Here goes the University of Louisville again in the NCAA basketball tournament. Bruised and battered, but better for the experience.
The only dark cloud — and it’s an ominous one — is the omnipresence of Kentucky, an overwhelming pick to win the tournament. It’s not enough that UK is expected to win a ninth national championship, but the Wildcats begin their pursuit in our own KFC Yum! Center. At this very moment, there are probably 16,000 to 17,000 Wildcat fans on Main Street.
Let them have their fun. They’ve come a long way since losing in the first round to Robert Morris of the NIT two years ago. It’s a trip to the big city in Kentucky where everything doesn’t revolve around their inherited team. They will never change but this observer won’t share their pride or disappointment no matter where they finish.
While going overboard to compliment UK recently, Rick Pitino is more concerned about his own team and appears to be excited about the way the brackets shook out for UofL. He is loose and jovial outwardly, obviously wanting his players to be the same way.
“We’ve had enough practice for about three weeks of games, and our guys are definitely improving and looking forward to the opening of March Madness,” he said before departing for Seattle on Wednesday.
Louisville is positioned for some kind of run in the NCAA tournament, having compiled a 12-6 won-lost mark in probably the nation’s best basketball conference. Pitino had extra time to work on problems with the centers, and they should know what he’s trying to get them to do by now. He’s also spent more time on the challenge of attacking zone defenses and refining his own full-court press.
Out of the gate, there will be some improvement — especially if the light finally comes on for one or more of the big guys. Whether it will be maintained during the grind is the question.
As far as national expectations are concerned, there is little pressure on this team. But the players know what Rick Pitino expects from them, what every Louisville fans wants for them, and that’s what they should want that for themselves.
Let the run begin.