Another of the preseason favorites in the Big East. I think they're my pick to win the conference regular season (which doesn't necessarily imply that I think they are its best team). There's a lot going on with this team, what with departing players and new faces, a bit of a fiasco wth one now infamous Caracter, and a coach who is ideal to lead a situation like that. Below is my breakdown of why I think they're so good, and what I think their upper and lower limits are.
27-9 Overall, 14-4 Big East (2nd)
Eliminated in Big East tournament second round by eventual champion Pittsburgh
Elite Eight, lost to North Carolina
Derrick Caracter F
Earl Clark G/F
Terrance Farley C
Preston Knowles G
Andre McGee G
Stuart Miller G
David Padgett F/C
Juan Palacious F
Will Scott G
Jerry Smith G
Edgar Sosa G
Lee Steiden F
Terrence Williams F
Caracter, Farley, Miller, Padgett, Palacious, Scott
Teams that make the Elite Eight and lose six players tend not to return there, but some see Caracter's leaving as a blessing. Padgett and Palacious open a hole, but it looks like they have an answer to that. I have to add, though, that the Cards struggled when those two were injured and out of the lineup.
Reginald Delk G (transfer from Mississippi State) He is being lost in the shuffle, with the impressive recruiting class below grabbing a lot of headlines and the returning stars taking the others. I think his impact will be felt, though, because he adds another option in the backcourt. This isn't a team that lives and dies by its guard play, but they can mix it up back there and Delk makes it that much easier.
George Goode F (redshirt)
Terrence Jennings F
Kyle Kuric G
Samardo Samuels F
Jared Swopshire F
So, this team goes from Padgett, Palacious, and Caracter up front to Samuels, Swopshire, and Jennings (perhaps Goode). They lose a lot up front, but Samuels is the best athlete on that list. His showing in the Red vs. White scrimmage tells me that he will step right in. Swopshire and Jennings may need more time, but may prove to be an improvement over their predecessors by season's end. Ateam that was dominant in the paint last year and lost the whole crew might actually be better in the paint by this March. I'm five teams into my previews, and so far only DePaul has a less than stellar recruiting class. Wow.
Nonconference Games: Morehead State, Western Kentucky, Indiana State, Ohio, Lamar, Austin Peay, Mississippi, Minnesota, UAB, UNLV, Kentucky
This to me is the (almost) perfect nonconference slate. It starts easy, then ramps up as the Big East games approach. My only criticism is that it could use a truly dominant opponent (which MAYBE UNLV is). The Cards could realistically sweep this, and it isn't completely filled with cupcakes.
Two Time Opponents: Notre Dame, South Florida, West Virginia
This is a sampling of the Big East: one of the frontrunners, a second-tier team, and a bottom feeder. Very fair.
Remaining Roadies: Villanova, Rutgers, Syracuse, St. John's, Cincinnati, Georgetown
They avoid traveling to some of the more difficult arenas. Their two toughest road games may be against teams they also get at home (ND, WVU).
Home Games: Pittsburgh, Connecticut, DePaul, Providence, Marquette, Seton Hall
There are four teams in the BE making most preseason top tens...Louisville is one and they host the other three. They DO also go to South Bend, but I think they have the most favorable BE schedule of the four favorites.
Best Case Scenario:
The new frontcourt steps in and dominates much like the old from day 1. Sosa, Smith, Clark, and Delk spread out the scoring out of the backcourt and rotate the hot hand. They cruise through the early season, notching big wins over UNLV and Kentucky. They manage to get Pitt and UConn in the early going, and split with Notre Dame...powering them to a regular season Big East crown. They get at least to the semifinals of the conference tournament, earning them a 1 or 2 seed. In the NCAAs, they avenge last year's loss to North Carolina on their way to a Final Four or perhaps even a national title.
Worst Case Scenario:
They have a little trouble figuring out who is who up front, apart from Samuels. The guards distribute the ball well, but no one averages better than 10 or 11 a game. They lose their last two nonconference games, and limp into Big East play on a losing streak. They right the ship against South Florida, but then get upset at Villanova and lose at home to Notre Dame and Pittsburgh. Things go better later, but the three early Big East losses are enough to keep them from the title discussion and they finish in the 5-7 range in the conference. They win themselves into the quarterfinals in the BE tourney, but can't beat the team they face there. In the NCAA tournament they outplay their seed, but fail to get past the Sweet Sixteen.
I think Louisville has the inside track to the Big East regular season crown, as stated above. The reasons are that they return a lot of talent, supplement it with perhaps the Big East's best freshman, and have the "easiest" conference schedule of the frontrunners. Even if they don't win, they should be in the hunt. I suspect that one of the other talented teams will keep them from sweeping both BE titles, but they could end up with a number one seed easily, because winning the Be will carry a lot of weight. They are legit as a title contender. Now on to my concerns. They have a TON of talent up front, and Samardo Samuels should step right in...but the other guys might not be ready so immediately. I'm not in love with any one of their guards, though they are very deep at the position. I don't think there's a lot of dropoff from Clark and Sosa to Smith and Delk, and even Kurik could get into the mix. I don't really think they have an elite outside shooter though. The biggest criticism of the Cards is that they are young in their strength (in the paint) and that all their experience is in the backcourt, which isn't where the bulk of their talent lies.