College Basketball Betting: Is Louisville Doomed?
by Trevor Whenham - 12/04/2008
What the heck was that? Louisville was the No. 3-ranked team in the country, and a popular early choice to be a No. 1 seed in March. They have four established guards, a near-certain lottery pick in forward in Earl Clark, and last year's High School Player of the Year at center. On Sunday night they played the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, a team best known for being the alma mater of the notorious Clem Haskins. The Cardinals were favored by 19.5 in the game, which was played in Nashville. The outcome should have been completely predictable, but it was the furthest thing from it - The Hilltoppers thrashed the Cardinals in every aspect of the game, winning 68-54. Rick Pitino put it best following the game - "Our ass-kicking is what we deserved tonight".
So, what happened? Is it time to write off Louisville already? Did the Hilltoppers figure out the key to beating this team? I sure don't think so. Here's a look:
Neutral site - It's not an excuse, but to explain this game you have to look in large part at the setting. Louisville has played six regular season games in neutral sites in the last three seasons. They have won one of them. Four of the losses have been to unranked teams. This team just doesn't like neutral sites. The Sommet Center in Nashville was not a very welcoming spot, either. The place was less than half-full, and it was deadly quiet for much of the game. Playing in Freedom Hall, the Cardinals are used to an intense setting. Most of their road games are in fiery spots, too. This setting, and an outmatched opponent, clearly conspired to rob the team of motivation. Not an excuse, but a fact.
November woes - This just compounds the previous problem. In five of Rick Pitino's seven years at Louisville the team has dropped a November game that they probably shouldn't have. Last year it was BYU. Before that came Dayton and Iowa. For whatever reason, Pitino seems to have trouble getting his team ready for meaningless games in November. In each of those past years the team has rebounded nicely, and Pitino has some solid results to show. Despite the setback, there is no reason based on this one game to count out the Cardinals this year. It hasn't changed my opinion of the team at all.
Lethargy - This is really an extension of the first points, or perhaps a cause. Western Kentucky knew that they were playing their toughest opponent of the year. Several of their players are from Kentucky, and are probably jealous that Louisville didn't give them a scholarship. This was a huge game for the Hilltoppers. That certainly wasn't the case for Louisville. Western Kentucky played with impressive intensity from the opening tip onwards. Louisville spent most of the first half looking like they hadn't gotten off the bus yet. Western Kentucky built a lead, and Louisville didn't care. Perhaps they were cocky, but they thought that they could come back whenever they wanted to. They couldn't match the Hilltoppers intensity, though, so they lost. Pitino should be concerned that they were so lackadaisical, and that they didn't put up much of a fight when they faced adversity, but he should be able to fix that. The schedule will fix much of that automatically as the games get tougher and more important. It's far from a good thing that the Cards took the game for granted, but they are far from the only good team to have done so at some point.
Terrible three-point shooting - The Cardinals took 30 shots from outside the arc. They missed 24. You can't shoot 20 percent from deep and expect to beat many teams. There are two reasons not to worry about this much. First, they are obviously better than this, and you can be certain that Pitino is going to work them to death in practice until they show it. Second, the team lacked the balance that an inside game can provide (more on that in a second).
Samardo Samuels - WKU knew that they were outclassed, so they took a similar approach to what Loyola did against Stephen Curry and Davidson - double team a star and hope for the best. This approach was more successful for a few reasons - WKU is far more talented than Loyola, they were able to confuse and annoy the star and the team, and Louisville was in the shooting slump we talked about earlier. The star, of course, is freshman stud Samardo Samuels. They stuck to Samuels like glue, and took it to him physically whenever they could. Samuels still had a decent game - 11 points and eight boards - but he was far from his best. He had likely never been treated like this by this caliber of player, and it took him off his game. The double team also forced the Cardinals outside, and that obviously went badly. So, is this a strategy that will continue to work? Perhaps, but with decreasing efficiency. Samuels will become more comfortable, and more aware of how to counter it, Pitino will coach the team on how to respond, and the team will work on their shooting. This, like the others on this list, is not a lasting problem.