What To Do Now?

It was an end that we probably should have all seen coming. The final game of one of the strangest college basketball seasons this area has ever experienced featured a team Louisville handled with ease three times knocking off the team that ended the Cardinals’ season to win the national championship.

Despite being unsuccessful in defending their title, UofL did manage to make history in 2013-14. The Cards’ 81-48 demolishing of Connecticut on Senior Day turned out to be the largest margin of defeat ever for a team that would go on to win a national title. If someone can figure out the proper wording, maybe that can go on a shirt.

Ultimately, Louisville was an appropriately mysterious microcosm for a college hoops season that was impossible to forget. The Cards blew away inferior opponents in a more dominant manner than any UofL team before them. Still, they struggled in crunch time in far too many of their few chances against quality opponents, a trend which ultimately led to what still feels like a premature undoing.

Despite the lingering feeling of unsatisfaction, solid memories were made in 2013-14. Russ Smith became the program’s first unanimous All-American since 1994, Louisville led the nation in margin of victory and the Cards captured regular season and tournament titles in their only season as a member of the American Athletic Conference.

Now comes the hard part for fans.

The period between the end of the Louisville basketball season and Derby has always been the strangest of the calendar year for me. For the first time in seven months there’s not a Cardinal football or basketball game to look forward to, and the readjustment to that life which you can hardly remember is … awkward. The best way I can describe it is as a mixture of sadness, relief and confusion.

There’s not much I would trade the thrill of March for, but I also have to admit that there’s a level of comfort that comes with this return to “normalcy” (whatever that is). Earlier this week I laid on the couch and watched “Armageddon” on FX. I didn’t have it on in the background to avoid feeling lonely while writing or editing, I wasn’t constantly refreshing Twitter to make sure I hadn’t missed any breaking news; I was just watching “Armageddon.”

Right now, it’s almost difficult to place anything that happened over the past month. There are oddities like the AAC Tournament feeling like a blur from sometime in 2010, while the Kentucky loss feels like it may as well have happened 48 hours ago. I don’t know. It’s weird. Sometimes all you can do is lie down and watch “Armageddon.”

There are certainly things to look forward to: Friday’s Spring Game ought to be an extremely good time, the Louisville baseball team appears capable of making it back to the NCAA Tournament and doing some serious damage there and then, of course, there will be the big recruiting stories and other madness that make the dead period the ultimate harbinger for long-lasting UofL sports memes.

There will also be proper time for reflection. Is this the end of one of the most memorable runs in Louisville history, or just the beginning of an extended period of success the likes of which the program has never seen before? It certainly feels as though we’re at a significant crossroads of sorts, a fact which will likely become the main topic of discussion until the Cards take the floor again in seven months.

Sixty years ago, Winston Churchill said that the problems of victory are more agreeable, but no less difficult, than those of defeat. I’m almost 100 percent sure he wasn’t talking about basketball or being a sports fan, but Churchill kind of had a way of saying things that could be applied to more than one walk of life.

A championship changes everything, there’s no way around it, and what happened almost exactly a year ago has changed immensely the expectations for the immediate future of Louisville basketball. Experiencing your first title (or first title in a significant period of time) is like this strange mixture of losing your virginity, falling in love for the first time and finding out the awful truth about Santa Claus. It’s new, it’s incredible and it’s necessary, but you realize pretty quickly that things are never going to be the way they were before. That’s an awareness that takes some time to understand and adjust to.

The demand is gone, but the expectations are raised. Relief is no longer a primary objective. Forever memories have taken up residence in our heads, but those additions have made the desire to gain new ones stronger than it ever was before. The most successful senior class in UofL history might be off to the professional world, but the freshly heightened standards of the Cardinal fan base are not going with them.

While the past five months, as always, have been an insane journey packed with a handful of unforgettable memories, I’m ready for the slow return of “normal life” and the start of the discussion of everything that is to come. And if it’s on, I’m probably going to watch “Deep Impact” tonight.

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune