Playing in their 100th NCAA Tournament game this afternoon, the Louisville Cardinals make their 38th appearance in this, the 74th annual event against the Davidson Wildcats at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon.
One of nine Big East Conference teams to make the cut for the tourney Louisville, which is the fourth seed in the West Region, could have easily earned an at-large bid for the postseason event, but rather than taking that risk the Cardinals took care of business on their own. Even though Rick Pitino's team finished seventh in the regular-season standings, the squad delivered a 50-44 win over Cincinnati at Madison Square Garden in the conference tournament title game last Saturday. In 2009, the Cardinals also won the tourney crown and at that time was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament thanks to the effort.
The Cardinals are in the tournament for the sixth straight year and the ninth time in the last 11 campaigns, and at this stage only four other teams (Kentucky, North Carolina, UCLA and Kansas) have been here more often. Producing a record of 60-39 overall in the event, Louisville owns a pair of national titles from 1980 and 1986.
As for the Wildcats, the 13th seed in the region, they are making their 11th appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2008 when they posted three wins before being defeated. Robert McKillop, the all-time winningest coach at Davidson with 426 victories and the leader in Southern Conference wins with 246, was named the SoCon Coach of the Year for the eighth time as he guided this year's group to a record of 25-7 overall and 16-2 in league play.
Davidson won the SoCon's South Division again this year and then took care of any doubt as to the team's worthiness for the NCAA Tournament by dismissing Furman and Elon by double figures in the conference tourney and then slipping by Western Carolina in the title game, 93-91, in double overtime to earn the automatic bid.
As far as a series history is concerned, Louisville won the only previous encounter with Davidson by a score of 90-47 way back in 1959.
The winner of this meeting will head to the third round this weekend to challenge either Long Beach State or New Mexico for the right to advance.
While it isn't uncommon for the SoCon coaches to vote one way and the league's media to elect their own player of the year, this season saw a first as the Wildcats had De'Mon Brooks earn the award from the coaches and Jake Cohen pick up the trophy from the media. Both forwards clearly played well enough to earn the recognition, with Brooks pacing the program with 16.0 ppg and 6.3 rpg and Cohen accounting for 14.0 ppg, 6.0 rpg and 1.7 blocks per contest. Both are physical players who are not afraid of contact, Brooks and Cohen also combined for 70 blocked shots and 13 disqualifications. Beyond those two, the Wildcats balance their efforts with JP Kuhlman posting 11.1 ppg and 92 assists, followed by Nik Cochran and Chris Czerapowicz with 11.0 and 10.2 ppg, respectively, the former handing out a team-best 117 assists and the latter connecting on a team-high 64 three-pointers as the program generated a hefty 78.4 ppg in order to outscore the opposition by close to 11 ppg on average.
With his ups-and-downs throughout the regular season, Peyton Siva picked the right time to shine last week as he posted 13.8 points, 6.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists and 2.8 steals per game during his four outings in the Big East Conference Tournament, earning him most outstanding player honors in the event. With 5.5 assists per game over the course of his 33 appearances, Siva ranked fourth in the league in that department, was second on his own team in steals (60) and fourth in scoring (9.1 ppg) for the entire campaign. Leading the way on offense for coach Pitino's club is Kyle Kuric with 13.1 ppg, although his 33.7 percent accuracy behind the three-point line has been questionable to say the least. Then again, Kuric's rate of success is certainly better than Russ Smith (11.4 ppg) who made just 27.6 percent of his attempts from the outside. Chris Smith (10.0 ppg) tried to hold it together out on the perimeter at 39.5 percent, but the team as a whole still made just 31.1 percent from three-point range, en route to 68.8 ppg.