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The Dagger

Louisville in jeopardy of falling out of contention in Big East as losing streak hits three

Otto Porter and Georgetown upset Louisville (USA Today Sports Images)

The first loss to top-five Syracuse was forgivable. The second loss to previously struggling Villanova was a bit more alarming.

And now that Louisville has fallen for a third straight game, this time 53-51 at Georgetown on Saturday, the level of uneasiness over the Cardinals' midseason slump is gradually rising toward full-fledged concern.

A Louisville team seemingly streaking toward a Big East title and a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament barely over a week ago now no longer appears certain of attaining either goal. At 16-4 overall, 4-3 in the Big East, the Cardinals are in a seven-way tie for third in the Big East and will surely drop out of the top 10 for the first time this season when the new AP Top 25 poll is released Monday.

There's ample time for Louisville to recover, but the Cardinals have to regain the identity they forged the first two months of the season.

Up until this recent skid, Louisville was a defensive juggernaut with a surprisingly effective offense that overcame erratic outside shooting by scoring off its defense in transition or thanks to the creativity of Russ Smith and Peyton Siva off the dribble. In the last three games, however, the Cardinals have been less dominant on defense and downright ineffective on offense.

They shot 40.9 percent from the floor against Syracuse and got nobody in double figures besides Smith. They shot 39.7 percent against Villanova, dragged down by Smith's anemic 2 of 13 shooting. And they saved their worst for last against Georgetown, sinking just 34.8 percent of their shots.

A foul-plagued Siva had one of his worst games of the season, going scoreless and tallying three turnovers. Wayne Blackshear missed all five of his 3-point shots and went 1 of 9 from the floor. Smith, coming off the bench for the first time all season, lacked the borderline reckless aggressiveness that has made him an All-American candidate this season, scoring a quiet 12 points on 4 of 9 shooting.

Improved defense kept Louisville in this game, but Georgetown made defensive stops when it mattered to seal the victory. The Cardinals did not score a field goal the final four minutes and Siva and Smith both missed contested potential go-ahead jump shots in the final 40 seconds.

What's especially worrisome for Louisville is the schedule doesn't get much easier in the coming weeks. Home games against Pittsburgh and Marquette await next week, with road games against improving Rutgers and Notre Dame to come the week after.

That makes the challenge facing Louisville simple: Either emerge from this slump in a hurry, or watch a league title and a favorable NCAA tournament seed slip away.

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