ATLANTA (WDRB) -- A year ago at the Final Four in New Orleans, Rick Pitino and his University of Louisville basketball team seemed so loose that some reporters wondered if something was up.
"Is he always like this?" one asked as Pitino walked off the podium the first day in New Orleans after telling stories, cracking jokes and displaying a supreme level of comfort and confidence.
The players followed suit.
But this year, the Cardinals are getting to see how the other half lives.
"When you're the No. 1 of No. 1 seeds, there's a lot of pressure," Pitino said. "I'm sure the players feel it. Last year, we didn't feel any pressure. We just had a great time getting here."
How big a favorite are the Cardinals' against Wichita State tonight and the rest of the field in general? Let us count the ways.
-- According to RJ Bell of Pregame.com, Las Vegas oddsmakers give U of L a 53 percent chance of winning the national title. The other three teams in the field combined are given just a 47 percent chance.
-- The Cards are a better-than even money favorite to win it all. A $150 bet on the Cards to take the title would pay $100. (U of L junior Russ Smith is the only player at the Final Four who is a better than even-money favorite to win MVP, $120 bet pays $100).
-- U of L is a 10.5-point favorite against Wichita State. That makes the Cards' the biggest Final Four favorite since Duke was favored by 11 over Michigan State in 1999, and the second-biggest favorite of the 64-team era.
It's a different mindset, and the players can't help but notice.
Russ Smith said last season in New Orleans was, "too much fun -- beads were getting thrown everywhere. This trip is more serious, more businesslike."
Pitino noticed it before the Cardinals played Colorado State. He told them, "Lighten up, guys. It's a basketball game."
Senior point guard Peyton Siva, however, said it's not the external expectations that pressure the team.
"I feel that last year we should have won and I feel that this year we are going to try to win out," Siva said. "Kentucky did a great job handling being the No. 1 team at the beginning of the year and finishing the year as the No. 1 team. We have to just continue to play our game and not worry about anything else."
Siva wasn't the only Cardinal that said this team is looking to how UK handled itself last season for a blueprint to a title.
Stephan Van Treese said that while expectations are higher and that the team is probably more on edge about accomplishing its ultimate goal, players also are more secure in the knowledge of what they have to do.
"I think guys are a little more comfortable and not as nervous as we were last year," Van Treese said. "We're more confident, more mature and we know what it takes to win games like this. It's kind of like Kentucky was last year. Everybody expected them to win and they had a great team, but they were very consistent and disciplined and really executed better than everybody. We just need to do that same thing and just keep doing the things we've done all year to get ourselves here."
Pitino's record as coach of a No. 1 seed is 25-4. As the coach of the higher seeded team, he's 37-6. He knows what to do at tournament time. He also knows that in this round in particular, anything can happen. He's been on the doorstep of the title game six times. Four of those times, his teams lost.
Several of those trips came with teams that were doing well just to get to that point. Last season's U of L team, to a degree, was that kind of team.
This year's is something different, and the players know it.
"I don't think guys are feeling pressure of expectations," Siva said. "But I think it's pressure of wanting to win, of knowing we're close and that we just have to focus even harder to pay attention to what we have to do to win. We've had expectations all year. But when you get here and in you're in the same building with the trophy, you start to bear down. I think we'll respond well."
Tuesday, August 26 2014 10:16 PM EDT2014-08-27 02:16:12 GMT
Teddy Bridgewater says thank you to U of L students in an ad in its student paper. Eric Crawford photo.
Teddy Bridgewater had one more classy move for University of Louisville students and fans -- he said Thank You with an ad in the semester's first edition of The Louisville Cardinal student newspaper.More >>
Teddy Bridgewater had one more classy move for University of Louisville students and fans -- he said Thank You with an ad in the semester's first edition of The Louisville Cardinal student newspaper. More >>
Wednesday, August 20 2014 9:47 PM EDT2014-08-21 01:47:16 GMT
With classes beginning on Monday, the University of Louisville says it still hasn't gotten word from the NCAA Clearinghouse on 6-9 signee Jaylen Johnson. Rick Pitino said his high school was slow submitting his paperwork.More >>
With classes beginning on Monday, the University of Louisville says it still hasn't gotten word from the NCAA Clearinghouse on 6-9 signee Jaylen Johnson. Rick Pitino said his high school was slow submitting his paperwork. More >>