Friday night brought with it the start of the 2013-2014 NCAA college basketball season. The night was highlighted by a crew of new freshmen hoping to make an immediate impact, increase their draft stock, and venture deep into March Madness. Across the country, from Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins to Duke’s Jabari Parker, freshmen are taking over the NCAA spotlight. It seems as if everyone is forgetting about upperclassmen and the invaluable experiences that previous deep runs in the tournament provide. Somehow, the defending National Champions Louisville Cardinals are actually viewed by many experts as underdogs to make the final four, much less becoming only the second program to repeat since 1992.
The analysts over at ESPN had a special segment on their expert predictions for national champions, where not one of the twenty experts chose Louisville to repeat. Not only that but ESPN “Insider” John Gasaway had the hubris to pick Harvard to reach the final four over the Cardinals. Here are a couple of reasons why Mr. Gasaway and most experts at ESPN will be disappointed come March:
- Louisville returns three starters from last year’s team in Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan. Behanan begins the season suspended for an indefinite amount of time, but head coach Rick Pitino says the forward could be back “as early as December.” Also returning for the Cards is Final Four Most Outstanding Player, Luke Hancock, who is currently out with a foot injury. Hancock is expected to contribute at a high level coming of a 22-point output in the national championship game. His 39.9% 3-point FG output was second best on the team (First with 40.5% was Kevin Ware, who continued his improbable comeback story from a gruesome leg injury by making his first shot, a 3-point FG, in last weeks exhibition game) and he will be relied upon to stretch the defense and give Smith and the post players easy baskets in the paint.
- The two key losses are starters Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng who combined to amass 28% of minutes played, 24% of the points, 26% of the rebounds and over 50% of the assists for the entire Louisville team. They will look upon junior guard Chris Jones, a highly touted JUCO transfer, and senior center Stephan Van Treese to replace the outgoing production. Of course, senior and preseason player of the year for the American Athletic Conference, Russ Smith will contribute heavily to shoulder the load and continue to improve upon his already impressive 18.7 points per game, as well as progress in terms of efficiency.
- Not only does Louisville return one of the best backcourt players in the country with Russ Smith, but they also have one of the best masterminds in the coaching game right now. Head coach Rick Pitino has now coached three different teams, Providence, Kentucky and Louisville, to the Final Four and won a National Championship with the latter two, becoming the only coach in NCAA Basketball history to accomplish both feats. Louisville’s athletic ability and great coaching allow them to run Pitino’s high-octane defense, which was top-15 in the country last year holding opponents to a meager 58.3 points per game and limited them to 44.4% effective field-goal shooting. Behanan and Van Treese will be expected to hold down the paint and make up for Dieng’s absence.
Louisville is one of the most experienced teams in the country having played 21 games against Top-50 opponents last year and returning most of their core. Surprisingly enough, many analysts are already writing them off. While the Cards are not yet at full strength, when all the pieces come together, Louisville will be primed for a deep run in March. Expect to see Louisville playing basketball in April.
(11/11/2013) Chane Behanan was reinstated today per Rick Pitino’s press conference. The junior forward will be active for the Cards beginning on Tuesday night against Hofstra. Look for Behanan to dominate the lesser opponents on the non-conference schedule, and for his presence to solidify the rotation going forward.
Tags : Andrew Wiggins, Basketball, Behanan, Blackshear, Duke, Final Four, Jabari Parker, Kansas, Kevin Ware, Louisville, Louisville Cardinals, Luke Hancock, NCAA, NCAA Basketball, Rick Pitino, Russ Smith