The Big East Conference received the most bids in the 2013 NCAA Tournament (8), and we’re going through team-by-team previewing each one from the lowest seed to the highest.
Seed line: #1 in the Midwest Region
First opponent: #16 North Carolina A&T
Time of first game: Thursday, March 21 at 6:50 PM on TBS
Player to watch: Peyton Siva – The Big East Preseason Player of the Year had a rather mediocre regular season from a statistical standpoint. He also battled often with foul trouble, and put his teammates in some difficult situations when he was relegated to the bench. However, he stepped up in a big way during the Big East Tournament and reemerged as one of the better distributing point guards in the country. Look for the senior to carry over his elite-level play into the NCAA Tournament for one last ride.
What to know: The Cardinals were an obvious pick in the beginning of the season to be one of the favorites to win the national championship. It wasn’t a risky prediction as they were returning all significant players from last year’s Final Four squad and then some. And while Louisville hit a speed bump in the middle of the season and lost three games in a row, they regained traction, finished very strong, and look every bit like the national championship contender that most expected when the season began. Just like last year’s team, this team can defend. Actually, they are the best defense in the country when adjusted for efficiency as they cause the second most turnovers in the nation (27.6% of possessions) and their in-your-face style results in poor shooting from their opponents. It also doesn’t hurt to have a rim protector as daunting as Gorgui Dieng patrolling the paint for you. However, what makes them different from last year is their improvement on offense. They have gone from 103rd on an efficiency adjust basis last year to 15th this year. That is a significant leap and much of that has to be attributed to the huge season that Russ Smith has had.
Tournament prospects: When the bracket was revealed on Sunday night it was no surprise that Louisville was the #1 overall seed in the tournament. But that doesn’t mean they have the easiest path to Atlanta. I’d argue that of all the #1 seeds, they have the most difficult path. Duke at full power, which they are, makes them best #2, and the fact that Tom Izzo works magic in March; I’d declare Michigan St. the best #3. And while it was before the bracket was even revealed, St. Louis (a #4 seed) was becoming a trendy Final Four pick for some. So this is no easy road for the Cardinals. But with that said, it’s not easy for any team to win six straight games and declare themselves national champions. That’s why only one team each year gets to obtain that honor. But given that, one still has to view the Louisville Cardinals as the most complete team, which has a hall of fame coach, and already has the experience of a similar run last year. I like their chances.