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Reflections of a Season & National Championship

If someone had told me at the start of the 2012-13 season that the Louisville Cardinals would win the Sugar Bowl & the Men’s Basketball National Championship I would have made arrangements to travel to as many events as I possibly could.  Lucky for me, I did that anyway.  Since August 2012 I have personally attended 65 University of Louisville athletic contests, the Cardinals’ record during those events is 64-1  The lone loss was Louisville v. UConn Football, where the Cards lost in Overtime and Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater broke his wrist.  The Cards’ record with me in attendance is uncanny, but it has nothing to do with me.  If anything it just speaks to the level of success that is happening on Floyd Street during the 2012-13 season.  But there have been some weird quirks, several come from behind victories & overtimes have constructed some improbable finishes that when thinking back, actually begin to make me wonder if some magic isn’t truly at work.

For those 65 events I haven’t gotten on a single plane. I’ve driven 11,805 miles specifically for Cardinal Athletics this season. All of that travel hasn’t come without some really great stories; I’ve thrown beads off a New Orleans balcony with Chris Leak, I made Kate Upton laugh in the Georgia Dome, and picked up confetti off two logos in post-game. But it was all for UofL and our fans.  I’ve been to press conferences, squeezed into locker room interview sessions, and probably ruined a perfectly good computer.  I knew this season was going to be special, and for all of the miles, logistics, late nights, and sometimes total exhaustion it has been completely worth it.

A week ago today the University of Louisville won the National Championship.  Around 11:30 p.m. tonight, approximately when the game when final I’m going to be drinking some bourbon and remembering.  Where did this all start? Many of us were born this way, I never had a choice.  My first Cardinal game ever was February 28, 1982, I was 80 days old.  Louisville, of course, won that day against a Hank Raymonds led Marquette team 80-68. Many may question bringing an infant to a basketball game and sitting 3 rows from the Louisville bench, but I think for my parents it was just to get me an early start as a Cardinal.

As a child, I was able to stay up past my bedtime ONLY to watch Louisville Basketball or Football.  I had an old Black & White TV with rabbit ears from my grandfather and on game nights I stayed close to that TV constantly adjusting the antenna as the reception changed.  Downstairs I could hear my parents & their friends watching the game.  As I got older I joined them, Summer would become Fall, Fall would turn to Winter, and Winter came to Spring, Louisville athletics was always there.

I don’t remember Louisville’s 1986 title.  Being 4 years old at the time my conscious memory had not yet formed, I’m sure I was there with my mom & dad on March 31, 1986. I was probably banging a pot & pan given to me by my mother & father.  I envision my 4-year old self going to “town” making reckless noise and having absolutely no understanding of why I was being given permission to do something way out of the ordinary.  Who knew it would be this long?  Who knew that Denny Crum’s reign over College Basketball had reached its final peak that night?

Think of the faces and the moments since 1986. LaBradford Smith, Felton Spencer, Everick Sullivan, Cornelius Holden, James “Boo” Brewer, Dwayne Morton, Greg Minor, Cliff Rozier, DeJuan Wheat, Tick Rogers, Brian Kiser, Alvin Sims, Alex Sanders, Marques Maybin, Reece Gaines, Ellis Myles, Francisco Garcia, Taquan Dean, Larry O’Bannon, David Padgett, Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles…………….I could go on. I am only scratching the surface of Louisville basketball.

I think about all the late nights of early season Tournaments and watching games at midnight (or later) when the Cards would play in Hawai’i or Alaska.  All of the games I’ve been to at Freedom Hall arriving without tickets and finding them out front. Somehow I ended up in the stands on December 20, 2001 against Tennessee with upper level endzone seats, separated with from my dad and our family friend John Thomas, and when Reece Gaines hit his final 3-pointer Freedom Hall was the loudest I had ever heard it. Somehow that sound and excitement transported my body to the lower level.  To this day I have no idea how I left my seat or how I ended up down low but I high-fived Card fans out through the tunnel and into the Concourse.

A few years later, Freedom Hall would host its final Louisville Cardinal game and the noise that I once thought would never be be louder, suddenly was. The Cards annihilated the #1 Syracuse Orange in the final game of the legendary basketball venue. It would be the final chapter of one era of Cardinal Basketball, and usher in the start of another at the sparkling new KFC Yum! Center. Still a championship evaded.

We watched the Iraq invasion in 2003 at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Center between games of the NCAA Tournament.  In 2004 the Cards were eliminated by Thad Matta’s Xavier and 32 days later my good friend Matt French died in an auto accident.  I watched the 2005 Regional Final in Albuquerque at Matt’s parents house. The Cards didn’t start making their comeback against West Virginia until we moved Matt’s stuffed Cardinal Bird in front of the television. Magic. The next day I took a copy of the Courier-Journal to Matt’s grave, his excitement for Louisville’s 1st Final Four since 1986 would have been through the roof and death wasn’t going to stop me from sharing it with him. Many Spring Breaks ago our families decided on a curious destination……ATLANTA. Matt & I walked the same Peachtree Street that week as I did during this Final Four, the same Peachtree stretch of pavement that I celebrated on early Tuesday morning flooded with Card fans.. The significance of place & memory is not lost on me, before and after the game it was all I could think about.  I’d be lying if the anxiety of the moment didn’t get to me, my heart pounded, my eyes swelled, beating Michigan was more than just a game.

Coming out of the Georgia Dome Tuesday morning a genuine sense of euphoria carried me past the exhaustion of a season.  The Louisville Cardinals had won the National Championship. In Atlanta, Card fans were out in force. The bars & restaurants stayed open, the streets were blocked, even after going to sleep past 5:00 a.m. C-A-R-D-S chants would rouse me from my sleep from the hotel lobby/bar.  I’d raise my head and smile.  THIS IS OUR TIME.

Monday Night in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, the little boy in me that dreamed of playing basketball at the University of Louisville and later the adult that would just settle for a national title rejoiced.  I have no doubt that countless children with good parents stayed up way past their bedtime (hopefully not with black & white televisions with rabbit ear antennas).  From one generation to the next Cardinal Basketball lives on. I often doubted whether or not I would ever see my beloved Louisville Cardinals win a national championship.  That doubt is now replaced by a greater sense of pride that I already held for my school. For all of the games, all of the tickets, all of the late nights, sitting in ring road, all of the cold walks to the car after mid-winter’s night ballgame, this makes it all worthwhile.  It is finally here. We never changed who we are.  We’ve always been Cardinals, we’ve always been this way. And that says more about us than any trophy or banner.

Louisville First, Cards Forever.

Mark Blankenbaker

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Louisville Football Presents the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Spring game on Saturday at 1 p.m.

It’s been more than three months since the University of Louisville football team captured one of the biggest victories in school history with a win over the Florida Gators in the Sugar Bowl.

The Cardinals will complete spring practice on Friday before taking the field at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the Wendy’s Wonderful Kids Spring game on Saturday at 1 p.m.

“It’s been hard,” defensive tackle Brandon Dunn said of spring practice. “Everybody is competing and jobs are not settled. The young guys are learning from the veterans, and there is just a good vibe around the program.”

There is a different feeling around the program because it’s the most veteran team that head coach Charlie Strong has brought back in his four seasons.  Fifty-three letterwinners return for the Cardinals, including 19 starters.

“Practice has gone smoothly,” Dunn said. “The meeting rooms are solid. There aren’t a lot of mistakes being made. It’s just a veteran team. It’s a disciplined team. They know what to do and what not to do. It’s a workplace. Everyone is taped and braced for practice and you don’t have to find players.”

Lofty expectations are being placed on this team based on its 11-2 record from last year and the return of many key veterans and a few transfers who sat out last season.

“Coach Strong has told us we played a good game against Florida,” defensive tackle Roy Philon said. “But that’s behind us. We need to start back over and try to go further this season. When coach Strong tells us something we listen to him because we know it’s in our best interest. “

Spring ball isn’t as much of a grind for the players like fall camp. The Cardinals conducted 14 practices before taking the field on Saturday for the spring finale. While players have the opportunity to work on their individual skill-set without having to focus on their next opponent.

“Spring ball helps you perfect what you have to do in fall camp,” Philon said. “Spring is basically fundamentals and working on yourself. It’s working on yourself so you can be better during the season. The defensive line took a step forward from last season. The defensive line looks good out there.”

For just the third time this spring, the Cardinals will compete in front of their loyal fans at the spring game. The Cardinals are looking for a huge crowd on Saturday to surpass the 25,000 that attended the 2007 spring contest.

“It’s a good thing,” Philon said of the spring game. “I hope we get a big crowd out there to show their support.”

There are lots of activities surrounding the spring game, starting at 9:30 a.m. There will be live music in the Street Fest area with food, $1 beers and carnival rides for both children and adults. Tickets for rides will be sold per ride or an all-day pass can also be purchased.

Once the gates open at noon, $1 beers will be available only on the Norton Terrace, and concession stands will be open throughout the main concourse.

The NCAA champion men’s basketball team and national runner-up women’s basketball team will be honored at the spring game and fans will be able to take their picture with the championship trophy from 10 a.m. -12:30 p.m. in Street Fest.

The women’s basketball team will sign autographs in the main concourse once the gates open at noon.

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Conference Scorecard: Final Tally

B1G and Big East measured close in many ways, but the later round performance gives BigEast the nod.  A National Champion doesn’t hurt the cause either. The Big East started 3-5 in the RD of 64, but afterwards racked up a 10-2 record after that (one of the two losses delivered by a member conference when Cuse defeated Marquette).  Most metrics are razor-thin, except score, how so?  When the Big East took their upsets, it was early, and they had wins to offset the damage.  While B1G took upsets later, they had less wins to offset.  Meanwhile, the BigEast kept racking up wins (and upset wins) piling on the final margin.   It’s not perfect, but its equal.

  • Winner: Big East, with B1G as 1a.
  • Biggest Suprise:  Pac12 & A10 finished 3rd & 4th.
  • Biggest disappointment:  Big 12, whoa.

Big East Teams vs. Spots Available - by Round.

  • Bids: 8 for 12%
  • Rd32: 3 for 9% (drop)
  • Rd16: 3 for 19% (surge)
  • Rd8:  3 for 38% (mega surge)
  • Final Four: 2 for 50% (supa-mega-surge)
  • Final Game: 1 for 50%
  • Champion: 1 for 100%

Final Scorecard (points earned per round)

You get points for wins, bonus points for upset wins (uw), and bonus subtraction for upset losses (ul).  That point tally leads us to the most efficient tourney performance.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conference Score Cards – Raw Totals

  • W = win;  L = loss; W% = winning %
  • UW% = % of wins that were upset wins.;
  • UL% = % of losses were via being upset.
  • Upset = by seed.  Not Vegas.
  • Table below sorted by Win/bid
  • Added Win per Bid:  Shows the value of a conference bid.  If 1 made it, and won 3 rounds – their score is 3.0 (every bid, which in this case is only 1, got 3 wins each).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Results from this past Weekend (Final 4 & Champ Game)