How will Louisville fare in the ACC tournament?

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By ANNIE MOORE
College Contributor Network

When the smoke cleared and Louisville was left without Chris Jones, facing three conference games, two against ranked opponents, many were counting the Cards out. Three games and two victories later, they are still here to play. The Cardinals traveled to Tallahassee, FL to take on Florida State, and played some of the most cohesive basketball game of this regular season go get a "W" in the last road game of the season. Louisville came home and dropped a game against Notre Dame before shocking everyone by defeating the No. 2 Virginia Cavaliers. Now the Cards have a double-bye in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and are playing some of the best basketball of the season.

In the game against the Seminoles, Louisville had a big offensive effort from more than just two players for the first time in a long time. While Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier both had solid outings for the Cards, their teammates stepped up to fill the void left by Jones for a complete team effort. Harrell had 16 points, while Rozier added 10, the duo also combined for seven rebounds.

But the big story was the younger players stepping up. True freshman and Louisville native Quentin Snider played 29 minutes and had 11 points for Louisville, while sophomore Anton Gill added 14 points making all five of his shots in the game. Wayne Blackshear also had a solid performance, leading the team with 18 points of his own. Everyone coming together to produce a much-needed road created what head coach Rick Pitino called "probably the best team performance of the season."

With that momentum behind them, the Cardinals returned home to face two talented opponents. First on the docket, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. The Notre Dame rivalry has grown into one of the most intense of Louisville's rivalries, and while Notre Dame lead for most of the game and won decisively, the game was an opportunity for more young Cardinals to get quality minutes, including Snider who had 30 minutes, with six points and five rebounds.

Just three days removed and still burning from the loss to the Irish, Louisville hosted Virginia on Senior Day at the KFC Yum! Center. Harrell and Blackshear were honored before the game, but it was another team member who was the star when the final buzzer sounded.

Louisville led much of the game, and led by as many as 14 points. But with 2.7 seconds left, Louisville was down by one point when Mangok Mathiang drew up a 15-footer. CardNation held its collective breath and watched as the unlikely shot swished through the hoop. The crowd erupted in joy and sheer shock, the basket was Mathiang's second since Jan. 31, and even Mathiang himself admitted he was surprised the shot fell.

After the surprising shot and a made Terry Rozier free throw, Louisville won 59-57, handing Virginia its first loss on the road this season, and only its second overall. And it handed Louisville the four seed in the ACC, and the double-bye in this week's tournament.

This team more than any Louisville team in recent memory has had its share of scandals, highs and lows on and off the court. And at many points during this season Louisville fans have had reason to be unsure about where this team would be when March rolled around. But despite the rocky path, this team, as many Pitino teams have, are playing some of their best basketball of the season in March.

Louisville now awaits Game 8 of the ACC tournament on Thursday at 2 p.m. Where it will play the winner of North Carolina and Boston College or Georgia Tech. With Montrezl Harrell at the helm and all of the moving pieces seeming to flow together, this team is in a great position to start the postseason.

Harrell is almost averaging a double-double, with 15.6 point and 9.6 rebounds per game.
Harrell is by far the team's best rebounder, while Terry Rozier leads the team with an average of 17 points per game.

All six of Louisville's losses this season were against conference opponents, four against teams currently in the AP Poll Top 25. Louisville's defense is one of the best in the country, averaging just 62.8 points allowed, including 29.3% opponent three-point shooting percentage.

Aside from the team 75 miles down I-64 from Louisville, the field seems pretty wide open heading into March. On Selection Sunday, Louisville will learn its road to the Final Four, but for now the team seems to be peaking at just the right time, ready for the conference tournament in its first season in the ACC.

Annie Moore is a junior at the University of Louisville majoring in Communications with a Sport Administration minor. She believes Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame. Follow her on
Twitter: @AnyMoreSports
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