14:1………..(15:1 when posted)
Maybe it’s their style of play. Maybe it’s that they’re always ranked but never quite high enough to be noticed. Maybe it’s because big brother Kentucky makes the splashy front page news while the Ville quietly goes about their business and keeps churning out W’s. Whatever the case may be, the Louisville Cardinals fly ridiculously under the radar for how good a program they’ve had over the last decade. This year is no different. A team that has as good a title shot as any has taken a back seat to the media yet again.
And for legendary coach Rick Pitino, I’m sure that’s just fine with him. This team has many similarities to his championship squad of 4 years ago, a statement Pitino has been silently dodging and ducking all season long.
Like the 2013 team, their team and leadership starts with two stellar guards, Quentin Snyder and Donovan Mitchell. The Cardinals hold an embarrassment of riches in the front court as well as they rotate 5 forwards and centers who are 6’7 or taller.
Senior Mangok Mathiang is 61st in the nation in offensive rebounding % and 112th in block %, bearing a stark resemblance to ex-teammate and fellow African center Gorgui Dieng. While Dieng was busy protecting the rim and bringing home a title to Louisville in 2013, Mathiang was his understudy learning all the tricks of the trade from the big fella. 4 years later, it’s Mathiang’s turn. Only the 6’10 jumping bean has A LOT of help this go round. 7’0 Egyptian Anas Mahmoud averages 2.2 blocks per game and owns the 6th best block% in the country. Bruising junior Jaylen Johnson is 29th in the nation in offensive rebounding %. 6’10 sophomore Ray Spalding is in the top 150 in offensive rebounding, defensive rebounding, and block %. It doesn’t get deeper than this unit of bigs. Here’s a couple of fun videos so you know what I mean:
Anas Mahmoud pulling out all the stops vs Duke:
Jaylen Johnson throwing it down not twice, but thrice:
Mangok Mathiang proclaiming “Not in my house!!!”:
While their depth is omnipresent in the frontcourt, it isn’t the Cards’ strong suit in the back court as evidenced when Snyder went down with an injury a few weeks ago and missed 6 games. While it was seen as very unfortunate at the time, it may have been a blessing in disguise. Freshman sharpshooter Ryan McMahon gained valuable playing time and leading scorer Donovan Mitchell was able to broaden the other aspects of his game as he played a lot of point guard. Now that Snyder is back, the duo of him and Mitchell has become nearly unstoppable. At 6’3 and 200 pounds Mitchell has a great physique for a guard and can bully his way to the basket as well as drain the 3. Snyder has more finesse to his game and likes to snake his way to the basket where he’ll score himself or find the open man.
While the back court’s excellent play is all well and good, the most important championship trait this team boasts is their defense. They’re 5th in the country in defensive efficiency and 6th in block %. They still contain their tenacity for turnovers as Mitchell averages over 2 steals per game and is 36th in the country in steal %.
Russ Smith and Peyton Siva were defensive hounds back in their day. They also led the first couple teams that silently reached (at least) the Elite 8 in 3 of the past 4 years they were eligible. That’s quite a track record for coach Pitino, who reached the Sweet 16 the one year he didn’t make the Elite 8 in that run (2012-2015), and also reached the Elite 8 in 2008 and 2009 for good measure. Only a self-imposed postseason ban last year could stop them, the Cardinals weren’t permitted to continue their Elite 8 streak even though their 23-8 record in the tough ACC would’ve provided them one hell of a shot. Thankfully for this hungry bunch, they’ll get their opportunity to make up for lost time this year against the whole NCAA. I sure as hell wouldn’t want to play these ravenous dogs in March.
10! of the Cardinals have had a season high of at least 15 points demonstrating their scoring can truly come from anywhere. The tremendous back court pairing, the plethora of athleticism and size in the front court, and the stout defense are all extremely impressive. What’s most comforting for Louisville fans though is the team chemistry these kids play with. They’re very efficient with the ball rarely turning it over and they always swing it to the open man. They have a unique knack of always finding one of their forwards or centers open on the baseline only a few feet away from the hoop to cap off the play with a thunderous finish. Here’s one example:
Louisville has crunch time guards and scorers who shoot over 38% from downtown, something that’s imperative at the end of close, monumental games. The Cardinals are being slept on, and in March we don’t let sleeping dogs lie. We back them, because a year after their postseason aspirations were snatched from under their noses these dogs are hungry. And I can hear them chomping at the bit.
VERDICT: I’ll bite. 50 Units.