Heading into tomorrow's season opener against Evansville, the Louisville Basketball team enters its 16th season in the Rick Pitino era. Coming off of one of the most successful teams in recent memory, the hype around this team is immense. But is it justified? That is the question. The Cards lost three starters this off season. Center Chinanu Onuaku is the most glaring absence, declaring for the NBA draft and now under contract with the Houston Rockets, assigned to their D-League affiliate Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Grad transfer wings Trey Lewis and Damion Lee exhausted their year in the Ville as well, and that leaves only junior point guard Quentin Snider returning from last year's starting five, as well as Jaylen Johnson and Mangok Mathiang who split time in the starting five with Mathiang’s injury.
Jason's projected starting five:
Point Guard: Quentin Snider The junior from the Ville has quietly become one of the most consistent players in recent memory. He doesn't pop off the page, but you could count on him getting roughly 10 points and five assists last season, and now that he is the primary ball handler in Lewis' absence, expect those numbers to grow... a lot.
Shooting Guard: Donovan Mitchell One of the best athletes to don the uniform in the Pitino era. He has the tools to become an NBA Draft lottery selection as early as next summer, but he must improve by leaps and bounds before that day comes. Luckily for the Louisville faithful, that transformation is already in motion. Donovan Mitchell is always improving his scoring ability and never misses out on a hustle play. He's a gym rat, and "the Spida" is poised to have an unreal year, and can be put firmly into the preseason shortlist for the Naismith Player of the Year Award.
Small Forward: Deng Adel Deng has the size and skills of a prototypical NBA small forward. Obviously his game must improve, but he's got the tools at his disposal and the skills are coming along. He will likely be a first round draft pick if he leaves after the season, but could easily become a lottery pick for much the same reasons as Donovan Mitchell: his game is improving tremendously. He won't be a superstar on the level of Mitchell at this level, but he very well could have the better pro career because what he lacks in raw athleticism he makes up for in basketball IQ and talent. Don't expect him to light the world on fire, but certainly expect him to make some noise and turn some heads this season, specifically in his scoring.
Power Forward: Jaylen Johnson Like Adel, he won't be the national superstar on the level of Donovan Mitchell, but his inside presence and athleticism to stretch the floor for Donovan and Deng are the reason Jaylen Johnson will be the X-factor for the Cards this season. They certainly have championship potential, but they can only reach that if Jaylen continues to pass well out of the low block and hustle out of his mind for rebounds and blocked shots. The scoring might not show up every night, but as long as he stuffs the stat sheets elsewhere, that's all he needs to do.
Center: Mangok Mathiang The senior captain. What else can be said about the guy that hasn't been said before? He is a respected leader and a very smart basketball player. He may not have the athleticism or the raw basketball talent of some others on the roster, but he is a what you see is what you get type of player. His ceiling may not be as high, but his floor certainly is higher than anyone else's. His consistency will be welcomed with open arms by Cards fans, especially when guys like Deng and Donovan might have rough nights. That is if he can stay healthy this season. We obviously wish him the best, but his health is certainly a major question mark on this team.
Jason’s game by game predictions: 11/11/2016 vs Evansville - Win 11/14/2016 vs William and Mary - Win 11/17/2016 vs Long Beach State – Win
(Battle 4 Atlantis) 11/23/2016 vs Old Dominion - Win 11/24/2016 vs LSU or Wichita State – Win either way 11/25/2016 vs Battle 4 Atlantis Final Round
(ACC/Big Ten Challenge) 11/30/2016 vs Purdue - Win
12/3/2016 at Grand Canyon - Win 12/7/2016 vs Southern Illinois - Win 12/10/2016 vs Texas Southern - Win
(Billy Minardi Classic) 12/17/2016 vs Eastern Kentucky - Win 12/21/2016 vs Kentucky - Loss 12/28/2016 vs Virginia - Loss 12/31/2016 vs Indiana at Bankers Life Fieldhouse (Indianapolis) - Win 1/4/2017 at Notre Dame - Loss 1/7/2017 at Georgia Tech – Win 1/11/2017 vs Pitt – Win 1/14/2017 vs Duke - Loss 1/19/2017 vs Clemson - Loss 1/24/2017 at Pitt - Win 1/29/2017 vs NC State - Win 2/4/2017 at Boston College - Win 2/6/2017 at Virginia - Loss 2/11/2017 vs Miami - Loss 2/13/2017 at Syracuse - Win 2/18/2017 vs Virginia Tech - Win 2/22/2017 at North Carolina - Loss 2/26/2017 vs Syracuse - Win 3/1/2017 at Wake Forest - Win 3/4/2017 vs Notre Dame – Win
Regular season predicted record: 21-8 (With a potential Battle 4 Atlantis extra game)
ACC Tournament: Semifinalist
NCAA Tournament: Elite Eight
This team has talent and depth, and I think they easily could be in position to make a Final Four run come March. Will we see that potential reached? That is the ultimate question. The ACC is stacked this year, as always. Duke is favorite to win the National Championship, Virginia, North Carolina and Miami are always very good and every other team is improving to compete with the big dogs. This Louisville team is as talented as any of them, though, it is just whether they reach their potential if they want to make a run at a title.