I am not a happy guy right now. See, I like Louisville. A lot. That means my faith is being truly tested. The third ranked Cardinals were playing their third game, and it shouldn’t have been a contest. They were playing Western Kentucky – a team that hadn’t beaten a top three team in 41 years – and they were favored by 19.5. In the end it wasn’t a contest, but the wrong team ran away with it. It was tied at the half, but Western Kentucky came out strong early on in the second half and never looked back. Ultimately, they won by 14 in a game that went under the total by 17 points. The result is disturbing, but beyond that it raises some key issues when it comes to handicapping Louisville:
1. Is this a fluke or a vulnerability? The Hilltoppers pulled this off by doing a couple of things. They went small and fast, and they double-teamed Samardo Samuels all night. Samuels got frustrated and lost his cool, and the team only managed to shoot 27 percent from the field. There’s a good chance that this was an anomaly, but there is also the possibility that it isn’t. You can guarantee that the next several coaches that face the Cardinals will try some version of the same approach. I have all sorts of faith in Rick Pitino’s ability to turn this thing around quickly, but I will still be very uncomfortable until I see the team play a strong team and come out strong themselves. The one thing that makes me feel better is that Samuels is a freshman, and a reasonably raw one, so he will learn a ton from this frustrating experience.
2. Is this a sign of a bigger problem? Teams can be caught off guard and have a terrible day. The core of this team isn’t young, though, so they shouldn’t be vulnerable to overlooking a grossly mismatched team.
3. Are we wrong about the Big East? This conference is ridiculously tough. So far we have seen a few things besides this loss that makes us wonder – Marquette was upset, Notre Dame lost Luke Harangody and so on. It’s obviously way too early to panic or significantly adjust assumptions about the league, but I can’t help but be a bit nervous.
4. Why can’t Louisville win in neutral sites? They have played six games in neutral sites in the last three seasons. They have lost five, including four to unranked teams. They have been very solid the last three years, so that performance is obviously grossly below expectations. A pun because I can’t resist – why are the Cardinals stuck in neutral in neutral sites?