Jan 22, 2013; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Russ Smith (2) reacts to being called for a foul during the second half against the Villanova Wildcats at the Wells Fargo Center. Villanova defeated Louisville 73-64. Mandatory Credit: Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Surprising? Louisville’s Three-Game Losing Streak Is Far From It

College basketball prognosticators thought for sure they had Louisville well read.

The savants of the game turned back to the Cardinals of last season, identified a team coming together strong in March and recognized the upside that exists for a tournament-seasoned squad returning the core of its roster. Their crystal balls revealed the king of the Big East jungle evolving in Rick Pitino’s backyard.

Jan 19, 2013; Louisville, KY, USA; Louisville Cardinals guard Russ Smith (2) reacts after picking up a foul during the second half against the Syracuse Orange at the KFC Yum! Center. Syracuse defeated Louisville 70-68. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

A paper tiger was more like it.

Through the glorious preseason buildup of Louisville as the prohibitive Big East favorite and a trendy pick to cut down the nets in April—some of the hype reasonable, but most of it far-fetched—the pundits overlooked or simply ignored elements of last year’s Cardinals that foreshadowed a less-than-advertised heir apparent.

Hints of diminished play relative to expectations were traceable as far back as last winter. Everyone remembers Louisville’s four-game magic carpet ride at Madison Square Garden that segued into another four-game run to the Final Four. But how many recall the pitfalls and snags that tripped up the team during the regular season? Those humdrum, nine-loss Cardinals dropped eight games in conference play and stumbled into the league tourney as a 7-seed.

Images of Louisville’s pressure defense are nice for postcards, but perimeter shooting woes defined last season’s team as much as any full-court trap or steal. Louisville was the third-worst 3-point shooting unit in the Big East in 2012, and since then has lost its two best perimeter weapons: Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric. Even with George Mason transfer Luke Hancock rediscovering his stroke and Peyton Siva upping his long-range averages, the Cardinals again find themselves near the cellar of the conference in terms of outside shooting.

While most of the college basketball world is scrambling for answers, wondering what happened to the mighty Cards—which have dropped three straight after a short stay as the nation’s top-ranked team—others, like those of us who never bought the hype in the first place, are continuing to discover new question marks contributing to the mess.

Russ Smith takes too many shots—a shade under 15 per game and 25-percent of the team’s total—while his backcourt mate, Peyton Siva, recently hasn’t been taking enough. Siva has demonstrated a propensity to disappear in big game of late, managing only three points on 1-of-9 shooting in a loss to Syracuse before getting blanked by Georgetown while attempting just two field goals.

Like last year, Louisville’s scoring mechanism is overly reliant upon takeaways and easy baskets created or facilitated by the guards. Wayne Blackshear has been hit-or-miss, Chane Behanan has cooled off against the beefier frontcourts in the Big East and Gorgui Dieng remains a raw offensive prospect who only gets his points off of second-chance opportunities at the rim. Hancock’s efficiency has improved since his lackluster start in the non-conference, but the slow-footed junior has resigned himself to a supporting role in the background of the offense.

Louisville’s three-game skid, suggestive of second-tier status, is no surprise. The Cardinals are exactly who we thought they were…or at least should have.

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Tags: Basketball Louisville Cardinals

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=902235075 Brian Simpson

    Imagine a Syracuse graduate being skeptical of any team not in orange. You’re bias is amazing. Louisville lost to your squad in a game that one missed pass made your game. And then proceeded to lose on 2 conference road games, one of which was against a team that beat your team as well. Then other loss was poor free throw shooting and a miraculous put back that spiderman himself would have been proud of rebounding. You’re overreaction to this three game losing streak is worse than your assessment of those critics who said Louisville would be a contender. Does Louisville have issues, of course they do. But they also have a hall of fame coach, which by the way was taught by your coach, and the ability to show an ability to get off the floor.

    • Evan, Busting Brackets

      “Imagine a Syracuse graduate being skeptical of any team not in orange. You’re bias is amazing.”

      That’s a weak ad hominem, Brian. “Bias” has nothing to do with it. Louisville’s lackluster play and overhyped roster does.

      Louisville dropped a home game to a vulnerable Syracuse team playing without its second-leading scorer. It was a game where SU’s point guard was a walking turnover machine and the team had absolutely no business coming away with a “W.”

      The loss to a subpar Villanova team was bad (Syracuse would know) while the one to Georgetown without Greg Whittington was near inexcusable.

      Exactly what makes this Louisville team any better than the one that dropped eight games in league play last year but got hot at the right time in March? Smith is a more assertive scorer and Siva is an improved shooter, but the frontcourt play hasn’t improved (offensively), Hancock has been a non-descript addition and the absences of Chris Smith and Kyle Kuric have been heartfelt.

      Give me a valid reason to believe this group is any different than last?

      • Chris O

        Experience, Less injuries compared to last year. Granted, I agree that they are not much better than last year, but they made the final four last year… you call it “got hot” Give ME a valid reason as to why this group couldn’t do that as well… and go further considering they won’t run into a juggernaut like UK was last year.

        • Evan, Busting Brackets

          Louisville last year barely made it out of the second round of the NCAAT. Calling them a Final Four team, while accurate, is an unfair snapshot of how good that squad really was. It was a decent team that caught some breaks (as most Final Four teams do to different extents) and played its best basketball at the end of the year. That level of play Louisville tapped in March, however, was NOT a strong indicator of how good the Cards would consistently be this season. Rather, it showed Louisville’s best-case scenario: how good the team can be when clicking on all cylinders.

          Louisville is viewed in a completely different light because of that tournament run. It artificially inflated their value. If they lose that back-and-forth game to New Mexico in the Round of 32, I’m not sure they start this season in the Top, never mind at #2.

          I will remember the mediocrity in conference play as much as the great tournament run to close out the year.

  • http://www.facebook.com/nburks Nathan Burks

    Go Cats!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=902235075 Brian Simpson

    Wow incredible showing by the orange today. I believe we beat Pitt without 2 of our players as well. Talk about subpar