The Cardinals have been the most impressive team in the NCAA tournament to date, and it’s all thanks to their defense. It’s simply been overwhelming, and it’s not like they are changing anything. Louisville is just doing what they do on a nightly basis. Russ Smith, Peyton Siva and Kevin Ware pressure their opponent’s back court. Luke Hancock and Chane Behanan pick off the errant passes that float out of the back court. Gorgui Dieng and Montrezl Harrell swat away anything that happens to make its way to the rim.
Louisville’s defense is streaky. Once they get one steal and a layup off of it, their confidence grows. It builds on itself and snowballs until opponents are seeing flashes of Smith and Siva when they close their eyes at night. You see, Louisville is not a great half court team. They are much better when they can score in transition. And when they do score, they are able to get right back into that press. It’s not fun to play against.
But they could also win: Michigan State
The Spartans actually matchup well with Duke on the interior. Derrick Nix is big enough that he won’t be overpowered by Mason Plumlee, which means that he’ll be able to guard Duke’s all-american center one-on-one in the post. That will make things difficult for the Blue Devils on the perimeter, as the Spartans will be able to matchup with them. The key to Michigan State making it out of the weekend, however, is going to be the health of Keith Appling’s shoulder. When he’s playing well, Michigan State is a much better team.
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Most Important Player: Point guards playing Louisville
It will be Dominic Artis and Jonathan Loyd on Friday night. On Sunday, it will either be Appling or Duke’s Quinn Cook and Tyler Thornton. You know what you’re getting when you do up against this Louisville team, but that doesn’t mean that it’s possible to prepare for. You just simply cannot replicate that kind of speed, quickness or defensive tenacity. Protect the ball and have a chance. Turn it over, and go the way of Colorado State.
Story line to watch: Rewind to the 2009 tournament. No. 1 overall seed and title favorite Louisville played No. 12 seed Arizona in the Sweet 16 and blew them out, advancing to take on Michigan State in the Elite 8. In Indianapolis. In the Midwest Region. Sound familiar? Well, Michigan State won that game. Can the Cardinals reverse their fortunes this time around?
2. Michigan State
And the winner is?: Louisville
Louisville is rolling right now, and unfortunately I just don’t see anyone in this region that has the back court play to handle the press. Oregon has turnover issues. Michigan State has turnover issues. In fact, I think that if Duke can get by the Spartans in the Sweet 16, they may actually have the best chance to take down Louisville; they’ve done it once already this season. But at the end of the day, Louisville is streaky, so you might as well ride the hot hand while it lasts.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.