Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, March 3, 2013 at 8:52 PM
The Louisville Cardinals scored a signature win Saturday afternoon on the road at Syracuse. They showed the college basketball world that their midseason swoon was over…and it’s time once again to take them seriously in Final Four and National Championship discussions. However…
The benefits of that could be erased very quickly if the Cardinals come out flat on Big Monday against a talented Cincinnati squad that’s played many powers tough this season.
It’s true that there are a few virtually automatic wins in the Big East this year if you know what you’re doing. Cincinnati isn’t one of them. They’ve started to drift backward in the standings, feeling the effects of a killer schedule. But, even at 2-5 straight up the last seven games…the two wins were over Villanova and Connecticut….two of the losses were to Georgetown and Pittsburgh, and another loss was in overtime. Cincinnati isn’t elite…but they’re a competitive team in a brutal conference.
Plus, this is a big rivalry game to Cincinnati! You college football fans remember what this game means to these two teams. Louisville has bigger fish to fry as a perennial basketball contender. Cincinnati usually doesn’t. This is the only meeting this year between the two. Cincinnati is likely to come in with a chip on its shoulder for this ESPN national telecast.
Let’s run the game through our ringer of indicators. Then we’ll take a quick look at our NOTEBOOK schedule for the rest of the week…
Cincinnati: 20-9 (8-8 in the Big East)
Louisville: 24-5 (12-4 in the Big East)
The Cardinals still need some help if they’re going to wrestle the regular season conference crown away from Georgetown. The Hoyas own the tiebreaker because of a heads up regular season meeting. The Cardinals are favored to finish the slate 14-4, which is fantastic in a tough conference like the Big East. Cincinnati has held its own…as treading water amongst sharks deserves a lot of respect too. Some seasons, media hype about the Big East has led to a disastrous Dance. We’ll know in a few weeks if the league was overrated or not. For now, Louisville is a title threat (as you’ll see momentarily in the computer ratings), while Cincinnati can play spoiler if they run into the right opponent.
Cincinnati: #33 with Sagarin, #34 with Pomeroy
Louisville: #2 with Sagarin, #3 with Pomeroy
That’s right. Both Jeff Sagarin of USA today and college basketball guru Ken Pomeroy have Louisville right up at the top of the national picture. There’s Indiana…there’s Florida…and there’s Louisville in terms of the software, algorithms, and simulations. That three-game losing streak a few weeks back ended up not hurting much because many of the big name programs had to deal with their own swoons. It all came out in the wash, and Louisville has bubbled back up to the top where they were before the swoon. Cincinnati is respected about equally by the computers…equivalent to a #8 seed in the Big Dance.
COMPUTER STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE RANKINGS
Cincinnati: #38 with Sagarin, #62 with Pomeroy
Louisville: #11 with Sagarin, #14 with Pomeroy
The Cardinals are battle-tested. They give themselves challenges in November and December then go go war in the Big East. Cincinnati tends to take an easier path. Pomeroy, in particular, shows them as shirking their duties in terms of big time preparation. Sagarin gives them more credit, and you’ll see why in a second.
WON-LOST RECORDS VS. SAGARIN’S TOP 50
Cincinnati has played 13 games within Sagarin’s Top 50, making them even more big-game tested than Louisville in his ratings! Notice how tightly packed this one is. Louisville looks to be several rungs better on the Dance board…yet they’re only slightly better straight up in big games. This hurts their chances to go the Distance in March. The fact that their point guard loses his head late in close games is going to matter in close games later this month. Should Cincinnati spring the upset Monday, they’d only be a half game behind the Cards in this great indicator category. Ultimately, big game records this year may not show who’s going to survive…they’re going to show that a lot of relatively even teams are going to play several neutral court toss-ups.
JOE LUNARDI’S BRACKETOLOGY
Cincinnati: projected #2 seed
Louisville: projected #9 seed
Lunardi of ESPN agrees with the computers for the most part…though he doesn’t quite have the Cardinals up at a #1 seed. There’s still time for that. Louisville would definitely be a #1 if they won out and cut down the nets at the Big East tournament. An accomplishment like that would be greatly respected
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED OFFENSE RANKINGS
Moving now to the chess match. Cincinnati’s offense is going to be in huge trouble in the postseason. Pomeroy adjusts for strength of schedule and pace factor. If you’re not in the top 100 in this stat…then you have little chance of lighting up the scoreboard vs. the quality defenses you’ll see in the Big East and NCAA Tournament. This is the reason Cincinnati is a feisty also-ran in the league this year rather than a contender. A lot of teams are physical. Many of the rest have figured out how to get the biscuit in the basket more often than the Bearcats have. Louisville tends to bog down vs. the best (like everyone else this year), but they did keep squeezing out late points in Saturday’s win at Syracuse.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED DEFENSE RANKINGS
Are regular reminder that Coach Rick Pitino does a great job of coaching college defense. His Cardinals are best in the land right now after you adjust for strength of schedule and tempo. Cincinnati is in the Dance mix because of their defense. They don’t mind playing wrestling matches…it gives them a chance to steal victories. Their disappointing offense just doesn’t have a finishing move. Defense wins championships. The computers love Louisville’s defense.
POMEROY’S ADJUSTED TEMPO RANKINGS
Both of these teams are probably faster than you had thought. So much of the Big East is slow, that you look slow just by playing in the Big East. Louisville prefers pace…and is in a nice range for Dance success. It’s uncommon recently for slow teams to go the distance. Those who attack offensively reap the rewards. Cincinnati probably won’t be comfortable at this pace, particularly with their offensive issues. Since the home team usually determines tempo…Louisville is well positioned to get the job done.
It all depends on Louisville’s focus and mindset. The numbers above suggest they control their own destiny here. They will force their preferred pace…and they’ll do so with the best defense in the country hosting a lousy offense. If the Cardinals are ready, they win and cover. But, how can you be sure they’ll be ready just two days after that huge, emotional road revenge victory at Syracuse that you probably watched on CBS? This game has “letdown” written all over it.
JIM HURLEY has been working with his Big East sources to get a read on Louisville’s focus. He knows that will mean everything in this game. You can see if Cincinnati/Louisville made the final Monday cut by purchasing today’s slate right here at the website with your credit card. Monday is a great day to check on seasonal rates for the rest of college basketball and/or the NBA. Call us in the office for program details at 1-800-323-4453.
Our big game coverage will continue all week here in the NOTEBOOK…
This Week’s Schedule
Tuesday: Ohio State at Indiana
Wednesday: Georgetown at Villanova
Thursday: Wisconsin at Michigan State
Friday: an early-bird look at Saturday’s Syracuse/Georgetown rematch (an early tip)
Saturday: Showcase coverage of matchups like Duke at North Carolina, Florida at Kentucky, Kansas at Baylor, Notre Dame at Louisville, and Kansas State at Oklahoma State
Sunday: Indiana at Michigan
That will bring the regular season to an end. Then, MARCH MADNESS really gets rolling with the major conference tournaments followed by Selection Sunday and the Big Dance.
Be with us EVERY DAY so you know what’s really happening in college basketball as you prepare for the most exciting ride in all of sports. And, link up daily with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK for BIG, JUICY WINNERS!