Yo, Nate, you’re a big stats guy with a world view and historical perspective. I need your help.
And, if you can’t, I’ll check with Jeff Sagarin or Ken Pomeroy, or both.
Because I’m wondering which was the last NCAA Men’s Basketball Champion to lose three games in a row during the regular season?
I know that Rollie Massimino’s ’84-’85 Villanova Wildcats, which captured the title in Rupp as an #8 seed, lost consecutive tilts to St. John’s, Georgetown and Boston College early in February before they captured the crown.
But, fellas, I need to know if it’s happened since? Or, frankly, before?
And, Cardinal fans, you know why I need to know. Our less than steely Louisville Cards let another winnable game slip away yesterday in D.C. For the third time in a row.
Commenting on the situation, ESPN analyst Jay Bilas opined, to paraphrase, “Louisville is no less likely to make it to the Final Four with these three losses, than it would be had they won. All were winnable games.”
All well and good. But my questions are these: Where’s the heart? Where’s the burning desire to close the deal? Where’s the basketball sense to make winning plays when necessary? Where’s the execution?
Wherever those winning character traits may be, they weren’t at the Yum! last Saturday. Or in Philly. Or in D.C.
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What I can’t shake is what I surmise are the player’s don’t worry we’ve got it under control attitude, as expressed in the locker room after the Syracuse L.
Not cocky. But not urgent enough.
I know as a fan I make great presumptions from observation. Who knows how valid they may be? But, at this juncture, my fear is this. That last season’s stunning, unforeseen run to the Final Four after losing four of six to end the regular season may now be working against this year’s squad. That, lurking somewhere in the player’s psyches, is the belief that they’ll be able to simply turn it on and have another magical ride come Dance time, no matter what’s going on now.
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In close games like yesterday’s, there are always any number of things one can point to as the “reason” for the loss. Rarely is it ever just one situation, or possession or miss, whatever. More often, it’s a compilation of factors.
Anyway, here’s what strikes me.
All three of last week’s losses came against bigger teams.
Louisville was 12/12 at the free throw line in the first half. Louisville was 4/10 at the free throw line in the second half.
Louisville had but 7 assists. Against 13 turnovers.
Peyton Siva committed several more stupid reach-in fouls, which severely limited his playing time. While I laud his desire to hoist the game on his shoulders during that last play, he made a really stupid decision to pull up for a jumper. (Which observation, of course, begs the question why The Rick had the ball in Siva’s hands as opposed to Russ Smith’s? Or why U of L’s bigs weren’t securely planted underneath the hoop for a put back, which is how most of these affairs are settled?)
Russ Smith has not yet acclimated to the different defenses he’s now facing after his early season success.
I remain stunned that there aren’t more motion offensive sets. You know, where the ball moves, where there’s more passing and different players besides Siva and Smith handle it, where the point is open shots for other players in their sweet spots.
Given all the individual sessions Pitino conducts with the players, shouldn’t upperclassmen Behanan and Dieng have learned by now not to put the ball on the floor underneath before going to the hoop?
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I believe that lineups with Hancock and Blackshear on the floor at the same time could work. That’s one experiment worth pursuing. It assumes obviously that there will be sets designed to get different players good shots. And that Luke’s glaringly bad defense in man-to-man can be masked.
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Barrister Len Elmore, an astute and blissfully understated commentator (as opposed to his partner yesterday, the ever bloviating Mike Patrick), made a salient point near the end of the game, when the Cards used their final timeout to save a possession during a tie up scrum on the floor. The arrow was pointing the Cards’ way. It was a wasted timeout.
“You have to know the situation,” acutely observed Elmore.
Interesting thing is, the “mistake” worked to the Cards benefit yesterday. There was a tie up later on after that gaffe. The Cards got possession because the arrow was still in their favor.
But . . . for the third game in a row . . . Louisville failed to carpe diem.
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FYI, even after these three disheartening performances in a row, Louisville remains #4 in Ken Pomeroy’s highly regarded computerized standings, and #6 in Jeff Sagarin’s.
That said, the truth . . . games are won and lost on the hardwood, not the hard drive.
– Seedy K