G Quentin Snider (Jr.)
G Donovan Mitchell (So.)
F Deng Adel (So.)
F Anas Mahmoud (Jr.)
C Mangok Mathiang (Sr.)
Bench: F V.J. King (Fr.), G Tony Hicks (Sr.), F Jaylen Johnson (Jr.), Raymond Spalding (So.), G Ryan McMahon (Fr.)
Last season, the Louisville Cardinals faced a ferocious set of distractions from the outside. With details of a dark recruiting scandal increasing with each day, a self-imposed postseason ban was in order, robbing several departures of a taste of the NCAA Tournament. Things looked uncharacteristically bleak for Rick Pitino as the 2014-15 season came to a close. A mass exodus of talent, including Terry Rozier and Montrezl Harrell, had the 2013 National Champions scrambling to field a team that could compete in the top half of the ACC. Pitino resultantly found the answer in a pair of grad transfers, Damion Lee and Trey Lewis, and brushed off the distractions brilliantly, fielding not only a competitive team, but consistently a top 25 squad the entire season while also finishing 2nd in defensive efficiency nationally. As the 2016-17 season approaches, the Cardinals find themselves in the same murky waters. The notice of allegations for the lingering recruiting misconduct was just released, and they will again ask some unproven commodities to lead the charge for one of the country’s most prestigious programs. This time around, though, rather than plucking some per se college free agents, Louisville will turn to a pair of sophomores in-house to reveal themselves as the foremen.
Given their upside, Donovan Mitchell and Deng Adel figure to quickly develop into household names. Mitchell, specifically, should be ardent to prove there is far more complexity to his game than the high-flying, awe-inducing dunks for which he has garnered attention. His jumper remains a question mark, but a freakish blend of strength, quickness, and killer athleticism make him a prime candidate to emerge. There is, additionally, a holistic nature to his game the nation will grow accustomed to as his usage rate skyrockets, as the combo guard owned Louisville’s second-highest assist rate a season ago. Adel’s emergence, on the other hand, is less of a dead certainty. The primary item on Adel’s checklist must be to value the basketball infinitely better than he did in ’15-’16. His catastrophic 29% turnover rate was the predominant reason for his underwhelming freshman season on the heels of palpable preseason buzz. Nonetheless, his frame immediately reminds one of the prototypical NBA wing, and word on the street is he has had himself a phenomenal summer.
The Louisville program under Rick Pitino has branded itself on the defensive end of the floor, with the epicenter of that identity being nettlesome guards and long rim protectors. Best of luck to ACC opponents in finishing at the rim this season. Pitino utilized Anas Mahmoud from time-to-time at the 4, something I feel they should do more of. Don’t be fooled by Mahmoud’s 7-1 size. His cunning quickness gives him the capability of guarding perimeter-oriented 4’s to go with imposing size, and his rapidly improving skill level offers hope on the offensive end. Thus, deploying a lineup of Mahmoud paired with Mangok Mathiang will make Cardinal fans quickly forget about Chinanu Onuaku, legitimately one of the best overall defenders in college basketball last season. In spite of the loss of Onuaku, the Louisville tradition of bigs will continue, and a top 10 defense should grace the KFC Yum Center floor once again.
Given our past digressions on Quinton Ross and Lamar Odom in previous previews, Out of Write Field has shown it’s not afraid to stir the pot by being a loose cannon. Yet, Andre McGee here might actually be too savage. The Louisville namedrop, though, was an easy decision in the end. With Southeastern Wisconsin ties, Jerry Smith was the clearcut winner. The former Tosa East Red Raider was recently inducted into his alma mater’s hall of fame as part of its inaugural class. More importantly, Smith was coached in middle school by legendary Tosa East varsity volleyball coach John Simon. So understanding the fact of Mr. Simon’s tutelage, Smith’s stardom was simply inevitable, and his Wisconsinite status along with an impeccable amalgam of shooting and athleticism had me heavily invested in those late-2000s Louisville teams in spite of my Rick Pitino hatred.