#6 Louisville Men's Basketball Preview

Louisville Cardinals

Overall Rank: #6
Conference Rank: #2 Big East
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2010-11: 25-10, 12-6
2010-11 postseason: NCAA
Coach: Rick Pitino (245-96 at Louisville, 597-229 overall)

Last year was supposed to be a stepping stone to this season. Outside of an early exit in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville exceeded expectations by tallying 25 wins and placing third in the Big East. And this year’s team is still young, with just two seniors on the roster in Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith. Kuric is a 6-4 wing who emerged as a great shooter last season. He connected on 44.9 percent of his attempts from long range. He will even occasionally attack the basket, but his number one job is to knock down long balls. Smith should be starting by Kuric’s side after earning 20 starts as a junior. Smith is another solid shooter, but he can also run the point when necessary.

Who’s Out:
Louisville may have been building for 2011-2012 and beyond, but that does not mean everybody is back. Preston Knowles led the team in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game and was easily the most dynamic scorer on the squad. Knowles could knock down three-pointers with consistency and attack the basket. He even did a great job as a secondary ball handler and did plenty of work on the defensive end. Terrence Jennings is also gone after averaging 9.6 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Jennings length and rebounding will be missed on both ends of the floor. George Goode is also gone after seeing limited action last season.

Who’s In:
Coach Rick Pitino always brings in talent, but the season ending injury to the highly regarded wing Wayne Blackshear does hurt a little bit. Blackshear would have immediately brought another dimension to the backcourt’s scoring prowess, but it will have to wait another year. The perimeter does add Mark Jackson, Jr., but it is in the frontcourt where Louisville needs bodies. Chane Behanan is ready to contribute right away. The 6-6, 245 pound freshman is strong enough to battle with just about any opposing forward in the Big East. He can step outside and shoot, but he will do most of his damage in the paint. Angel Nunez is an athletic forward who is the typical lanky forward that Louisville likes. Zach Price is the traditional center of the bunch, but he needs to gain strength and develop some moves in the paint before he will make a huge impact.

Who to Watch:
The Cardinals will need the newcomers in the frontcourt to make an immediate impact due to a rash of injuries. Rakeem Buckles tore his ACL late last season and will miss some time this season as well. The 6-7 junior was not a huge scoring threat last season, but he can shoot and has enough moves inside. More importantly, Buckles is a fine rebounder and with Jennings gone, Louisville needs Buckles to be active on the glass once he returns. Stephan Van Treese did not practice all fall because of an injury. Van Treese started a dozen games last year and proved to be a capable rebounder. Jared Swopshire missed all of last season with a groin injury and has yet to return to his old form when he was a starter back in 2009-2010. Back then the 6-8 forward was very productive, but it still remains to be seen if he can get back to his old ways. Gorgui Dieng is healthy and ready to emerge as a major player for Louisville. As a freshman last season the 6-11 center averaged 5.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.9 blocks. Dieng has already proven to be a great shot blocker and a quality rebounder, but his offensive game is coming around and he should be a great interior player for Coach Pitino.

Final Projection:
Peyton Siva is the guy who makes this team go. The point guard was the only player to start all 35 games last year. Siva will look to pass first, but he can score and averaged 9.9 points per game last season. Siva is not much of a shooter and that makes it difficult for him to get open looks closer to the basket, but as long as everybody else is scoring, Siva just needs to set them up. On the other end of the floor Siva will again spearhead the defensive effort. Mike Marra and Elisha Justice will provide some experienced depth on the perimeter. But it is in the frontcourt where Louisville’s season will be made. On paper this squad has a ton of depth, but injuries have derailed that depth for now. If players like Buckles and Swopshire cannot return as productive players, this Cardinals squad suddenly becomes very young in the frontcourt. The newcomers will gain experience while the returning players recover and that could be a very good thing come March when Louisville will be able to use their depth and pressure defense to wear out the opposition.

Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA

Projected Starting Five:
Peyton Siva, Junior, Guard, 9.9 points per game
Chris Smith, Senior, Guard, 9.4 points per game
Kyle Kuric, Senior, Guard, 10.8 points per game
Chane Behanan, Freshman, Forward, DNP last season
Gorgui Dieng, Sophomore, Center, 5.7 points per game

Madness 2012 NBA Draft Rankings:
#46 Wayne Blackshear

Madness 2011 Men's Basketball Recruit Rankings:
#13 Wayne Blackshear
#18 Chane Behanan
#59 Zach Price
#80 Kevin Ware

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