CRAWFORD BLOG | Five keys to U of L's NCAA title hopes - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD BLOG | Five keys to U of L's NCAA title hopes

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) -- Heading into NCAA Tournament play, a look at five factors that could make or break the No. 1 seed University of Louisville basketball team. A couple of notes first: Things like Russ Smith being Russ Smith and U of L's defense being U of L's defense are a given. These are obviously major factors in the Cards' success, but they've been constants all season, and it's assumed they will be in the tournament. The following keys, then, are items in addition to those that will be crucial:

1). Peyton Siva. It was in the postseason last season that Peyton Siva turned it on for U of L, and the Cards need that to happen again. Siva as driver and distributor is the catalyst of the U of L offense. But Siva as a shooter who can knock down a three-pointer or two puts U of L at a different level offensively. That doesn't mean Siva has to become a three-point shooter. It just means he needs to be able to make an open one now and then. Under no circumstances do they need him taking eight threes in a game like he did at Syracuse (unless, of course, he makes three or four straight). But Siva opened the season making 22 of his first 55 three-pointers, for 41 percent. That was through U of L's first meeting with South Florida. Since then, he's gone 10 for 58. Siva's ability to score 10-12 points a game isn't just about the points. It's about loosening up the opposing defense to create more opportunities for U of L. One thing I think will work in Siva's favor -- he should go to the line more in NCAA Tournament play, as the result of more standard officiating, than he has in Big East play. He just has to be careful he's not sending other teams to the line more, too. The good news for U of L -- Siva appeared to be on the right track in the Big East Tournament.

2). Post presence. One thing that Gorgui Dieng's recent offensive resurgence hasn't completely cured is U of L's inability to enter the ball to the post consistently for easy points. Dieng's scoring has been largely on midrange jumpers. And the Cards do a good job of getting duck-in passes for dunk or layup attempts. They have outscored nearly every team they've played in the paint, but the importance of getting just a few, three or four, good traditional post looks a game is that it could give the Cards a boost in field-goal percentage, giving them a few more opportunities to get into their full-court press. U of L shot 46.2 percent from the field at home this year, and 42.9 percent away from the KFC Yum! Center. The ability to find Dieng (or Montrezl Harrell) on the block could keep the Cards' postseason field goal percentage healthy. U of L has been beaten only once this season when it shot a better percentage than its opponent (a record of 24-1), and the one team to pull it off was Duke, when Dieng wasn't playing. Good news for U of L -- Harrell showed in the Big East Tournament title game just how dominant a team it can be if it gets consistent post offense.

3). Endgame execution. So much of postseason success is knowing how to finish. Butler rode that ability to back-to-back title game appearances. U of L struggled at times protecting late leads this season, and improved in that area in the past month. Here's what it hasn't done. When trailing or tied at the five-minute mark, U of L is 0-4. It is going to face that situation again at some point. If it wants to achieve its goal of a return Final Four trip or a national title, it will likely have to crack the win column in that category.

4). Chane Behanan. After serving a suspension in the first exhibitions, the sophomore grabbed 34 rebounds in his first three games. Now listen to this stat -- that's the same number he's collected in his past eight games. Behanan never got it going for a sustained period during the regular season. And by the end of the season, the Cards were able to get it going themselves without his game really clicking. Given a new start in the postseason, however, U of L would greatly benefit from Behanan getting dialed in. If it doesn't happen, U of L can still do well, and the emergence lately of Harrell and Van Treese puts this one down the list. But if it gets Behanan going in addition to those and others who have turned it up a notch heading into postseason (Luke Hancock, Kevin Ware) it can have the kind of finish it really wants.

5. Free throws. People are sometimes surprised to learn that this U of L team is shooting 71 percent from the line, its highest percentage in eight years. And that's with their best free throw shooter, Siva, taking just 7.5 percent of the team's attempts in Big East play (where U of L shot 72 percent from the line this season). Still, Behanan, Kevin Ware and Montrezl Harrell have shot it poorly enough that some concerns will remain (though Harrell went 6 of 9 in the Big East Tournament championship game), and given that missed free throws have figured prominently in a couple of the team's losses (12-24 in a loss to Villanova, 18 missed FTs, 30 of 48, in the loss at Notre Dame) that it remains a postseason concern.

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