March 17, 2010

Cardiac Cards

How this wildly unpredictable Louisville team embodies the madness of the tournament

The allure of the NCAA Tournament does not lie in its predictability.

A year ago, when more of the top seeds advanced to the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight than ever before, the tournament was labeled as the “worst ever” by multiple members of the national media. Never mind that the best teams in the country were doing battle (read: playing basketball) on the sport’s biggest stage, when you brand something with the word “madness,” the expected is not going to suffice.

While Kansas and Kentucky figure to dominate the final spot on many a completed bracket this week, I dare you to find a team that has better exemplified the spirit of NCAA madness for the past 11 months than the Louisville Cardinals.

This time last year, U of L was entering the tournament as the No. 1 overall seed and the Big East regular season and tournament champion. They, predictably, rolled through the first three rounds of the Big Dance before being shocked in the Regional Finals by Tom Izzo and Michigan State.

Since that afternoon in Indianapolis, not much associated with the Louisville basketball program could be characterized as less-than-shocking.

An off-season scandal featuring a rich and powerful man stepping out on his wife? Seen and heard it a thousand times before. The details of Rick Pitino’s 2003 escapades (Google it) … madness.

Dealing Big East champion and No. 1 seed Syracuse half of its four losses this year? Impressive. The same team losing to the listless trio of Western Carolina, St. John’s and Charlotte by a combined 49 points … madness.

Role player Kyle Kuric averaging 4 points and 13 minutes per game? Pretty expected. The sophomore hitting four threes, dunking four times and scoring 22 second-half points in the last U of L game ever at Freedom Hall … madness.

Senior point guard Edgar Sosa averaging career-highs in points, assists, rebounds and minutes played? A nice success story and the product of some hard work and growing up. The fact that in just four years Sosa has hit monumental buzzer-beaters against Connecticut, Kentucky and West Virginia and missed potential game-winning shots against Cincinnati (twice), Texas A&M, Pittsburgh and Connecticut … madness.

Bob Valvano and Drew Deener calling early non-conference games? Soothing and enjoyable. The WHAS picture … madness.

Louisville’s frontcourt duo of Terrence Jennings and Samardo Samuels? One of the more physically imposing and naturally gifted pair of big men in the country. The fact that the Cardinals are one of the worst rebounding teams in the entire tournament … madness.

Jerry Smith enthusiastically swinging multiple towels on the bench, along with other over-the-top antics? Awesome. But also … madness.

Forward Jared Swopshire’s unpredictable outside shooting and ability to haul in rebounds? Maddening. His uncanny likeness to President Barack Obama … madness. The fact that his silky smooth skin remained unblemished after an on-court assault by Kentucky’s DeMarcus Cousins … madness — double helping.

Manhattan transfer Chris Smith’s name? Really boring. Manhattan transfer Chris Smith’s home game outfits … madness.

Winchester-native Preston Knowles’ tireless defensive ball-pressure? Tremendous and commendable. Knowles’ shot selection on the other end of the floor … madness.

The atmosphere inside Freedom Hall during the Cards’ final game there on March 6? The best I’ve ever experienced. The fact that the powers-that-be opted to skip the Dean’s Milk Junior Announcer segment … madness.

Having three straight January losses come by 5 points or less? Disheartening. Having the calls that went against you in the last minute of one of those losses be so egregious that two of the officials calling the game ended up being banned from the Big East Tournament … madness.

Mike Marra’s body art … madness.

Assistant coach Ralph Willard’s hair/salary … madness.

Going winless in games played after 9 p.m.? Perhaps the product of not getting enough sleep. Being 5-0 when trailing by between 5 and 9 points at halftime … madness, my friends, madness.

Now I’m not saying this team is poised to achieve anything great or even that you should be rooting for them. I’m just saying there isn’t a team in the NCAA Tournament that better embodies the nation’s attraction to it. Like Antonio Salieri in “Amadeus,” Louisville is “champion” when it comes to the madness.

You shouldn’t bet on them, you shouldn’t bet against them, but you should probably watch them.