After three straight wins, the axles on the UofL bandwagons are getting a workout as a steady stream of naysayers are jumping back aboard. During that late December/early January slide that saw the Cardinals lose 5 of 7 games, Louisville fans went from apoplectic to apathetic. Coach Rick Pitino’s fan base was eroding with the losses and his head scratch-inducing statements before and after games. Now, with three straight victories and 17 wins on the season, Cardinal fans are flocking back and here’s why they may not be in for heartbreak after all.
Since Pitino took over the Cardinals in the 2001-2002 season, his team has averaged around 5 wins in the month of February. Add to that 5 of the 8 games next month will be played at the KFC Yum! Center. Now we’re talking about a team that could possibly log 24 or 25 wins before heading into the NCAA Tournament.
After the loss to Providence, there was serious talk about this UofL team missing the NCAAs altogether. How bad was that 90-57 loss to the Friars? Not only did the Cardinals look like they had given up about halfway through the first half, but they also handed Providence it’s one and only Big East win so far this season.
Louisville got it together. Guard Peyton Siva, trying to come back from an ankle injury and a concussion, is starting to improve as he gets healthier. Guard Russ Smith, a graduate of the School of Shooting (with a Master’s Degree in Not Looking for an Open Man), is beginning to see assists are not such a bad thing (although he had 0 assists and went 4-11 from the field against Seton Hall). Plus, UofL’s leading scorer Kyle Kuric is back from an ankle injury.
That’s the positive. Now, for the reality: UofL has no real easy outs in February. On Saturday the 4th, Rutgers (12-10) comes to town. Rutgers upset Cincinnati 61-54 on the road. The Scarlet Knights also chalked up a win this month against Notre Dame, one of the surprise teams in the Big East.
The following Monday, UCONN (14-6) comes to town. The defending National Champions have lost 5 of their last 7 games and are in complete disarray (sound familiar?). Louisville swept the home and away regular season series with UCONN the last two years and maybe the Huskies are due for a regular season win over the Cardinals for the first time since February of 2009.
UofL has a stretch of three road games in 12 days (at West Virginia 15-8, at DePaul (11-9) and at Cincinnati (15-7)). The one home game in that span? Syracuse (22-1). They’re good.
The Cards wrap up the month with home games against Pitt (14-9), which started the season in the Top 10 but lost 8 straight games (including an 11-point decision against UofL). Then it’s South Florida (13-9), a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside a team that can’t score but has the league’s top defense.
If the Cardinals hear their name on Selection Sunday on March 11th, you can bet they will attribute it to a solid February.
Photo Courtesy: UofLSports.com