NCAA tournament team previews: Louisville Cardinals
As part of its preview of the 2015 NCAA men’s basketball tournament, SI.com is taking a look at all 68 teams in the field. RPI and SOS data from realtimerpi.com. Adjusted offense and defense are from kenpom.com and measure the number of points scored and allowed per 100 possessions, and the team’s national rank. All stats are through Monday, March 16.
Record: 26-8 (13-5 SEC)
Adjusted offensive/defensive efficiency: 105.9 (95th)/89.4 (6th)
Seed: East No. 4
Impact player: Terry Rozier, sophomore, guard: 17.1 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 106.3 offensive rating
The Case For: Louisville has two of the best players in the country in Rozier and junior forward Montrezl Harrell. Rozier is a slasher in the (very loose) mold of his hero, the Miami Heat's Dywane Wade. Harrell, meanwhile, couldn't maintain his All-America-level play from earlier in the season, but he is still a threat for a big game at any time. He is a strong rebounder (9.5 per game) and an above-average rim protector (1.2 blocks). But his biggest asset might be his ability to throw down momentum-changing dunks.
Although this is by no means Rick Pitino's best defensive team, the Cardinals are still sixth in the country in efficiency. Their ability to mask their man-to-man and zone defenses, sometimes utilizing both in one possession, makes them more upset-proof than they appear at first glance. They hold opponents to an effective field goal percentage of 43.4, eight-lowest in the country, and their steal percentage of 12.4 is 15th-best in the country.
The Case Against: Louisville had a shallow roster even before starting point guard Chris Jones was suspended last month. Now the team relies on three players to produce the bulk of their points: Rozier, Harrell and inconsistent senior swingman Wayne Blackshear. The Cardinals need a good game from all three in each round in order to advance. Fatigue will also be a concern, as those three have played big minutes down the stretch. Rozier's case is the most troubling: Rick Pitino typically likes to have a rotation of three guards he can count on in order to run his complicated defense properly. Even when Jones was on the team, the Hall of Fame coach complained that no one was stepping into that third spot. Now the Cardinals are even poorer in that department. In its last three games, all against ranked teams, Louisville allowed 48.7 percent shooting from the field.
Despite their win over Virginia to end the regular season, the Cardinals struggled to put away top opponents. They lost to Kentucky by eight in December, lost two of three against North Carolina and dropped home games to Duke and Notre Dame. They may not suffer an opening-round upset, but this team is not primed for a deep run in the tournament.