Coach: Rick Pitino
Years at school: 11 (262-99)
Best NCAA Tournament finish: Final Four with Louisville (2012); National title at Kentucky (1996)
|Vital Info: No. 1 Louisville|
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Last season's record: 30-10 (lost to Kentucky in the Final Four)
Notable returnees from last season: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva, Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, Wayne Blackshear
Notable losses from last season: Kyle Kuric, Chris Smith, Jared Swopshire
Notable newcomers: Luke Hancock (George Mason), Montrezl Harrell
Projected starters: G: Peyton Siva; G: Luke Hancock F: Wayne Blackshear F: Chane Behanan C: Gorgui Dieng
Why this team will be good: Let's start with the fact that Pitino has most of his key pieces back from a team that clearly overachieved and put up a fight against Kentucky in the Final Four last season. The Cardinals have a senior point guard in Siva who looked like a different player the second half of last season. They have a rim protector, maybe as good of a defensive big man as there is in the country, in Dieng. They have a big, strong and powerful power forward in Behanan and also a scoring guard in Russ Smith who came come off the bench and put points on the board. Then let's go through what Pitino didn't have a year ago: A healthy Wayne Blackshear, who made his debut in February and was never the player that earned him a spot in the McDonald's All-American Game; Luke Hancock, a George Mason transfer who sat out last season and could start this year; and Kevin Ware, who was just too far behind after missing the first semester due to academics. This is a team that has talent, depth, balance, Final Four experience -- and a coach that knows how to manage it all.
Why this team might disappoint: The expectations are so high that anything shy of a Final Four appearance will be a major letdown. The question of late regarding Pitino's teams is whether they can remain healthy. Last season the Cardinals never truly had their full team and still managed to get to the final weekend. These guys have enough depth to withstand an injury, but it's still power in numbers. That's the greatest asset of this team. It's not as though Pitino has a seemingly endless supply of future NBA lottery picks on this team. In fact, he may not boast a single one. Another concern is whether or not this group can make enough shots from the perimeter. It's a mediocre shooting team -- at best. That could prove to be its undoing come March when teams play zone and dare Louisville to make shots from long distance.
Bottom line: The only other team out there that can match Louisville in terms of quality talent and depth is Indiana. Kentucky has more potential and pro talent, but Pitino has guys that already know the system and won't have an adjustment period. Louisville should be a fixture in the Top 10 all season long because it has a terrific leader in Siva, one of the best defensive players in the nation in Dieng, multiple wings with Hancock, Blackshear and Ware -- and then frontcourt talent and depth with Behanan and freshman Montrezl Harrell. Pitino can play the way he wants because this team has the athleticism and depth to bring it on the defensive end. The overall talent is down this year and while Louisville doesn't appear overly intimidating, the Cardinals could be favored in almost every game they play. There are few holes and a future Hall of Fame coach leading the way.
Quote from an opposing coach in the league: "They'll be tough because your two best players are unselfish and have come a long way. Siva is now one of the best point guards in the country and Dieng is a difference-maker on the defensive end. Those two guys have been in a lot of big games already -- and won't be flustered. Look for those other guys to fall into line -- and as long as they have good chemistry, they should be there at the end."