Another showdown with Michigan State in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.
The University of Louisville should never have lost to the Spartans during the 2009 meeting, not with two first-round draft choices. But that U of L team may have been way too confident coming off of a 103-64 drubbing of Arizona two days earlier. Remember Terrence Williams dancing on the sidelines? Edgar Sosa making faces at the TV audience?
T-Will as much as admitted on a telecast during an exhibition game in the Bahamas last summer that he and Rick Pitino had some issues going into the Elite 8 game against Michigan State, affecting preparations. Earl Clark, the other draft pick, was never a great ball handler, passer, shooter or dribbler. Edgar Sosa’s challenges were well-chronicled.
Ranked No. 1 at the end of the season, with the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Small wonder they were cocky. They had already arrived in their minds, a Final Four was inevitable.
Members of the current U of L basketball team, however, have had to grind it out, battle almost every minute of every game to get where it is. No great expectations despite a six-game winning streak. Paying attention to the coach, spending hours watching film, memorizing the scouting reports, taking no one lightly.
But the crucial difference is these U of L players are not living on their reputation. Rather, they are focused on improvement, recognizing they can get better. The improvement has been most obvious with players like Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng but even Russ Smith, though still unpredictable at times, is a much different player than he was in December.
Whether these factors will be enough to return the favor to Michigan State remains to be seen. One thing for certain, however, is that this UofL team will be in the game at the end, still trying to get better.