LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- For all the howling and complaints inspired by the University of Louisville’s back-to-back defeats, I’ll get directly to The Question responsible for all the (over)reaction:

Are the Cardinals’ guards good enough for Louisville to make a significant NCAA Tournament run?

I was going to ask if they were good enough to win the title, but that is a ridiculous standard for any team.

But in a season when Chris Mack’s team started ranked in the top four by several publications and quickly ascended to the No. 1 ranking in the AP poll, the Cardinals have dropped in the human polls, in the computer rankings and in the view of an undetermined number of hyperventilating fans.

"Fans are fans," U of L coach Chris Mack said. "Fans are less patient everywhere."

As the Cardinals prepare to play Miami (Florida) for the second time this season at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the KFC Yum! Center, the brightest light has been directed at the U of L backcourt.

“Lately, I don’t think our defense has been where it could be,” guard Darius Perry said. “Early on, we were playing a lot better defense … just a lack of focus.

“I think we’ve kind of settled for a second, thinking we could go out there, and things were just going to come to us. That causes the kind of defense we have played.”

By losing to three of the four best teams on their schedule to date, the Cards’ backcourt has certainly invited questions.

With only one guy (a freshman) larger than 6-feet-2-inches tall, are they too small?

Does Louisville lack a guard who can do something as simple as creating offense deep in the shot clock the way, say, Russ Smith or Peyton Siva did it?

Are Perry and Fresh Kimble the most effective pairing?

Was it too soon to move Ryan McMahon to the bench?

Has Mack been too slow to work freshman David Johnson into the rotation?

Again, let’s be frank here: Isn’t The Question whether Louisville has the guards to win at least two games in March, because anything less than a Sweet Sixteen will be remembered as an underachievement by this (11-3) team?

I believe the guards are at least Sweet Sixteen good.

They showed it against Miami in the season opener. They showed it against Western Kentucky on a neutral court. They showed it against Michigan.

Heck, they even showed it in stretches at Kentucky.

Let the Cards make one more play (even a free throw) in that game and the complaining about the Florida State loss would be a three-hour topic, not a three-day autopsy.

Yes, Perry, Kimble, McMahon and Johnson got worked by the Seminoles. But make a note of this: Florida State’s guards will work many more teams during Atlantic Coast Conference play.

“They were just nastier, more aggressive and tougher than we were,” Perry said. “I don’t really have any explanation as to why.”

“It’s tough when you’re 6-1 and 6-2, and you’ve got 6-6 on you with long arms,” Mack said. “It’s just tough.

“But at the same time, we’ve got to be better, we’ve got to be tough, and we’ve got to be stronger with decisions we make …

“It’s between the ears. Nothing’s changing with their size, and they have to understand that. Things have to change between their ears and their chest cavity, and I’ve got to do a better job of figuring that out in practice and preparing them for those moments and the grind and being able to stay the same all the way throughout.”

Yes, Mack’s guards must play better. McMahon and Kimble are making less than 40% of their field goal attempts. Perry’s 32 for 76 (42.1%) is also unacceptable.

There’s work to do on shot selection and finishing in the lane.

Perry has averaged nearly 24 minutes per game and gone to the free throw line seven times — once every other game. That’s an extremely low number for a guy who can attack with the ball. Johnson’s numbers show the same ratio — five free throws in 10 games. His ratio should improve when his confidence grows.

But there are plenty of winning numbers on the board, too. Perry and Kimble have exceeded the 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio that coaches, starting with North Carolina’s Dean Smith, have asked of their guards.

McMahon has shot nearly 43% from distance and 90% from the line. Kimble (11) and Perry (10) are in double figures in steals.

These guards don't have to score like crazy. Jordan Nwora has led the team in scoring in all but one game, and center Steven Enoch replaced him against Kentucky. Mack does not need volume as much as he needs efficiency -- and winning defense.

Despite the miserable performance against Florida State, Louisville still ranks 35th nationally in three-point defense, limiting opponents to 29.1%, four points better than the national average.

Mack has options. With winnable games against Miami, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh next on the schedule, this is the time to figure it out.

“I love my guys, and that’s why I’m critical of them, because I feel that within them they have the ability to get the job done, so it’s my job to hold them to that," he said.

What does Louisville need to fix to get its mojo back and stop the chirping about whether the Cardinals have the kind of guards who can win difficult games in March?

“Just the focus,” Perry said. “Focus and toughness.

“I think we have the ability to be wherever we want to be and whoever we want to be. We can definitely be the No. 1 team in the nation again. I don’t think that’s a problem for us.”

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