Time for Cards to live up to stats

Senior Russ Smith is posting career highs for 2-point accuracy, 3-point success and assist percentage. Cal Sport Media/AP Images

Up until Louisville's thrilling 58-57 win at Cincinnati last weekend, it seemed like I really hadn't heard much about the Cardinals this season. About Rick Pitino's views on social media, sure, but not so much about the team itself and its chances for defending its national title.

The win against the Bearcats, however, marked the beginning of a crucial phase in the Cards' somewhat back-loaded schedule. There's going to be a good deal of attention focused on Pitino's team from here on out, as Louisville is about to face three of its toughest American rivals in rapid succession. After a home game against Temple (ESPN2, 9 p.m. ET), the Cardinals will close the season with games at Memphis and Southern Methodist, as well as a home game against Connecticut. Win out and people will be talking up Louisville as a serious national championship contender. Again.

Pitino's men may indeed earn that "legitimate contender" label, but I'm not ready to award it just yet. Here's what I've seen from Louisville thus far -- the good, the puzzling and the just plain Russdiculous....

The Cardinals have preyed statistically on the weak and helpless

Louisville has absolutely destroyed teams from the bottom half of the American, recording a perfect 9-0 record and outscoring its overmatched rivals by nearly 0.4 points per possession. "Dominance" is too weak a term for such a performance. This is despotism.

Beating inferior teams is an important skill, and beating them soundly and not letting them hang around is especially valuable. Syracuse wishes it could have done as much at home against Boston College last week. But the question to be raised is whether the ability to thrash UCF or Rutgers really tells us anything about what we'll see from Louisville in the NCAA tournament.

I'm not sure it does. I suppose it's possible the Cardinals could see an opponent of, say, Houston's caliber in the brackets, but it's far more likely that Louisville will face much stronger teams. So forgive me if I'm somewhat more interested in what Pitino's squad has done against the good American teams: Cincinnati, Connecticut, Memphis and Southern Methodist.