After winning title, Louisville raises bar for 2014 in Bluegrass State

ATLANTA -- Within 30 minutes of the clock striking triple zero on Louisville 82-76 win over Michigan in Monday night’s championship game, the wheels already started turning for the Cardinals and their prospects for the 2013-14 season.

First, Las Vegas released its odds for next year’s champion. Of course, Kentucky had the best odds -- a decent step ahead of the other teams in line.

Thirty minutes later, Mike Rosenberg of Sports Illustrated sent out the following tweet about Russ Smith.

The definition of raining on a parade: a team’s biggest rival being anointed the favorite to cut down the nets next season, and its best player likely going pro.

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Louisville was among the preseason favorites back in October and November, and nearly a third of projections at the start of the NCAA tournament had them winning the national championship. The Cardinals were a dominant team over the last two months, winning 16 in a row to end the season.

Can that dominance carry over to next season?

“Why not?” center Gorgui Dieng said. “I’m going to pray that we can win it every year. Like UCLA did it, win nine years in a row.”

It obviously won’t be the same next season, since Kentucky is reloading in a major way and will once again be the main story in the Bluegrass State. But Louisville isn’t going to be too far behind, as the Cardinals bring back plenty of talent and also welcome some future studs.

Point guard Peyton Siva is gone, while Smith and Dieng are likely NBA-bound after their junior seasons. But Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear return as starters, and NCAA tournament hero Luke Hancock is also back. Montrezl Harrell has shown flashes of his potential, and Kevin Ware will hopefully be healthy by next season. Stephan Van Treese also gave good minutes in the tournament.

What has Louisville excited, though, is the incoming backcourt of Chris Jones and Terry Rozier. Both players big-time scoring point guards who are capable of lighting up a scoreboard on any given night. Anton Gill is a lefty scorer on the wing, as well. There will be no shortage of point producers on the Cardinals’ roster.

“Back-to-back. We’ve gotta get back to work,” Blackshear said. “We’re going to celebrate and have fun, but we know we’re going to have a big target on our back next year.”

With Kentucky as the favorite, though, that target might be smaller than expected. 

Kentucky in 2012, Louisville in 2013. Another title coming to Lexington or Louisville in 2014?

The bar has been raised. 

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