Commentary

New year, new Louisville

Updated: January 22, 2009, 1:30 PM ET
By Dick Vitale | ESPN.com

Down at Louisville, there were big-time expectations going into this season. Most experts had the Cardinals pegged in the top five in preseason polls, though Louisville did not get off to a great start.

Rick Pitino's squad ended December with an 8-3 record which included losses to Western Kentucky, Minnesota and UNLV. Well my friends, 2009 has been much better so far.

The Cardinals have put together a six-game win streak that included victories over No. 1 Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Villanova and Kentucky. Beating the Panthers, a tenacious defensive squad, had to please Pitino. Ricky P usually finds ways to win those big ones, and now Louisville is playing with a lot more confidence, with a stride in its step.

This club has responded in tough situations, pulling out close calls. Think about the Kentucky game, when Edgar Sosa pulled up and drained a trifecta to win the game. The victory over Villanova came in the closing seconds, and the Wildcats had several chances to pull it out but failed. The win over Notre Dame came in overtime.

Pitino has been doing this throughout his career. He is a masterful guy who is magical in big moments and big games. Pitino has motivated and inspired his players with the best of them. He gets the maximum out of his people.

Isn't that what coaching is all about? Finding the strengths and weaknesses of your personnel and taking advantage of the positives while hiding those deficiencies ... that is coaching in a nutshell.

Pitino has size inside with Earl Clark and Samardo Samuels. The diaper dandy Samuels has been up-and-down this season, but that is to be anticipated from a young kid. Samuels is very effective down low in the box and he has great potential. Clark is a versatile big man.

Louisville has been inconsistent shooting the rock from outside. Pitino has found a way to make up for that with the versatile play of Terrence Williams, who has been brilliant in big wins. He had 24 points, 16 rebounds and eight assists against the Irish. Williams also put up 20 big points vs Pittsburgh.

Why are the Cardinals back in the national championship picture? It starts with Pitino, a man who knows how to win.

The Big East is loaded, the strongest conference I have seen in my 30 years calling games at ESPN. Keep an eye on Louisville as it is playing the kind of basketball to contend in the rugged league.

Dick Vitale

College Basketball analyst
Dick Vitale, college basketball's top analyst and ambassador, joined ESPN during the 1979-80 season. His thorough knowledge of the game is brought forth in an enthusiastic, passionate style. Vitale also contributes columns to ESPN.com.