Six Things That Must Happen for Louisville to Win the National Championship
By Jared Anderson March 8, 2017
Photo by Wade Morgen
Could #4 Happen in 2017?
March Madness is upon us. While some conference tournaments have already concluded some are just beginning. That means the NCAA tournament is right around the corner, and after a one year post-season ban the Louisville men's basketball team is going dancing again.
Whether or not the Cards win the ACC tournament they are without a doubt making the tournament. With a record of 24-7 and currently ranked 10th in the AP Poll, Louisville is looking at a potential 2- or 3-seed.
Earning a high seed doesn't guarantee an automatic advancement into the other rounds, nor does it guarantee an easy road to the championship. An 8-seed Villanova team took the crown in 1985. In 2011, the Final Four featured 3-seed Connecticut (champion), 4-seed Kentucky, 98-seed Butler, and 11-seed VCU. So a 2- or 3-seed would be nice to have, but Louisville will still have its work cut out in order to bring home championship number four.
What must happen for Louisville to win the national championship?
1. Make their free throws This team is one of the worst in Rick Pitino's tenure when it comes to free throw percentage. How many regular and post-season games in the last few years alone came down to free throws? The Cards final four points in the 2013 championship game came off of free throws- they shot 18-for-23 (78.3%) for the game. Missing the front end of a one-and-one can kill momentum for your team and it provides an opportunity for the opponent to come back. Any close game will come down to free throws.
2. Second chance points Rebounding hasn't been too much of an issue for this year's squad. Whether offensively or defensively there's been someone ready to pull the rebound in. However, second chance points haven't always been there. Yeah, that offensive rebound looks nice on a stat sheet, but is pointless if you don't make something out of it. You can either put a shot right back up in hopes of making it or getting hacked and drawing the foul, or you can pass the ball out and try to set up a play with a fresh shot clock. Looking back up to number one I'd go with the latter.
3. Big men must play big The frustration has been real with the big fellas. Ray Spalding has had fans ripping their hair out on nearly every possession he touches the ball. Mangok Mathiang has had a rather disappointing career at Louisville other than some big games here and there. Anas Mahmoud has seen plenty of bench time due to foul trouble this season. Mahmoud can also get pushed around quite easily because of how skinny he is. Listed at 215, Mahmoud is way undersized to play a five spot. Jaylen Johnson has had difficulty scoring at times, but he can make a three when necessary. Post-season is a time to step it up and the big men need to do it.
4. Offense must get hot and stay hot Deng Adel has stepped it up the back half of the season and makes some difficult shots look easy. Donovan Mitchell can score in his sleep. A healthy Quentin Snider is a solid scorer. But there's times where the offense comes to a screeching halt. Looking back at the loss at Wake Forest the Cards were on pace to score 120 points 10 minutes into the game (with 30 points). They scored 13 points in the final 10 minutes of the first half. Long droughts don't work when the tournament rolls around. Someone, anyone, must find a way to score. Just reference back to Tim Henderson against Wichita State in the Final Four.
5. Cut down on the turnovers It's ridiculous how much this team turns the ball over. Averaging 11.3 turnovers per game, the Cards' turnover margin sits at only 2.6 better than opposing teams. Poor communication and laziness attribute to most of the turnovers. Playing smarter and communicating with teammates will help solve that problem.
6. Step it up on defense The defense has been one of the strongest points of this team, as well as every team Rick Pitino has ever coached. Ken Pomeroy has Louisville at sixth in his adjusted defensive efficiency. The Cards allow 90.4 points per 100 possessions. Virginia sits atop that subject with 85.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. Opposing teams are shooting .307 from behind the three-point arc this season. Louisville likes to foul a lot too. They've out-fouled opposing teams by 25 this year, which resulted in more free throws for opponents. Fortunately, opposing teams have only averaged 69% at the free throw line.
This team doesn't have some of the greats like the 2013 squad. There's no Gorgui Dieng in the post, no high-energy Montrezl Harrells this year, and no one to drive to the basket and make "Russdiculous" shots and lay-ups. The 1980 team had one of the greats in Darrell Griffith leading the way and the 1986 team had the dominant "Never Nervous Pervis" down low.
However, this team is eager to be in the post-season. After missing last season, the Cards are back and ready to play. The road ahead is tough, but the Cards have the potential.