*This is the third edition in a four-part series this week where we will have four writers arguing the national championship credentials for the only NCAA teams left in March Madness: Ohio State, Kansas, Kentucky and Louisville. First, it was Ohio State. Yesterday, we brought you Kansas. Today, it’s Louisville.*
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This might come across like a car salesman advising a buyer to take the bus instead, but I propose that it’s time we all stopped buying into the sports media creations called underachieving and overachieving.
Here’s what they really mean: Underachieving is when an athlete, coach or team performs worse than what the media experts predicted. Overachieving is when they perform better than what the experts predicted. And of course the inherently flawed foundation of the whole under/over concept is that we’re supposed to assume the media experts are, in fact, experts. It’s not much different than the stereotyping and prejudices we exercise in everyday life. If we say you’re bad, you’re bad. If you turn out to be good, it’s because you’re performing above your head â€“ a.k.a. overachieving â€“ not possibly because we were just wrong for saying you were bad.
My point is, don’t believe anything you read this week about Louisville being the overachievers of the Final Four. It’s simply not true.
The Cardinals are in New Orleans because they are one of the best four teams in college basketball right now â€“ or at least one of the four hottest teams. Louisville is not overachieving or underachieving; they are exactly where they belong. And by this time next week, they’ll prove it by winning the program’s third national championship.
Here’s how the Quick Red Machine will get it done:
BALANCE & OPTIONS
There are two ways to cast a basketball team whose marquee star is also its sixth-leading scorer. Either they’re a title threat because they’re deep and balanced, with more options in their weaponry than T.I. has in his basement … or they’re in trouble because they don’t have an identifiable go-to guy who can take over and win games by himself.
Junior point guard Peyton Siva is the star of the Cardinals. He’s the one on front of the media guide; the one whose name is mentioned first in pre-game shows and last in pre-game intros; the one who will be drawing Kemba Walker comparisons should he cut down the nets in New Orleans.
But Siva is averaging just 9.1 points per game, a number topped by five of his teammates â€“ including 6-11 center Gorgui Dieng (9.2 ppg), whose offensive game is so raw you can smell it from the cheap seats. Whereas the rest of the Final Four teams boast All-Americans and future lottery picks like Jared Sullinger, Anthony Davis and Thomas Robinson, Louisville is led by a 5-11 defense-first PG that didn’t even make the All-Big East team; whose name is still buried in the second round of most NBA mock drafts.
But the fact that Siva (5.6 apg) doesn’t drop 20 points a night is not an indictment of his talent, rather a testament to the depth of scorers UL coach Rick Pitino puts on the floor. During the team’s current eight-game win streak, six different players have led the Cardinals in scoring. There’s Dieng and Siva; there’s Kyle Kuric (12.7 ppg), the 6-4 shooter/slasher who would remind me of Chris Herren even if he wasn’t White; Chris Smith (9.7 ppg), who inherited the same get-buckets gene as his older brother, J.R. Smith of the Knicks; Russ Smith (11.6 ppg), unrelated to Chris or J.R. but whose explosive/erratic style is purely J.R.; Chane Behanan (9.5 ppg), the freshman power forward who has improved every game in this tournament.
There are multiple 20-point scorers on this team – there just isn’t anybody who scores 20 a game. So who gets the ball when Louisville is down by two and needs a crucial bucket? I don’t know. But neither does the opposing defense.