The last six games have been a whirlwind for Coach Pitino and his Cards. What could have very well been a 6-0 run and spot in the top 20 turned into a 2-4 run with naysayers shouting "NIT". The Cards haven't played bad at all, sans the final scores. With the exception of a couple bad shooting nights they have proven that they can "hang" with the country's elite. However, like Mitch Williams when he faced Joe Carter in the World Series or myself when some young lady shows interest at a local watering hole...the Cards could not close. Losses to Seton Hall, Villanova, PITT and West Virginia all could have been wins if certain things happen. They didn't. It's so bad that Byung Hung Kim and Brad Lidge are sitting at a bar somewhere laughing.
It's a frustrating thing, I'm sure, for players, coaches and fans alike. It's hard to justify that the Cards played well in all six games when they came out with four losses, including one to Seton Hall and their troll of a coach. Yet, they haven't shot under 42% from the field in any of the losses and the only team that dominated the boards was PITT (40-26). Not to bring up bad memories but, they led PITT by 5 with 30 seconds left, had a 17 point first half advantage vs. Nova, and West Virginia by 12 with 10 remaining. All 3 of those teams are considered legitimate Final Four contenders and Louisville had them beat. Sure they dropped the two games before Christmas that are absolutely unforgivable, but the Cards are worlds better than their 14-8 record indicates. The problem lies in convincing the NCAA committee that is the case.
In the almighty computer rankings, the Cards are sitting pretty well. Ken Pomeroy has the Cards at a healthy 26. He also ranks teams based on how lucky they are through some Beautiful Mind type of formula - fittingly the Cards sit at 335 of 347. Wow. In the current RPI rankings, they sit at 40 with the 5th hardest schedule in the country. Both of those ratings could improve based on how well the losses to UK, Nova and West Virginia look later on in the year. If you went strictly by computer rankings, which I hope the NCAA doesn't even in this case, the Cards have to be in the tourney.
Where the Cards aren't strong is road wins and marquee victories. You can get away without having one of the two accounted for, but not both. Louisville is currently 3-6 against RPI top 50 teams with wins against USF (46) Cincy (47) & UCONN (49). Not exactly the attention getting W's you would like. A late-season match with Georgetown (8) and two games with Syracuse (2) could change that very fast. The Cards' road record is a putrid 1-5 with only a single win over Providence and a neutral floor victory over Arkansas. That will not look well on the NCAA tourney resume, but like with marquee wins, there are opportunities to improve that standing. Road tussles with St. John's, Syracuse, DePaul, UCONN and Marquette still await. Say the Cards go 4-1 in that stretch - a 5-6 record against the opponents they faced is very respectable.
The Cards dug themselves a pretty large hole by dropping the two homes games before Christmas. Nonetheless, they can dig their way out in the next month. If they win just the games they should (STJ, RUT, ND, DePAUL) that will put them at 18 wins overall and 9 in conference. that leaves UCONN, MARQ, 2x CUSE, and G'TOWN. 5 games where the Cards will prove whether they deserve an NCAA tournament berth. Win one, they need to have some success in the BE tourney or be sweating it out on selection Sunday like Tim Tebow at the Bunny Ranch. Win two and they are sitting pretty, but haven't made things easy for themselves. Win three or four? You might be looking at one of the sleeper teams going into the tournament.
Things aren't simple for the Cards, but the battle isn't as uphill as most are making it out to be. The team has proven that they have the ability to beat any team remaining on their schedule, it's just a matter of closing out the games down the stretch that they couldn't previously.It's there for the taking. Let's see if Pitino and his squad can rise to the occasion and relieve the Cards' fans of another NIT bid.