BOZICH | Louisville Basketball -- Overpowering, Under-Scheduled
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Last Friday, the University of Louisville basketball team broke a school record for consecutive victories that Darrell Griffith, Derek Smith, Rodney McCray and friends pounded into the books 33 years ago.
On Tuesday, this Cardinal team pushed the streak to 20 by punishing Hartford, 87-48, at the KFC Yum! Center. The forecast by basketball-ologists for Louisville remains bright with no scheduling clouds in sight.
The 39-point smackdown was enough to drive Dick Vitale onto his computer and change the Twitter conversation from Kevin Ware to March Madness: "Louisville is so explosive – they roll again vs. Hartford - @Rick_Pitino's team has the parts to go back to back."
Agreed. Back-to-back is a reasonable conversation we'll have all season. This team will move this winning streak to a place where it won't be touched for more than 33 years.
I'll put it this way: There's at least an 80 percent chance Louisville will be leaning on a 28-game winning streak on the 28th of December when the Cardinals visit Rupp Arena.
That's because this team is really good. That's also because through four games this team has been really under-scheduled.
Louisville beat Hartford by 39. Hartford beat Fairfield by 10.
In case you're wondering why I am mentioning the Stags, Fairfield is the team the Cards play Saturday in Connecticut in the Hall of Fame Tipoff. Look for the Cards' average margin of victory to climb from its current level – a mere 33.5 points per game.
After winning the 1980 NCAA title, the Cards lost their opening game of the 1980-81 season in the same event – the Hall of Fame Tipoff. But they were beaten by DePaul, 86-80, in Springfield, Mass. The Blue Demons were ranked second in the nation.
Times change. None of Louisville's first five opponents this season is ranked in the top 175 nationally in Ken Pomeroy's computer rankings.
Anybody else surprised that Rick Pitino was not more ambitious while building a non-conference schedule for this team?
"Obviously you want to get tested," said U of L guard Russ Smith, a contender for national player of the year. "But if not, you'll just take the win."
"I don't even know who we play next," said Luke Hancock, a Louisville senior. "I know we played Hartford tonight.
"Coach P challenges you. Coach P challenges you every game – to be able to get your rebounds, to get your team assists, to get your deflections and all that stuff. And he's not very friendly when you don't get it. That's what you're really playing for, to go out there and play well, execute the game plan."
Three starters returned from the 2013 national championship team, plus another guy (Hancock) who was NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player, another (Montrezl Harrell) who is projected as first-round pick in the 2014 NBA Draft, another (point guard Chris Jones) who was the national junior college player of the year and more, more, more after that.
There are 351 Division I basketball teams. On Tuesday, only 30 schools had played schedules considered friendlier than Louisville's schedule, according to Pomeroy's basketball metrics.
The only obstacle between Louisville and a 12-0 perfect record in Rupp Arena Dec. 28 is possibly North Carolina. But after watching the Tar Heels struggle with Holy Cross and then lose to Belmont, I'm not convinced they will beat Richmond Saturday and earn a game against Louisville Sunday.
The Cards are good. The Cards are also untested.
According to the Athlon College Basketball Yearbook, not one of Louisville's first four opponents was picked to win its conference – and the conferences we're talking about are the Colonial, Ivy and America East. Fairfield has lost two of its first three – and is picked to finish fourth in the Metro Atlantic.
Louisville controlled the tip Tuesday. Jones flashed to the ball and flashed even faster to the rim. He made a layup. It required three seconds. The game was essentially over.
Nine of Louisville's 31 baskets were dunks, six by Harrell. The Cardinals scored more than half their points (44) in the paint. They squeezed Hartford into 25 turnovers and then transformed those mistakes into 26 points.
As competitors who have played on the largest and most challenging stages in college basketball, don't the players look forward to more difficult tests?
"As a competitor, always so," said Smith, who scored 14 points in only 25 minutes.
"But I get here three hours, four hours before the game tips off. Sometimes you look forward to being tested."
The Cards are good. They are also unchallenged.
"It will come later," Hancock said. "This is how it is."
Copyright 2013 WDRB News. All Rights Reserved.