Tradition Breeds Expectations

Wes Unseld, Junior Bridgeman, Allen Murphy, Wesley Cox, Jim Price, John Turner, Darrell Griffith, Dejuan Wheat, Reece Gaines, Francisco Garcia, Roger Burkman, Philip Bond, Jerry Eaves, Billy Thompson, Rodney McCray, Wiley Brown, Taquan Dean … This list could go on and on.griff.jpg

Names familiar to all knowledgeable University of Louisville basketball fans. Gone but far from forgotten, they have been instrumental in making U of L one of the most beloved and respected programs in college basketball. The skills of former U of L greats and the devotion of their fans have made Louisville the most profitable basketball program, according to Forbes Magazine.

You can bet all these former greats will be in front of their TVs Saturday, anticipating still another great moment in U of L history: Louisville vs. Georgetown for the Big East championship. They will be tense, keyed up, ready to go but there’styra.jpg nothing they will be able to do. You don’t want to be sitting next to any of them.

One can even imagine the ghosts of the late Charley Tyra and Derek Smith making the trip from basketball heaven for a game of this magnitude, hovering protectively over the Cardinals’ bench.

These and other U of L achievers established the foundation. But they’re history and they know it. They expect the current group of players to not only carry on the tradition but to set new expectations and exceed them.

Attendance Dip In Bandwagon City

Remember the days when a basketball game at Cincinnati was a great road trip, when University of Louisville fans made more noise in UC’s rotating venues than the home team? They may be returning soon, or at least until Mick Cronin returns the Bearcats to be in a more competitive mode. According to one UC blog, the Bearcats have seen their basketball attendance fall for the fourth straight season:

UC is averaging 8,477 fans per game this season, the lowest average in the 19 years the Bearcats have played in Fifth Third Arena and a 23.3 percent decline from the 11,059 that UC averaged in 2004-05, the last year that Bob Huggins was the head coach and the year in which the Bearcats made their most recent appearance in the NCAA Tournament. That figure is down four percent from last year’s 8,831, which was the previous low at Fifth Third.

“Am I concerned?,” said UC athletic director Mike Thomas. “No, I’m not. I’m actually excited about the future. I think what Mick and the kids have done this year, what the future looks like with the kids on board, the kids that are coming back and the kids that he has committed for next year, I think all arrows are pointed in the right direction.”

Interesting, the athletic director all but admits that fan loyalty hinges on the team’s up and downs. Obviously, lots of bandwagon jumpers in Cincinnati. The jumping off and on has been apparent in football for many years, where U of L fans actually outnumbered UC fans at some games.

JaJuan Spillman Making His Way Back

Great news for Card football fans: JaJuan Spillman and Coach Steve Kragthorpe have apparently reconciled. One of the fastest players to wear a U of L uniform, Spillman is on track to return. spill.jpeg

Kragthorpe had mentioned to a couple of people at the football signing party that Spillman was coming back, but few were counting on it. He confirmed it by penciling in JaJuan’s name on the 2008 roster, recently updated on the U of L web site.

JaJuan was largely written off by a lot of observers, including this one, last October when he was suspended for undisclosed reasons. Based on some of Krag’s other personnel decisions, this is significant, indicating that Spillman has taken the necessary steps to return to good standing.

Those who doubted Spillman will happily have egg on their faces. Players rarely ever make it back after such long sabbaticals. He had to have been taking care of business in the classroom, the weight room and in his personal life.

Way to go, JaJuan. Keep it up.

lville2.jpgAlso listed on the roster is Maurice Urrutia, the younger brother of Mario, whom we presume has recovered from the wounds he incurred in a shooting incident at a local nightspot two years ago. The 6-f00t-5 Maurice, whom his brother once described as a better player than he, is listed as a wide receiver. Mario left after his junior year, eyeing an NFL career. Maurice, by the way, has a very interesting My Space page.

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lville2.jpgLet’s hear it for the U of L Softball Team, defeating Kentucky 6-1 on their home field Wednesday in Lexington, snapping UK women’s seven-game winning streak. Love it when that happens.

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lville2.jpgThe Baseball Cards thumped Eastern Kentucky 13-5 Wednesday. Gabriel Shaw, the freshman pitcher? He pitched one inning, still not allowing a hit or base runner after 18 batters.

Lady Cards Draw St. John’s in Big East

Yeah, yeah, we know. The Big East Women’s Tournament will be another cakewalk for Connecticut and Rutgers. Nobody else presents a serious threat to the old guard. Yet.

Still, the Lady Cards, winners of eight of their last nine games, could possibly make some noise. They seemed to play with more poise and purpose during the last half of the season. Or were they just becoming more comfortable with Jeff Walz’ offensive schemes, his coaching style? Some would say it was because UConn and Rutgers had already had their way with the Cards.

All questions should be answered soon. Here are the tournament pairings, thanks to HoyaSaxa:

Saturday, March 8 – First Round (BETV & BIGEAST.tv)

Noon……………. No. 5 Pittsburgh vs. No. 12 Villanova

2 p.m…………… No. 8 Marquette vs. No. 9 DePaul

6 p.m…………… No. 7 Louisville vs. No. 10 St. John’s

8 p.m…………… No. 6 Syracuse vs. No. 11 USF

Sunday, March 9 – Quarterfinals (ESPNU)

Noon……………. No. 4 Notre Dame vs. No. 5/No. 12 winner

2 p.m…………… No. 1 Connecticut vs. No. 8/No. 9 winner

6 p.m…………… No. 2 Rutgers vs. No. 7/No. 10 winner

8 p.m…………… No. 3 West Virginia vs. No. 6/No. 11 winner

Monday, March 10 – Semifinals (ESPNU)

6 p.m…………… Quarterfinal afternoon winners

8 p.m…………… Quarterfinal evening winners

Tuesday, March 11 – Championship (ESPN2)

7 p.m…………… Championship game (semifinal winners)