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NCAA Tournament 2014: Don't cry for Louisville

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Yes, the Cardinals are criminally underseeded in the field of 68. There's still a good chance it won't matter.

SB Nation 2014 NCAA March Madness Coverage

Joe Murphy

Before we get into this, here are some quick facts about Louisville:

  • The Cardinals won a share of the AAC regular season title and won the postseason conference tournament.
  • OK, they didn't just win the AAC Tournament. They left behind a degree of destruction at the crime scene so total and complete that even the fingerprints were obliterated. The top of the AAC was very good this season, but Cardinals still won their three tournament games by a combined 100 points. 100! Poor Rutgers might never recover.
  • All five of Louisville's losses came to teams that reached the tournament. None of the teams that beat the Cardinals are ranked lower than eighth-seeded Memphis and Kentucky.
  • Per ESPN, Louisville has 19 wins by at least 20 points this season. No other team has more than 15 such wins.

Here's the thing: the announcement of the field of 68 in the NCAA Tournament is always going to leave someone feeling cold. The selection committee can spend days secluded in a dimly lit bunker sorting out RPI ratings and the strength of various schedules, but it's almost impossible to get everything right. The teams with the real beefs are the ones who get left out of the tournament altogether -- sorry, Larry Brown -- but the perceived over- and under-seeding of certain teams is still usually what happens to offend most people. It's nothing new, nor is it a particularly wrongheaded criticism, but it tends to obscure what really matters in March, and that's matchups.

the Cardinals' placement on the bracket is a bit jarring, but it won't determine whether or not Louisville can reach the Final Four.

It's why Louisville, a team whose ranking in the latest AP Poll (No. 5) is only one spot higher than its seeding in the Big Dance (No. 4), shouldn't feel like a victim. There's no denying that the Cardinals' placement on the bracket is a bit jarring, but it won't determine whether or not Louisville can reach the Final Four for the third straight year.

For as slighted as Cards fans probably felt when Louisville's name appeared on the four line, the outpouring of televised indignation from anyone with a basketball opinion had to make things a little better. Seth Davis barely recovered after an audible gasp to say it was the most shocking seeding he's ever seen in the NCAA Tournament. Jay Bilas looked into an ESPN camera and said Louisville's placement "boggles the mind." Dick Vitale was aghast, looking like someone insulted a family member.

If nothing else, Louisville's placement is something to talk about, because news coverage surrounding an event as big and as great as the NCAA Tournament is going to need things to talk about. It may even help the Cardinals, as they're now the rare case of a defending champion getting to use a lack of respect as motivation.

The thing is, no one denies that Louisville is really good, and that includes the committee that picked its placement:

"We look at the total resume, though," Wellman said. "And right now, I think if you ask anybody…Louisville is playing as well as anyone, and the committee certainly agrees with that. However, we look at the total body of work, and throughout the season in comparing everything they did from November through March, we feel that every time we scrubbed that seed…Louisville ended up right at the same place every time when we compared them with the people above them."

In reality, Louisville's seeding may end up working to its advantage. The Cards didn't end up in the same region as the behemoth that is Florida, the future NBA All-Star team in Kansas or Arizona's team of long, versatile and athletic lockdown defenders. The Midwest won't be easy skating because no region is, but certain metrics seem to believe it's the most manageable of any region. The Cardinals are going to be a popular pick to reach the Final Four once again even if the number next to their name isn't as small as it should be.

Manhattan is good, but few people are going to have the guts to take the Jaspers over the defending champs in the first round. It just isn't sensible. In the round of 32, Louisville will face either N.C. State, Xavier or fifth-seeded Saint Louis, and it wouldn't be a surprise if coach Rick Pitino would rather see the Billikens than one of the teams battling in the play-in game. The Cardinals would have such a marked advantage in athleticism over Saint Louis that it's hard to see them struggling much before the Sweet 16.

This is where it starts to get fun. Louisville would seem to be on a collision course with the undefeated No. 1 seed in the Midwest, Wichita State. Pitino knows them well, as his team clipped the Shockers 72-68 in the Final Four last year on its way to a championship. It's no guarantee Wichita State would even get past a potential matchup with Kentucky in the second round, but the Shockers have enough of an advantage in the backcourt to make up for what they lack up front. Louisville vs. Wichita State would be another incredible game, but the Cardinals have a monster in the middle the Shockers are going to have trouble slowing down. That's Montrezl Harrell.

Harrell was a role player as a freshman on last season's title team, but has been eating the opposition this year. Harrell has scored 19 or more points in six of his last eight games and is learning how to stay out of foul trouble. His presence very well might be the cold water of reality hitting the affable mid-major in the face. They don't have players like Montrezl Harrell in the Missouri Valley.

What's left would likely either be a rematch of last season's national title game with No. 2 Michigan or a meeting with third-seeded Duke. Michigan is very talented once again, but Mitch McGary's injury is going to make the matchup with Harrell difficult. Duke doesn't have a rim protector from stopping those kamikaze Russ Smith drives to the bucket, either. Wichita State, Duke and Michigan are all talented enough to knock off the Cardinals, but Louisville would be favored against any of them.

Louisville may be a No. 4 seed, but it still has a look of a national champion. No team has won the championship without an offense and a defense ranking in the top 25 of Ken Pom's efficiency standings, and six of the 11 years the eventual winner has placed in the top 10 on both sides of the ball. The Cardinals did it last season when they won the title with the No. 4 offense and No. 3 defense. This season, they have the No. 10 offense and No. 6 defense.

There's no bulletproof way of predicting March, but Louisville would seem to have everything it takes to get to Dallas. The Cardinals have experience, a legendary coach, a dynamic lead guard in Russ Smith, a beast on the inside in Harrell and a team that excels on both ends of the floor. Yes, Louisville is still a four seed. It probably won't matter.