Louisville junior guard Jerry Smith is majoring in communications, but he's proving to be pretty good at math.
Smith knows that, at least when it comes to college basketball tournaments, being No. 1 means you get to avoid No. 2 and No. 3 as long as possible.
For the fifth-ranked Cardinals (25-5), winning the Big East regular season title allows them to head to New York for this week's Big East tournament knowing they won't have to play second-seeded Pittsburgh or third-seeded Connecticut unless they reach the finals.
"I think Jerry's a very smart man," said coach Rick Pitino, laughing.
While Louisville beat then-No. 1 Pittsburgh in January, the Panthers have made a habit of ending Louisville's visit to Madison Square Garden early. Pittsburgh has knocked the Cardinals out of the conference tournament each of the last three years. Louisville is just 1-3 in the tournament since moving over from Conference USA in 2005.
Not that Pitino thinks a deep Big East run is necessary to bolster his team's hopes for a No. 1 seed when the NCAA tournament field is announced Sunday.
"We want to win, we want to win another championship," Pitino said. "But we just spent three months to win a championship. We're not going to beat ourselves up over three days."
Maybe, but making it to Saturday's final would certainly send a message that Louisville's 16-2 run through the Big East was no fluke.
While the Cardinals have been impressive, they haven't always been dominant. Louisville played its most difficult opponents at home and the majority of its road victories were squeakers, like the 62-59 win at West Virginia on Saturday.
Pitino points out there's plenty of both quality and quantity on Louisville's resume. Yet the three nonconference losses _ to Western Kentucky, UNLV and Minnesota _ mean the Cardinals likely have to win the Big East tournament to capture a No. 1 seed.
The only person who doesn't seem consumed by where the Cardinals stand nationally is Pitino.
"I don't think about it," he said. "I really don't. I think you've got to do it on the court and we've done it on the court. At halftime of the Wednesday night game (at the tournament) we're going to get a trophy that says 'Big East champions.'"
Whether the Cardinals get a tournament trophy to match their regular season title isn't at the top of Pitino's priority list. Louisville lost in the Big East quarterfinals last year and made it all the way to the regional finals before falling to North Carolina.
This year's team hopes to make at least one more step. The Cardinals might be versatile enough to do it. They've won games both fast and slow and what they've lacked in style points they make up for in efficiency. Louisville has won each of its last six games by six points or less. There could be plenty of those go to around over the next month.
"We no longer get frustrated by having to play a particular style," Pitino said. "When we see 'This is the way we have to win' then this is the way we have to win."
Though Pitino admits this year's team isn't as talented as his 1996 national championship squad at Kentucky, he doesn't see anybody else out there as the prohibitive favorite.
"The only time I ever thought about a championship was '96," Pitino said. "I felt that we had a dominating basketball team. I look out there right now and I don't see a team like ours out there."
Instead he sees teams a lot like the Cardinals: good ones that have yet to truly play great.
"I'm comfortable that we have the personnel to play (great)," he said.
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