Kevin Ware helped Louisville force 21 turnovers in the Cards' 67-51 win over Cincinnati Monday.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – There is one college basketball coach in America who believes that the University of Louisville is the best team in the country.
I don't know his name. The voting in the USA Today coaches' poll is as top secret as the nuclear codes. Nobody talks on the record. But the Cardinals received one first-place vote Monday, even though they are ranked sixth in the coaches' poll.
If I had to guess, I'd say the Louisville fan is Jim Boeheim of Syracuse (the Cards beat the Orange Saturday), Arizona State's Herb Sendek (a former Rick Pitino assistant), Kermit Davis of Middle Tennessee (a former Kentucky Derby guest of Pitino's) or Ben Jacobson of Northern Iowa (Louisville defeated NIU in The Bahamas).
Go ahead and take your pick. That's my final four of U of L admirers. Rather than keep guessing, I decided to put the question to a guy whose team got steam-cleaned by the Cardinals at the KFC Yum! Center Monday night – Mick Cronin of Cincinnati.
Make it Cardinals 67, Bearcats 51, Cincinnati's second-largest loss in Big East play this season. The Cards have won six straight and nine of 10 as they await their regular-season home finale Saturday against Notre Dame.
The Bearcats turned the ball over 21 times, a season high and nearly nine more than their average. They failed to make a three-point shot in the second half. They let Louisville take the ball from them a dozen times, converting "turnovers into touchdowns," according to Cronin.
Cronin worked for Pitino during his first two seasons at Louisville. He knows the local basketball culture. Cronin understands what it means when somebody asks him about a coach voting Louisville the best team in the country.
"They‘ve got a chance to have a great team," Cronin said. "I think the difference for them is two things – since they started rebounding the ball … and Luke Hancock has got to make shots consistently for them to do what their fans want them to do."
Big things in March – and April? Isn't that what the fans are eager to celebrate?
"For them to win it all they're going to have to win a game against somebody that doesn't turn it over on a neutral floor," Cronin said. "Hancock is going to have to make shots consistently for them to do what you're talking about … He's going to have to make shots for them. That's going to be the X-factor."
Rebounding and three-point shooting should be high on the list. But here is a statistic to digest: Cincinnati had 18 baskets and 21 turnovers.
No big deal? Anything can happen on any given night? Cronin said that Louisville's full-court pressure did not bother his team. He said that many of the mistakes were unforced errors in half-court situations.
Except this was the 11th time this season Louisville's opponent had more turnovers than field goals. And it was only the first time Cincinnati has had more turnovers than field goals. Connect the dots.
Cincinnati had committed only 25 turnovers total in its last three games.
Rick Pitino's team is superbly conditioned. He has enough confidence in his bench to play four subs at the same time. The press might not have turned the Bearcats over, but something was making Cincinnati sag and call two timeouts in the first half simply to inbound the basketball.
Hancock made a pair of three-pointers. He's now 16 for 34 (47 percent) over Louisville's last seven games. He is shooting the basketball with considerable confidence.
Pitino is pleased. He did not try to poor-mouth his team's performance. Not one bit.
"All the parts are coming together," he said. "It is what we hoped. I like our basketball team right now.
"That doesn't mean we're going to a Final Four or further. Nobody knows, and it is all about matchups sometimes.
"I'll tell you what I really liked. Last year we had to rely on confusing people with our zone. This year we have multiple defenses that we can go to and change different times of the game. Any time you have multiple defenses, it helps confuse the opponent."
I don't know which coach voted Louisville Number One. But the way Pitino's team is playing, I suspect there will be more coaches thinking about it.