There was a point.
Northwestern State used hockey line changes to implement their style of play, but the starting five was really the dangerous portion of that lineup. A few of the players were worth 5.0 wins or more to the Demons. But they were replaced in the changes by players that could have sat on the bench and no one would have noticed given their performance in their time on the floor during the season.
Florida was the opposite. The drop from the top players on the team -- players like Kenny Boyton -- to the bottom of the main contributors wasn't that much. The value of the best players topped out at a little less than 4.0 wins, but the players contributing value went nine deep.
What if we said that Louisville was more like the Demons than Florida?
Ok, that is a little bit of a stretch, but the players contributing positive value to the Cardinals stop after you get through four of the top five and then add Montrezi Harrell. Now, three of the players who earn significant minutes after that -- Wayne Blackshear, Stephan Van Treese and Luke Hancock -- are just below that 0.0 threshold.
That isn't a bad thing. In fact, they are exactly what we called out in our look at the way that Wichita State uses its bench. They are role players, and there is nothing wrong with that. A look at the 33-5 record should tell you that.
But this does reveal something about this team that, based on the numbers, doesn't really have a weak spot. THey get the majority of their contributions from a few important players. Then Rick Pitino is able to fill in the blanks, and basically can choose the way he wants to do that.
Let's go back to those weaknesses for a moment. We said there were none.
When Louisville takes the floor, even single player who will see significant minutes will be at least a decent defender. Based on the DEF100 stat (points saved per 100 minutes), every single player in the rotation for Pitino will have a significant contribution on that end of the floor.
This is why the Cardinals have the most efficient defense in the country, led by Gorgui Dieng. It is amazing that the Cardinals lost just a single game while he was out of the lineup with an injury earlier this season -- the very first one against Duke, when the team was still adjusting to the loss. Based on our numbers he saves almost 21 points per 100 minutes. That is a significant number, and better than anything that Wichita State will put on the floor.
His defensive numbers are worth almost 40 percent of his value on the court, where he is also the most important player for the Cardinals. Based on the HW30 stat (normalizing a player's value over 30 games), he was worth 6.31 wins this season. Russ Smith was right behind at 6.13.
Taken as a combo, that is why Louisville is so effective. They have two players who are worth equal value to the team. There isn't just a single player you can take away from the Cardinals and hope to win. You have to find a way to shut them both down -- no small task since you would need a well-rounded defense, both inside and out... kind of like Wichita State owns.
Chane Behanan is next in the value line at 2.52 wins, and right there with him is Peyton Siva (2.05 HW30). Siva is the one to watch here, and to compare, let's consider last season's teams from North Carolina and Kentucky.
When Kendall Marshall went down for North Carolina, it took away a significant portion of the offense. HOOPWAR estimated that he was worth more than 5.0 wins to his team over the course of the season, and almost all of that came from his ability to distribute the ball. When he went down, there was no one close to him in terms of value that could replace him for the NCAA Tournament.
Then look at Kentucky, whose Marquis Teague was actually mostly just a role player on the team. He finished with a -0.44 HW30, making him basically the least important part of that short-rotation Wildcat squad. Losing him wouldn't have meant much to the team. They still could have found a way to get the ball to the right man.
Siva is right in the middle, one of those players really needed to get the ball where it must go, but could still take a shot -- and make it -- every now and then. You can't really marginalize him one way or the other, either closing the passing lanes, or just concentrating on his shot. He is a solid point.
And finally, there is Harrell who is another of the defensive specialists, and whose value mostly comes from that ability (and his offensive rebounding).
This is a team that has all the pieces and will be difficult for Wichita State to shut down because of its all-around ability. Having Hall and Ehimen Orukpe in the starting lineup should help to combat Dieng, and putting Tekele Cotton on Smith will help.
That might be enough to force the role players to play bigger roles, but that would deny the ability for Siva to have one of those games that you dread as an opponent. Or maybe Hancock -- whose value is derived almost 90 percent from his offense -- is brought into the lineup and then placed against a Demetric Williams, where he can survive on defense.
Too much for Wichita? Maybe, but if there was ever a team with the tenacity and experience to combat a team like the Cardinals, it would be the Shockers. They just have too much value distributed over the lineup (one reason why Florida might have been a tough opponent for Louisville) to not find a potential solution.