For the second straight year, the Big East Tournament champion is riding a tidal wave of momentum into the Elite Eight (and potentially beyond), Rick Pitino has his Cardinals following in the 2011 Connecticut Huskies' footsteps. The eventual national champion Huskies were above-average throughout the regular-season, but still finished ninth in the highly competitive Big East. This season, Louisville fared one-game better and claimed seventh place in the conference standings.
In 2010-11, UConn did many things well led by the scoring of point guard and eventual lottery pick Kemba Walker, which placed the Huskies in the top spot of a few of the nation's top offensive categories (possessions, field-goals attempted). The Huskies didn't shoot the ball particularly well and had to rely on their overachieving defensive efforts, ranking in the top 12 in field-goal percentage defense, total rebounds and blocked shots.
Like UConn, Pitino puts the ball in the hands of his undersized, yet electrifyingly quick junior point guard, Peyton Siva. He isn't an effective outside shooter by any means, shooting 40.3 percent from the floor and just 22.7 percent from behind the arc, but can take any team's best defender off the dribble with a vast array of advanced ball moves and blow by his man. He is a threat to finish in the lane with a floater or kick the ball out to streaky perimeter shooters like Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith and Russ Smith.
As a team, Louisville is very similar to that of the 2011 Huskies; the Cardinals are fourth in possessions, fourth in field-goals attempted and a similar mediocre shooting percentage. Defensively, Siva harasses opposing point guards with his speed and high-risk play in the passing lanes, while he relies on a frontline of Gorgui Dieng and Chane Behanan to serve as the intimidating back line. Dieng and the freshman Behanan combine for 16.5 rebounds per game, including 6 per on the offensive end. Dieng is certainly a force for coaches to game plan against in the paint- he averages 3.3 blocks per game, recording 123 blocks this season, third most in the country. The combination of this duo, plus other role players, leads the Cardinals to gathering the third most rebounds in all of college basketball this season, including the fifth most on the defensive side of the floor, where they often end opponents' possessions after just one shot.
Could Louisville's formula for success follow the same path that led UConn to the 2011 national championship? In three or less games, we will find out.