INDIANAPOLIS — Three reasons why Louisville will beat Duke today in the Midwest Region final.
1. Louisville has improved since November. The two teams met in the finals of the Battle 4 Atlantis on November 24 in the Bahamas. Louisville was without center Gorgui Deing, who had just fractured a bone in his wrist. And yet the Cards played the Blue Devils down to the wire, losing 76-71.
At that point, Rick Pitino knew he had a very good team, but he still had several parts to incorporate into the mix. Luke Hancock was available after sitting out last season as a transfer. Montrezl Harrell was a green freshman new to campus after originally signing with Virginia Tech. Kevin Ware was caught in between off guard and point guard. Those three have improved to the point where there isn’t much drop-off when Pitino inserts them into game. Add Stephen Van Treese into the mix, as well.
A veteran team, Duke’s players knew their role in November. That’s why the Blue Devils were so good out of the gate, winning their first 15 games. They are still good, especially now that Ryan Kelly has returned from his foot injury. Louisville is better, however.
2. Louisville has the shooting eye. Pitino complained about his team’s lack of defensive effort against Oregon on Friday night, but the Cards continue to shoot the ball well in this tournament. They shot 57.4 percent against North Carolina A&T, 56.4 against Colorado State and 53.8 percent against Oregon.
Unlike some of Pitino’s earlier teams, this is not a proficient three-point shooting team. Instead, Louisville produces points in the paint. Early against Oregon, U of L had the upper hand in PIP by the a 20-2 count.
“Their guards lived in our paint,” said Mike Krzyzewski of the November matchup, “and they’ve lived in a lot of people’s paint over the year.”
3. Pitino owes Coach K. Not to harp on that 1992 Kentucky-Duke meeting, it being the epic game, but UK got its revenge in 1998 when Tubby Smith and the Cats rallied from 18 down to beat the Blue Devils in a regional final. Pitino never got his payback. Now is his chance.
In Philadelphia in 1992, Coach K had the better team. In Indianapolis in 2013, Pitino has the better club.
Photo by Chuck Liddy/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT