IOWA CITY, Iowa (AP) Rick Pitino didn’t have to look far to find someone with a similar gripe.
Louisville’s Jeff Walz might the one coach in the country with a more legitimate complaint about his NCAA tournament placement than Pitino, whose Cardinal men were seeded fourth despite being ranked fifth in the country.
The Louisville women entered their NCAA tournament ranked fourth in the nation but as a No. 3 seed – and with a potential road game against host Iowa looming in the second round.
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The Cardinals (30-4) appear to have suffered the misfortune of playing in a conference with top-seeded Connecticut, the prohibitive favorite to win it all, and eight teams that failed to make the field.
But Walz, whose team opens its push for a second straight Final Four appearance on Sunday against 14th-seeded Idaho (25-8) in Iowa City, chose to poke fun at the Cardinals plight instead of bemoaning it.
After all, Louisville knows it’ll play a regional semifinal and final at home if it can make it that far.
”We’re just honored to be in the tournament. We lost three times to UConn. When the draw was about to be announced, we were just concerned if we’d be in it. When you lose four times, it’s tough sometimes,” Walz said.
The host Hawkeyes (26-8), who are seeded sixth, face Marist (27-6) in the nightcap.
Marist is in the NCAA tournament for the ninth year in a row and with its highest seed since 2010, when it beat Iowa State as a No. 10 seed. But the Red Foxes will face an Iowa team that has won six of its last seven games and has lost just twice all year against unranked opponents.
Here are five things to consider as the Cardinals, Vandals, Hawkeyes and Red Foxes prepare to compete for a trip to the Louisville Regional next weekend.
HIGH POWERED CARDINALS: Louisville reached the 30-win mark for just the second time in school history behind one of the nation’s most efficient offenses. The Cardinals average 78.9 points and shoot 45.5 percent from the field. Louisville isn’t the greatest free throw shooting team, ranking just 254th out of 343 teams at just 66.8 percent, but only six teams in the country can boast of a higher average margin of victory (19 points). The Cardinals have plenty of experience as well, having made it to the national title game as a No. 5 seed a year ago.
”Last year we got a taste of everything,” senior guard Tia Gibbs said. ”I think for all of us, whether it’s our last year or not as seniors, we want it back. We want to get there and actually win it this year.”
FLEET FOXES: Marist’s 1-4 start seems like years ago. The Red Foxes have won 26 of their last 28 games, including their ninth consecutive MAAC title, and they haven’t scored less than 70 points since the middle of last month. Marist has five starters averaging between 10.9 and 13.6 points – but all of Iowa’s starters average at least 12 points. The Red Foxes and Hawkeyes know defensively they must both we wary of every player on the floor.
”It’s very difficult. But I think we have the same threat. So I think it counters each other or negates each other, because they’re in the same boat with us,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said.
VANDAL-OUS: Count Idaho coach Jon Newlee among those who think the Cardinals are a No. 1-seeded team. That’s why he believes the Vandals are in a similar position to a year ago, when they were blasted by eventual champion UConn 105-37 in the first round as a No. 16 seed. But the Vandals have won eight in a row and took both the regular season and tournament titles in the WAC for the first time.
”I think we’ve done a better job of rebounding the basketball during our stretch, making better shot selection decisions. That was something that we struggled with earlier,” Newlee said.
WINNING SITE: Iowa City might just be the most entertaining site of the tournament’s opening rounds. The four teams playing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena have combined for 108 wins, the most of any of the 16 cities hosting first and second-round games.