LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Blame the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee. Blame the NCAA Committee on Infractions. Blame the NCAA janitorial staff.

Blame the sun, the stars, the moon or daylight savings time.

Blame your favorite bogeyman for the exclusion of the University of Louisville basketball team from the 68-team field announced Sunday.

Just make certain your list is long enough to include these two groups – the Cardinals' players and coaches.

They’re the first two groups on my list. This team had the skills and opportunities to secure an NCAA bid by mid-February.

Maybe early February.

Certainly on the cursed night of March 1.

“That’s a team with enough talent to win 25 or 26 games,” one former Division I coach told me Sunday night. “They should have been good enough to be a factor in the tournament. Just too many mistakes.”

Didn’t happen.

Louisville finished 20-13. Lost three of its last four. Five of its last seven. Eight of its last 12. Nine of its last 14.

That is the resume of a National Invitation Tournament team, one that will start play in the consolation tournament by hosting Northern Kentucky at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the KFC Yum! Center.

(For the record, interim athletic director Vince Tyra made the right call by accepting the NIT bid. You get the invite, you play out the season. Don’t like the ending to this season? Write a better one. The NCAA is the glamour tournament. The NIT is a pride event.)

Here is the Cliff’s Notes list of how Louisville missed the party: Seton Hall, Clemson, Miami and Virginia.

Spit out a 7-point lead in the final 11 ½ minutes of a home game against Seton Hall. Allowed the winning bucket in the final 8 seconds.

Lost.

Lost a 2-point lead in the final two minutes at Clemson. Had the final shot in regulation. Missed it. Overtime. Missed their first three shots with two turnovers in overtime.

Lost.

Had a 3-point lead in the final minute at Miami. Turnover. Missed free throw. Overtime. Missed all five field goal attempts in overtime.

Lost.

Had a four-point lead with 0.9 seconds to play against Virginia. I didn’t have to look up the play by game from that game. Silly, silly, silly foul. Unfortunate Virginia lane violation.

Coaching error by not calling timeout or instructing the inbounder to toss the ball past midcourt. Travel out of bounds. Soft defense. Banked-in three. Impossible.

Lost – the game as well as a certain trip to the NCAA Tournament.

You can howl about Syracuse (which I understand), Arizona State  (started 12-0, finished 8-11) and other schools that you can dismiss in your tournament office pool.

But Louisville stopped Louisville with no quality out of conference wins, a 4-12 record against teams that made the NCAA field and the four late-game burps that I just described.

Certainly, there were strange and extenuating circumstances. There was no playbook for how to cope and continue after dismissing a Hall of Fame coach days before practice began.

David Padgett was a rookie coach who had to scramble to pull together a coaching staff, recruiting two guys who needed time to introduce themselves to the players.

The team had to adjust to playing without Donovan Mitchell, who has used his NBA rookie season to prove that he was a bigger deal than even his biggest fans believed he was last season. This team had no alpha the way that Mitchell was consistently an alpha.

Then Mitchell’s alleged replacement part, Brian Bowen, was the central part of the nonsense that led to the dismissal of coach Rick Pitino, his assistants Kenny Johnson and Jordan Fair and athletic director Tom Jurich. Al Greener’s pep band should have played music from the “Twilight Zone,” before every home game.

But …

Despite all that, this team was positioned to make this a Feel Good story, not a What Happened to Louisville? story.

There were ample opportunities to impress the home fans, ACC opponents and the Tournament Selection Committee.

Didn’t happen. According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, this team’s offensive efficiency was the program’s worst since 2015. The defensive slippage was considerably greater. After seven consecutive seasons of ranking in the top 10 in that category, Louisville slid to 27th nationally, the worst performance by the Cardinals since 2010.

The bite in the traps, the pressure on the basketball, the ability to keep people out of the lane and the muscle on the glass simply wasn’t there as much as it had to be there.

Padgett worked tirelessly. He did not duck questions or point fingers. I never sensed the players felt sorry for themselves. Two weeks ago at Virginia Tech they won a game against an NCAA Tournament team that the wise guys expected them to lose.

It simply didn’t work out. There were a string of reasons. You can blame the NCAA, the administration and the snow that fell Sunday night.

Just make certain that the coaches and players are also on your list.

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