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    Photo courtesy University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Facebook Page
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    It’s conference tournament time, or as fans of the University of Louisville men’s basketball team have come to know it over the last few seasons, winning time.

    The Cardinals head into their first Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament having won their last three conference tourneys - the American Athletic last year and the Big East the two years prior to that - and riding a 10-game conference tourney winning streak. Traditionally, this is the time of year that Rick Pitino’s teams shine.

    If UofL is going to continue its conference tourney streak, though, it will likely have to do it against a potential murderer’s row of North Carolina, Virginia and Duke - three Top 20 teams. The fourth-seeded Cards (24-7), who are No. 13 in the USA Today Coaches Poll and No. 14 in the Associated Press Top 25 and received a double-bye in the tourney after finishing fourth in its inaugural season in the ACC, will play either fifth-seeded North Carolina (21-10), which is No. 19 in both national polls, or 12th-seeded Boston College (13-18) at 2 p.m. Thursday in the ACC quarterfinals. The game will be televised locally on WAVE-3.

    If they win they’ll play in the semifinals, likely against top-seeded Virginia (which is No. 3 in the AP and No. 4 in the USA Today polls) at 7 p.m. Friday night. The final, and a possible date with the No. 2 Blue Devils, will be at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night on ESPN.

    “We could possibly play North Carolina, Virginia and Duke if we were to be successful and get to the finals,” said Pitino, who is 18-2 with four titles in his past six conference tourneys. “That, in itself, really, really has got me very excited because that’s about as good as it gets. Not saying it’ll turn out that way, not saying we’ll get to the finals, but it could turn out (that way). That, to me, is about as entertaining and challenging as you could possibly face.

    “I think this competition, what we could potentially face, is incredible. The only thing I probably will not like - because I don’t know it - I have a funny feeling there will be more Carolina fans there than Louisville fans. (But), as you all know, we faced Syracuse in the finals of the Big East. That was 15,000 Syracuse fans and 1,500 Louisville fans. …. That’s saying if Carolina gets by Georgia Tech (or) Boston College. I’m not picking these games, by the way. So don’t read into that.”

    Truth be told, though, the Cards have been game-planning for the Tar Heels. If they face off it would be the third meeting between the two heavyweights after they split a pair of very exciting regular-season games. UNC won 72-71 Jan. 10 in Chapel Hill, N.C. then UofL won the rematch 78-68 in overtime Jan. 31 at the KFC Yum! Center.

    “If we guess wrong, we have no advantage. But we can now prepare for North Carolina. Or prepare for who we think is going to win the game,” Pitino said. “That’s not a big edge, but it is an edge. So that’s why those double-byes are really important.”

    And even though the Cards are a shoe-in for next week’s NCAA Tournament, the ACC tourney is still important to Pitino.

    “I love conference tournaments, not to be the opposite of (University of Kentucky coach) John (Calipari),” the UofL coach said. “I’ve always loved them because I love the competition. I think it prepares you for the NCAA. The more games you play, the more I like it. I just like it because you get more experience watching things, working on things. Yeah, it doesn’t really pertain to (NCAA) seeding but it’s another thing. I loved going to Madison Square Garden and playing in the Big East Tournament. I thought that was about as good as it gets. I looked forward to that, not as much as the NCAA Tournament, but near as much. Now I can’t speak for the ACC Tournament because I haven’t done it

    “(But my team), they know how badly I want to win this tournament. And how badly I wanted to win the last Big East Tournament, and how badly I wanted to win the second-to-last Big East Tournament. The team knows how much emphasis I put on this, and how much we want to win it.”

    Photo courtesy University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Facebook Page

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