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November 12, 2013

Lack of respect is real for Cardinals




Railing against being disrespected and screaming back at "Haters" and "Doubters" seems to be a popular pastime these days. I'm not normally a fan of it.

In most cases, any perceived disrespect isn't much of anything at all.

"They don't want you to succeed." "They want to bring us down."

Who is they? Name them, be specific. And why are you giving "them" power over your life, success or happiness?

For that reason, I really dislike the designation "they." It's a crutch. So many times it creates division where there shouldn't be any. Other times it gives power to a nameless, faceless faction that is supposedly against you. It's a shameless rallying tactic.

Coaches have been playing the disrespect card for years. And it almost always works (which incidentally is why coaches keep using it).

After Alabama, the No. 1 team in the country in every major poll, beat LSU Saturday, quarterback A.J. McCarron had a telling quote: "We've got a lot of people doubting us." Amazing.

But in the case of Louisville men's basketball - the disrespect is real.

Rick Pitino could fill his locker room with quotes from national media sources saying the Cardinals aren't the best team in college basketball. He could print out and enlarge the preseason rankings that show Louisville ranked below Kentucky and Michigan State and others.

In recent locker room interviews, we haven't heard a player admit to being upset by the fact that Louisville was not the No. 1 preseason team in the country, but we can't imagine it sits well with them.

The Cards returned more than 70 percent of their scoring from a national champion. Russ Smith, one of the best scorers in college basketball, returned for his senior season. And the Cardinals added a top-10 recruiting class that includes one of the best point guards not currently in the NBA in Chris Jones.

It would be one thing if Louisville was knocked off the preseason perch by Michigan State, a program that has had tremendous success and returns a veteran team with a load of talent.

But the Cardinals were replaced in the top spot by a crew of top-rated recruits at the University of Kentucky. These kids hadn't played a college game when the pollsters rated them better than the defending national champions.

If that doesn't fire up the players in Louisville's locker room, we may want to question their competitiveness.

And if they need more motivation, other preseason polls are even more ridiculously disrespectful. ESPN the magazine didn't have Louisville in its top five in the preseason breakdown.

Of the 20 experts who recently predicted their national champions on ESPN.com, guess how many picked Louisville?

ZERO.

Not Dick Vitale. Not Joe Lunardi. Not Bruce Pearl. Not Jay Williams. Not Jimmy Dykes. Definitely not Digger Phelps. Not Jay Bilas. Not Dana O'Neil. Not Fran Fraschilla. Not Jeff Goodman. Not Seth Greenberg. Not Andy Katz. Not even former ex-Courier-Journal writer C.L. Brown, who covered last season's Cards.

Ten of the 20 picked Kentucky, six picked Michigan State, two picked Duke and two Kansas.

Only seven of the 20 even picked the Cardinals to make it back to the Final Four.

CBS seems more reasonable, with most of its experts picking Louisville to return to the Final Four. They also have Russ Smith as the No. 4 player in the country.

But, none of its experts picked Louisville to repeat. And if we go looking deeper in the CBS preseason preview, there are other slights to be found in its Top 100 players in college basketball. Three Kentucky players are listed ahead of Montrezl Harrell, 38 players are ranked higher than Chane Behanan, and Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock isn't even in the Top 100.

I'm certainly not saying that Louisville is a lock to win another title or go to another Final Four. Anyone who has read my previous columns will understand I think there are significant challenges for this team.

BUT - if this team's players are looking to add some fuel to their competitive fires, the national media, especially ESPN, is giving them a heaping helping of rocket fuel.


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