BOZICH | Louisville"s ACC Tournament job: Show -- or shock -- the world
Show the world. Shock the world. Stun the world. Pick the verb of your choice. Louisville needs a big week in the ACC Tournament now.
RALEIGH, N.C. (WDRB) – Initially I thought I heard Ray Spalding say that the Louisville basketball team needed to rush into Brooklyn next week and shock the world in the ACC Tournament.
The tape recording showed that this is what Spalding actually said: “Really looking forward to the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament and showing the world what we can do and what we’re made of.”
But I asked Spalding if Louisville needed to shock the world at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn? Do more than simply beat Florida State in the Cards' opening game Wednesday at noon and follow that by defeating Virginia and … use your imagination.
“Yes, sir,” Spalding said. “That, too.”
Show the world. Shock the world. Stun the world.
Pick the verb of your choice – as long as it carries at least two victories. That is where the Cardinals sit after their stinging 76-69, come from ahead loss to North Carolina State Saturday night at PNC Arena.
Mark it down as Louisville’s fourth defeat in the last five games. Put it in the same pile with Clemson and Miami as another ACC road game that David Padgett’s team should have won. It was the kind of loss that explains why U of L finished 9-9 in the ACC, 19-12 overall and will compete as the ninth-seed in the 15-team tournament.
File it as another reminder that this is a good, occasionally very good but too often sloppy and careless team that has earned its place on the outside of the NCAA Tournament.
They’ve done it with too many lapses into one-on-one play on offense, the absence of a persistent edge on defense and assorted other issues that most teams encounter.
Against State, the problem was turnovers (11) in the first half and defensive resolve in the second half (the Wolfpack made 14 of 27 shots, half of their three pointers). Louisville forced only four NC State turnovers on a night when everybody in Padgett’s starting lineup kicked the ball away at least twice.
Against Seton Hall it was defense in the final 10 minutes that stopped U of L. Against Clemson it was turnovers. Against Miami it was an inability to score in overtime. Against Virginia the other night, it was something I cannot explain. Against N.C. State, it was a combo platter.
“It’s both encouraging and discouraging,” Spalding said. “Some of those games that we’ve lost we definitely could have won.”
“After the Virginia game I thought we could play with anybody in the country,” said Quentin Snider, the team’s senior guard.
I’m not certain if it is encouraging or discouraging. I am certain they can beat – or lose to – anybody in this league.
I also know this team has done just enough to put itself in serious trouble on Selection Sunday. Put a victory against Seton Hall, Clemson, Miami, Virginia or even North Carolina State on Louisville’s nitty gritty report, and the Cards are likely one of the 68 teams in the NCAA field.
“We’ve got to go to New York and make something happen,” center Anas Mahmoud said. “Nobody knows if we’re in or not. We’ve got to force ourselves in right now. We’ve got to go to New York and do some damage.”
“Right now we’re just in the middle,” Snider said. “We’ve just got to get our confidence back and try to find a way to get back to our swag and go back to the ACC Tournament and win a couple of games. That’s how we’re going to get in the tournament.
“Maybe just win the whole thing. We’ve got to beat some tough teams. We’ve just got to find a way.”
Possible. Duke had to win four games to win the tournament in Brooklyn last season. Connecticut did a five-game dance through the Big East Tournament in 2011. It’s why they put all these games on TV.
Louisville needs to clean up the turnovers, dial down the one-on-one play and dial up the defensive furor.
The Cardinals beat Florida State on the road by four and lost to the Seminoles at home by four. Coin flip. But beating FSU Wednesday is non-negotiable for Louisville’s NCAA chances.
The Cards made Virginia grind into the final two minutes in Charlottesville and gift-wrapped a victory to the Cavaliers Thursday night. Virginia has been their Kryptonite, but they have not played in fear of Tony Bennett’s team.
It won’t take a miracle for Louisville to do something special in Brooklyn. But it will take more efficient and poised play than the Cardinals have delivered the last month.
Padgett and his players know that. They know more people are talking about reasons why Louisville won’t be in the tournament than arguing in favor of including the Cardinals in the field. There is only one response.
“I told them, I said, ‘Look, have we done enough to get in the tournament at this very moment in time?’ “ Padgett said.
“I personally believe that we have. But unfortunately that’s not my decision.
“We finished 9-9 in the toughest league in the country, playing a Top 20 schedule. We have a couple of very good road wins. We don’t really have that – quote, unquote – bad loss, I guess. But that’s not for me to decide.
“What I did tell them after the game was, ‘We can’t leave it up to chance. If we can go up to New York and win a couple of games and you get to 20 or 21 wins, all of a sudden it makes you look even better.”
Show the world. Or even shock the world. It’s the only way now.
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