Louisville Basketball Preview
The Louisville Cardinals enters the 2013-14 basketball season ranked in the top 3 and as one of the favorites to win the national championship. If that happens, the Cards would be the first team to repeat as national champions since the 2007 Florida Gators and would be the smallest team to win the title in nearly 50 years.
Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino will have to replace two key starters from last seasons team, PG Peyton Siva and C Gorgui Dieng. Siva finished his career at U of L as arguably the Cards greatest point guard. His leadership and playmaking skills at both ends of the court will be missed. Dieng left early and was a first round pick in the NBA draft. His shot blocking ability and overall post presence will be greatly missed.
Another possible key loss is Chane Behanan who was recently indefinitely suspended from the team and kicked out of the players dorm. Pitino has said that his return for the schools second semester is possible but not probable. Behanan apparently got the message and has cleaned up his act as Pitino’s recent comments has Behanan as a “model citizen” and has said that the junior could be back in practice as early as November. His skills and experience in the post are greatly needed by this team.
Although the Cards lost two players they will add 5 new comers with JUCO PG Chris Jones leading the way. The 5′-10″ Jones is hyped by Pitino and the experts as the best JUCO player in decades but filling Sivas shoes will not be easy. He is a play maker with quickness and should prove to be a better shooter then Siva with a similar defensive aggressiveness. Terry Rozier can play both guard positions but will primarily back up Jones at the point. Rozier can create his own shot or find the open man. He is a good shooter who can rebound and has defensive skills as well. He originally committed to the Cards for last season but failed to qualify which opened up a rooster spot for Montrezl Harrell. He teamed up with newcomer Anton Gill at Hargraves last season and improved his game and is said to be the Cards best pro prospect. The two posted 50+ point games. The 6′-4″ Gill is a combo guard and likely will have trouble finding minutes in his back up role. He has a good shot and is relentless at both ends of the floor. Mangok Mathiang, or Mango for short, hopes to follow in Gorgui’s footsteps. At 6′-10″ he is the Cards tallest player. He is further along than Gorgui was as a freshman but well behind the junior that went pro. He runs the floor better, is a better scorer inside and has the potential to be the starting center as he develops. Akoy Agau may become a key ingredient to the Cards success if Behanan isn’t allowed back on the team. The 6′-8″ Agau was listed as the #13 center in his class.
While last years team was loaded with post players and thin at the guard positions this years team will be the opposite. With better shooters and more playmakers look for this team to be more athletic and to score more but the inexperience could cause a small drop off on defense. This team will be quicker and with the new rule changes starting this year they will be harder to guard and should find driving lanes to score or pass out to the open man often and with greater ease.
Guards- With the return of Russ Smith for his senior year and with Kevin Ware returning from his horrific broken leg suffered against Duke in the Elite 8, this will be the Cards strongest and deepest position. Smith is the Cards first Preseason All-American since Purvis Ellison in 1986. The Cards have multiple options at each spot and could play with a two PG lineup and occasionally a three or four guard lineup. With the additions of Rozier and Jones this group becomes more versatile and will probably mean less time for the Final Four hero Tim Henderson.
Small Forwards- Last year Final Four’s Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock will be back in the starting spot. If Wayne Blackshear can finally put his shoulder injuries behind him and play up to his potential it will be hard for Pitino to keep him in a back up role. Blackshear was the Mr. Basketball in his state over Kentucky’s phenom Anthony Davis. Both of these guys are also able to play the SG spot against taller lineups and Gill could see some time at this position.
Forwards/Centers- These positions could be what would keep the Cards from a repeat. With no suitable replacement to Dieng the Cards will need Mango to develop quickly. Montrezl Harrell is easily the Cards best forward without Behanan. Senior Stephan Van Treese will have to look to score more and will most likely start at center. Van Treese has been a good hustle player but he will have to play a more vital role, even with Behanan, for this team to excel this season. He will need to increase his scoring and rebounding while gaining confidence in his game. The Cards would like to finish close games with Harrell and Behanan on the floor together.
Starting Lineup- PG Chris Jones 5′-10″ JUCO, SG Russ Smith 6′ senior, SF Luke Hancock 6′-6″ senior, PF Montrezl Harrell 6′-8″ sophomore with a 7′-4″ wingspan, C Stephan Van Treese 6′-9″ senior.
Schedule- The Cards opened exhibition play with a 115-67 victory over Kentucky Wesleyan on 10-29 without the services of Kevin Ware and Luke Hancock. Hancock is recovering from an off season Achilles strain but both have recently begun practicing with the team. They will play another exhibition game on 11-6 against Pikeville before opening the season on 11-9 at home against College of Charleston. Other then a possible matchup with North Carolina on 11-24 in the Hall of Fame Tipoff and their game at Kentucky on 12-28 there doesn’t appear to be any real tests for the Cards before starting conference play, or void of any marquee names anyway. Other than the Hall of Fame Tipoff, they don’t leave the comforts of the Yum Center until 12-21 at Florida International.
Conference- Unlike in football, the American should be a major player in March Madness with at least four bids to the dance. The Cards are the preseason favorites to win the conference. They will open conference play on 12-31 versus UCF. Other key games will be against Memphis on 1-9, at UConn on 1-18, Cincinnati on 1-30, at Cincinnati on 2-22, at Memphis on 3-1 and UConn on 3-8 to end the regular season. SMU, Houston and Temple may also battle for an at large bid. This isn’t the Big East but at least everyone will play a balanced schedule and play everyone home and home.
The status of Behanan and how this team overcomes being undersized against their marquee opponents will determine if they can repeat. The schedule is set up for at least 25 wins and the potential is there for Louisville to crash their third straight Final Four. Anything can happen after that. The new rule changes this year to allow players more freedom of movement should benefit this team and their quick guards. The new rules will force defenders to guard with their feet and not their hands like last season. This will make defenders need quick foot work to stay out front. This will make Russ Smith virtually unguardable as he is arguably the quickest guard in the country.