To be honest, they probably won't win. Even as a diehard fan, I can't sit here and say with a straight face that I actually think they'll win. There are far too many things working against them, or have been working against them all year long. Right off the top, Louisville is missing 4 potentially key pieces, players that could have made a huge difference this year. Two big guards, Memphis 6'5 transfer Robert Sallie (who averaged 10.5pts last season) and top 50 recruit Justin Coleman (also 6'5) failed to join the club due to academic restraints. Top returning rebounder Jared Swopshire had a sports hernia injury in the summer that he was supposed to recover from in December. He never came back, and is out for the year. Next in line to fill in for Swopshire was last year's top recruit Rakeem Buckles, and he did an admirable job, unitl he too got injured. Buckles has been injured most of the year, and will also not be participating in the tournament. So there you have it: two top rebounders and two potentially influential big guards that basically never played for the team this year. Instead, its been a bunch of guys that no one really expected to play much this year that have picked up the slack. Guys like Gorgui Dieng, Chris Smith, and Stephen Van Treese have all gotten the job done off the bench, and all the guards have stepped up their defense game to help out on the boards. It's required an effort level that most players on other teams would not have been willing to give, but that's what makes this Louisville squad special. Despite their obvious lack of talent and size, they've overcome the odds all year long. So can they keep it going? Well let's just say a whole lot has to go right. Here's how I think it's possible:
1.) Peyton Siva and Preston Knowles must stay out of foul trouble
Everything on offense flows from these two players. The Cards are a team that live and die by the three, and not many teams have players who can dribble, drive and kick as well as these two guys can. If both Knowles and Siva can avoid fouls early, they will be in good shape against anyone, even Kansas. The problem that they face is that most of their fouls occur while implementing Pitino's frenetic defense. Pitino tries to get opposing offenses to speed up their dribble which causes turnovers, but on the negative side it results in a lot of blocking, and other ticky-tack fouls. It will be up to Siva and Knowles to put the pressure on all game, without taking needless fouls. Against the best guards in the country, this will require defensive gems from both of them, and I think they're capable of doing it, especially Knowles who's in his last year.
2.) Terrence Jennings must play defense and rebound
Simply put, Jennings needs to be a monster in the paint area. Nobody else has the talent or size inside to make a difference on the boards, with the exception of Dieng's blocking prowess. Jennings has been improving all year long so i think he's up for the challenge, but there will be little room for error against the Kansas's and Ohio State's of the world.
3.) The three-point shooters must continue to be good
I wouldn't even be talking about the Cards right now if it wasn't for their prowess behind the arc this year. What makes the Cards so dangerous is that they have so many guys who can shoot the 3 well. Smith, Kuric, Knowles and Marra have all been lights out at different times during the year.
4.) Controlling the pace
Louisville is a team that has made a name for itself all year long by putting up points in spurts, and the only way to do that is to turn the game into a track meet. The vast majority of the games they lost this year were played at a snail pace. Upping the tempo will have to be their goal in every game, no matter who they play.
If all four of these criteria are met, Louisville will either win or barely lose against anyone in the country. You have my word on it. The amount of effort it requires, physically and psychologically, is enormous, but if there was a team to do it, it would be this Pitino-coached team. He's said himself that he's never had a team play as a whole as much as this squad, and for a guy who has 5 final fours and a national championship under his belt, that's saying a lot. We'll find out soon enough if all that hard work will amount to anything. Either way, they've already accomplished much more than anyone, including themselves could have ever imagined.