LOUISVILLE — Some musings about beards and basketball…
It’s getting late in the regular season, and Louisville is still looking for its signature win.
In the latest Associated Press poll the 21-4 Cardinals are ranked 11th, and they’re a No. 6 seed in Joe Lunardi’s latest bracketology update.
Clearly Louisville has some work to do — like having fun and growing facial hair.
The Cardinals, coaching staff included, are not shaving as long as their winning streak, now at three games, continues.
“What we try to do in the dog days of February, we try to do things to have fun because people get tired,” Louisville coach Rick Pitino said Sunday after his team destroyed Rutgers 102-54. “I told the guys, look, let’s have some fun because February is a tough month.
“I’m just trying to do some things I’ve never done and have some fun. It really is about having fun, and I think we had it the last three years. I think it’s paid huge dividends. It gets guys to focus in, but we don’t know how long we’re going to go.”
The winning streak and beards should be safe for at least another game as the Cardinals host South Florida tonight at the KFC Yum! Center.
U of L defeated USF 86-47 Jan. 22 in Tampa, and a week ago the Bulls fell to No. 21 Connecticut 83-40.
That’s the thing about the American Athletic Conference, where the Cardinals find themselves for one season before heading to the ACC. The good teams are really good and the bad teams are, well, pretty bad.
Just to confuse the issue, South Florida and Temple both won at home against SMU, which has been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this season and is currently receiving votes.
The American has four teams — Cincinnati, Louisville, Memphis and Connecticut — ranked in the top 25.
Those four teams, along with SMU, all have winning records. The other five teams are all below .500.
Pitino said that doesn’t matter to his team.
“Our guys just nail their focus,” he said. “You know they really pay no attention to who they’re playing, they play hard. They play their butts off. They don’t look at the other team’s record, they don’t look at how the other team’s playing; they just focus on winning the game.”
That will come in handy in the next few games. After South Florida (12-14, 3-10), the Cardinals travel to Cincinnati Saturday to take on the Bearcats, ranked No. 7 with a 23-3 record. UC leads the conference with a 12-1 record, followed by Louisville at 10-2.
Among U of L’s last five games are trips to Memphis, ranked No. 22nd, and SMU.
Memphis and Cincinnati both beat Louisville at the Yum! Center in games where the Cardinals led late, and SMU (20-6) hasn’t lost a game at home.
“We had a very good chance of beating Memphis and Cincinnati and at the end we made some mistakes,” Pitino said. “They’re very good basketball teams. We think we’re a very good road team.
“We’re going to go into, like at Connecticut, the most hostile environments you’re going to see. We want that, we like that, so we’re very encouraged by that. We want to see it.”
That’s because Pitino’s been pleased with his team’s progress.
“We went through some tough times, losing Chane (Behanan) and expecting Kevin (Ware) to be back,” he said. “It’s like graduation midway through the season. You don’t like to lose players, but we kept our focus. We’re getting better defensively. I definitely like what I see. We’re getting better as a basketball team.”
A year ago David Levitch was playing for North Oldham, a team that played Frankfort and Franklin County.
Now a walk-on freshman at U of L, Levitch saw five minutes of action against Rutgers and finished with four points, one rebound and one assist.
“He’s going to be a very good basketball player,” Pitino said. “He’s got very good offensive skills. Now he’s weak and he can’t guard anybody, but offensively he’s very clever as a passer. He’s going to be a very good shooter as he gets stronger.
“He’s not a guy down the road, in his junior and senior seasons, who’s just going to be playing at the end of the game. He’s going to be every bit the player (senior reserve) Tim Henderson is. Everybody roots for him now at the end of the game, but as a junior and senior that will not be the case.”