due to their lack of quality opponents and for good reason. Of their 34 games, only 11 were against RPI top-100 teams while the Cats played one of the toughest schedules in the country. Kentucky faced a top-1oo RPI team in 23 of their 34 games.

While many, including myself at times, joke with our UK brethren about the 40-0 t-shirts and “greatest recruiting class ever”  quips, UK is definitely playing much better and starting to look like a dangerous team. Their comeback versus Florida yesterday was impressive even though it fell short. Seeing the Shockers first-hand, I know how talented they are and would not take them lightly as some would suggest. From a fans perspective, lets hope for a UK/UofL rematch in Indianapolis.

Top players Wichita St.: Cleanthony Early 15.8 ppg., 5.9 reb. / Ron Baker 13.1 ppg., 3.6 reb., 3.1 ast. / Fred Van Fleet 12.1 ppg., 3.9 reb., 5.3 ast. Kentucky: Julius Randle 15 ppg., 10.5 reb., 1.4 ast. / James Young 14.5 ppg., 4.1 reb., 1.9 ast. Aaron Harrison 13.8 ppg., 3.1 reb., 2.1 ast.

Best out-of-conference win w/ opp. (RPI)WSUSaint Louis (27), UK Louisville (19)

Best overall wins  w/ opp. (RPI)WSUSt. Louis (27), BYU (31) UK- Louisville (19), Providence (40)

Worst losses w/ opp. (RPI)WSU

RPI rankWSU– 4 UK– 17 

Strength of schedule – WSU-98 UK-3

Record vs. RPI (1-25) – (26-50) – (51-100)

Wichita St. – (0-0) – (3-0) – (8-0)

Kentucky – (1-5) – (3-1) – (10-3)

 

*Round of 8 – In my perfect world, the Cards will send the Cats back to Lexington, licking their wounds. For the sake of argument, lets say Michigan meets up with Duke and avenges their December 3rd loss, earning a rematch of last years national championship game with the Cards.

Top players – Nik Stauskas 17.5 ppg., 3.1 reb., 3.3 ast. / Caris LeVert 13.3 ppg., 4.5 reb., 2.8 ast., 1.2 stl. / Glenn Robinson III 13 ppg., 4.3 reb.,

Best overall win w/ opp. (RPI) – Wisconsin (6)

Worst losses w/ opp. (RPI) – Charlotte (151), Indiana (102)

RPI rank – 11

Strength of schedule – 5

Record vs. RPI (1-25) – (26-50) – (51-100)

Michigan – (5-5) – (5-0) – (4-1)

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Photo – ESPN
AT&T Stadium in Dallas is the sight of the 2014 Men’s NCAA Final Four

*Final Four Barring any major upsets, the Cards would be facing the one-seed, Arizona Wildcats (30-4, 15-3) in Dallas, a place where the Cards have had some memorable NCAA tournament games. Most notably, they won the 1986 National Championship in Dallas, beating Duke, 72-69. If indeed the Cards did get to face Arizona, it would be a redemption game for Pitino. Lute Olson and his Wildcats beat Pitino’s Kentucky Wildcats in Indianapolis in 1997 for the National Championship.

Top players – Nick Johnson 16.2 ppg., 4 reb., 2.8 ast. / Aaron Gordon 12.1 ppg., 7.8 reb. / Kaleb Tarczewski 10.1 ppg., 6.6 reb.

Best out-of-conference win – Duke (9), Michigan (11)

Best overall win w/ opp. (RPI) – Duke (9)

Worst losses w/ opp. (RPI) California (63), Arizona St. (44)

RPI rank – 2

Strength of schedule – 4

Record vs. RPI (1-25) – (26-50) – (51-100)

Arizona – (4-1) – (7-2) – (7-1)

National Championship

Finally, it’s only fitting that the Cards get to battle another former Pitino disciple in Billy Donovan for their fourth National Championship. Louisville versus Florida is already a sexy pick nationally if you look at online brackets and one that would fetch very high prices for tickets. Florida (32-2, 18-0) has shown that they are worthy of the overall number one seed that they received, by going 10-2 against the RPI top 50.

They have wins over Kansas (RPI 3) and three wins over Kentucky (RPI 17) and no bad losses. Their two setbacks were against Connecticut (RPI 22) and Wisconsin (RPI 6), both on the road.

The Gators are not great offensively, averaging only 70.7 (190th NCAA) points per game but their defense is one of the best nationally, giving up only 57.9 (3rd NCAA) ppg. The Cards are very good defensively, giving up 60.9 ppg (15th NCAA) on the season but have been even better as of late. The difference between the two teams is that the Cards are very efficient on offense and rank eighth nationally, scoring 82.1 ppg. It would be an epic battle but one I think the Cards could and would win, 72-69.

Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Montrezl Harrell and company are all entering the tournament with a big chip on their shoulder and plenty of motivation. Adding in the fact that mostly the entire team has Final Four experience and a hall of fame coach, it could be another magical March run for the Cards.