If you are like me, and I know you are, you spent some of Monday night watching our brethren down I-64 play against Villanova in a game that the Cardinals just had to win….and didnt. For Rick Pitino and the Cards, the past eight games truly could not have gone worse. They are now 2-6 in conference play, which is horrible….but what is even worse is that they have no non-conference wins to speak of, thus making the only hard part of the schedule, the conference, all upon which they can be judged.
Over the last several years it has generally been accepted that the Cardinals are on the rise and that the state of Kentucky was going to have two consistent top 10 programs over the next decade. And by one account that has happened. There is no doubt that the Louisville basketball program is in an infinitely better place than it was when Rick Pitino arrived. The team at the end of the Denny Crum era had devolved into one without energy or enthusiasm and had been off the national radar for almost ten years. Pitino immediately brought credibility and lifted the program into a higher plane….recruiting improved, fan interest raised and Louisville was once again relevant.
And yes, they made the Final 4 last year, led by Francisco Garcia, a college player who was perpetually underrated on the national level. However, it hasnt been exactly what many thought. Louisville has not turned into a powerhouse on the level of what Rick created at Kentucky. Recruiting is very good…but it isnt through the roof. The Cards have won, but they havent had the buzz as in Lexington. Fans are excited, but the base at Louisville is not what it is in Lexington (which Rick genuinely mistakenly believed). To put succintly, Louisville just isnt quite as great as some may have thought.
So what is the state of the program? Well it is unclear. The best player Taquan Dean, graduates at the end of the season. However the case can be made that the team will be better off without him as his time in the game either at best, leads to a stagnant offense, or at worst leads to selfishness and the lack of team play. The team looks to have a legitimate college star in David Padgett, but Juan Diego Palacios (who has as good a college body as I have ever seen) is at least somewhat of a disappointment. With the team young, one could say the future looks bright….but how many players on the team truly show the potential to be college stars?”
So what is the future of UL basketball….the new Cardinal team with Pitino seems destined to be solid…they will contend every couple of years for the Big East, may make an occasional Final 4 and will likely have a shot at a title at some point. However, the Louisville fan base and Rick Pitino had to ahve something else in mind…mainly the creation of another potential dynasty in the Bluegrass state. While success is sure to reach the Cards in coming years, this year’s struggles have shown that what so many wanted….dominance….simply is not going to come.