As expected UNC-Louisville set for a 9:05 PM ET tip on Saturday night….and we thought Thursday was a long day.
Watching Tennessee play Lousiville last night I was actually hoping UT would find a way to win that game since I think UNC would flat run the Vols right out of downtown Charlotte. As much as we talked about “ugly” basketball from WSU and teams in the Pac 10 or Big Ten because they play slow, Tennessee plays “ugly” basketball playing fast. It was playground ball and I lost count of the instances a Vols player went into the lane, got into the air, contorted his body around and did not know whether he was passing or shooting. In short, Tennessee is a poorly coached team and Chris Lofton has been ice cold for so long the UT trainer was checking his pulse during the timeout to make sure he was actually alive.
So it is Louisville which is playing some good basketball right now with their only major issue last night being turning the ball over 20 times versus a Tennessee team which is not know for playing great defense. Then again that not playing great defense part for the Vols showed up in the Cardinals shooting 52% from the floor. UL also outrebounded UT 42-24 pointing to an area that might give the Heels some trouble.
This game will be a rematch of the 1997 East Regional Final UNC won 97-74 which is a little deceiving. I recall UNC being up big and then allowing the then Denny Crum coached Cardinals to draw within one point before pushing it back out again and winning by 23. UNC owns a 2-1 record against Lousiville in the NCAA Tournament with the other win coming in the 1972 3rd place game at the Final Four. Louisville smoked the Heels in the 1986 Sweet Sixteen on their way to winning the national title and christening the Pervis Ellison era. And UNC is also 3-0 versus Rick Pitino all time and 1-0 versus him in the NCAA Tournament, the 1995 regional final win over Kentucky.
Also of interest is the fact this matchup should have been played back in late November. UNC and UL were both a part of the Las Vegas Invitational. At the time UNC was #1 and UL was #6 with the Heels playing Old Dominion and the Cardinals playing BYU. Louisville had been beset with injuries and lost to BYU who UNC beat the next night. After that the Cardinals went into a tailspin but then got healthy and here they are opposite UNC in the regional final.
The other storyline you will hear about in this game concernes UL center David Padgett who was a class of 2003 commit to Kansas and Roy Williams. Unfortunatelt for Padgett, Roy left for UNC and if I remember correctly Kansas refused to release him from his LOI. Padgett went to Kansas and did not do well under Bill Self so he transferred to Lousiville. Roy indicated earlier this week he did talk to Padgett about coming to UNC but it never worked out. I also think that move would have deepened some already nasty feelings between UNC and Kansas that cropped up from Roy’s departure.
It is funny how playing a “normal” team lowers the anxiety level a bit. Trepidation for this game is present but it is your standard “Elite Eight I want to go to the Final Four” jitters. Playing WSU the standard tension was present plus this daunting “their defense and tempo has destroyed whole cities before” fear sparked by the fact the media was hyping their defense and style as something UNC could not handle. Still, UNC needs to come out and play in the same way they have been playing. The Final Four is within reach, let’s hope they can grab it this time.