For Louisville, It's Win First, Dance Later
Starting Tuesday night when Louisville (18-9, 9-5 Big East) plays host to No. 11-ranked Georgetown (18-7, 8-6) in the first of their final four regular season games that ultimately could decide whether the Cardinals are dancing in March.
After Georgetown, the Cards visit red-hot UConn Sunday and Marquette March 2 before playing their final home game in Freedom Hall March 6 against No. 4 Syracuse. Next season, the Cardinals will move into a state-of-the-art downtown arena after 54 years playing in Freedom Hall.
"We have two games left [in Freedom Hall] -- it's a very special arena that's seen a lot of great basketball – we certainly want to go out on the right foot as we're trying to win two of the next four games," Pitino said. "It's going to be a great challenge."
Pitino alluded to winning two of four because in mid-January Pitino said his club needed to close out the regular season by winning eight of their final 12 games to get to the NCAA tournament. So far the Cardinals are ahead of pace, having gone 6-2.
However, these final four won't be easy.
The Cardinals, who have played the nation's ninth-toughest schedule, will face the Hoyas and Huskies, who have played the nation's top two toughest schedules, and the Orange, with the nation's 14th toughest schedule.
"It's a fun stretch for our guys," Pitino said.
Louisville's resurgence has been keyed by a strong February. UL is 5-1 since Feb. 1, including a huge 66-60 upset at then No. 2 Syracuse on Valentine's Day. That victory, which ended a five-game losing streak to ranked teams, came three days after arguably their worst loss of the season -- a 74-55 blowout to a St. John's club that resides near the Big East basement.
The Cardinals' momentum continued last Wednesday by outlasting a Luke Harangody-less Notre Dame 91-89 in double overtime. All the Cardinals did in that one was rally from a seven-point deficit in the first overtime.
While the Cardinals are heating up down the stretch, the Hoyas are trying to snap out of a mini-funk. Georgetown has lost two consecutive games and three of its last five since thumping Duke 89-77 on Jan. 30.
"I think Georgetown will be very tough," Pitino said. "Look at what they did to Duke."
Louisville's biggest challenge will come from junior guard Austin Freeman, 10th in the league with a 17-point average. In league play, Freeman is averaging 19.6 points per game. Also UL will have to contend inside with sophomore center Greg Monroe (15.7 points, 9.4 rebounds).
The 6-foot-11 Monroe is the league's fourth-best rebounder.
"He's very good, a great passer and he has great moves in the post," Louisville forward Terrence Jennings said. "This year he's better in every phase of the game."
Pitino also knows stopping Monroe, who will enjoy a height advantage over Jennings and Samardo Samuels, must be a focal point for the Cardinals' defense.
"Monroe's gotten significantly better," Pitino said. "He's a great passer, runs well and he's a much more explosive scorer in the low post. He's very quick, a good rebounder."
Contact FanHouse senior writer Brett McMurphy at firstname.lastname@example.org