Posted October 29, 2013 on
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Stephan Van Treese
Wichita State Shockers
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Louisville coach Rick Pitino believes the defending national champions have a chance at being a ''mini-dynasty.''
After back-to-back Big East championships, Pitino believes the Cardinals can carry that momentum over to their lone season in the upstart American Athletic Conference. Louisville heads to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.
Winning the reorganized league could also propel Louisville toward a third straight Final Four and maybe consecutive NCAA titles. The Cardinals certainly have a chance to accomplish both goals with a returning nucleus led by leading scorer Russ Smith and a veteran frontcourt featuring Wayne Blackshear and Montrezl Harrell.
They've also added some promising newcomers in their quest for a fourth national title.
''It's not probable, but it is possible to do both,'' Pitino said of winning the conference and the national title. ''You want to make your goals lofty anytime you go into a season. We don't expect it. We're going to work very hard to achieve it.''
The last school to win three consecutive league championships and reach three Final Fours was UCLA from 2006-08, according to STATS LLC.
Louisville's chances seem realistic.
The Cardinals lost floor leader Peyton Siva from the 35-5 squad to the NBA but retains Smith and his team-best 18.7 points-per-game scoring average. The Cardinals also brought in junior college transfer Chris Jones along with a strong freshmen group led by Terry Rozier and Anton Gill.
Senior reserve Tim Henderson, whose timely 3-pointers helped the Cardinals rally past Wichita State in the national semifinal, is also back and figures to play substantial minutes while junior Kevin Ware regains form after a horrific right leg injury sustained in the Midwest regional final.
Having passed on the NBA draft to work on his game, Smith is eager to see how the changes mesh with a group that is already showing impressive shooting skills.
''They're hungry, they want to get after it and want to win,'' Smith said of the new faces. ''It's different because we've been to a Final Four, we've won multiple Big East championships and have a national championship.
''These new guys want to get a taste of that.''
Blackshear meanwhile is finally over shoulder issues that bothered him the past two years and ready to step up his game at small forward. Pitino has even contemplated using him to back up Harrell, who will start at power forward because of Chane Behanan's indefinite suspension.
An ankle injury slowed Final Four MVP Luke Hancock in preseason but the senior swingman is expected to recover and provide perimeter shooting and defense. Six-foot-10 redshirt freshman center Mangok Mathiang is preparing to fill the big void in the pivot left by Gorgui Dieng's move to the pros, with 6-9 senior Stephan Van Treese ready to come off the bench.
Here are five things to watch as Louisville tries to repeat as NCAA champions:
FILLING IN FOR BEHANAN: During Behanan's suspension, Harrell must provide the muscle and scoring. He might have started anyway given his play during the Cardinals' title run and an impressive summer helping lead the U.S. men's under-19 team win the gold medal at the world championships. The 6-8, 235-pounder has returned stronger and more vocal along with adding a jumper. Pitino can't wait to turn him loose.
NICE TO MEET YOU: Jones, the former Tennessee signee, and Rozier highlight a group of newcomers who could make the backcourt one of Louisville's deepest positions. The duo figures to share the point guard role along with Smith, with freshmen guards Dillon Avare, Anton Gill and David Levitch ready to contribute. Forward Akoy Agau joins Mathiang in the frontcourt.
TEAM DEFENSE: Last season saw Smith and Siva put on a clinic in full-court pressure that often got Louisville's transition game going. Time will tell whether the Cardinals can duplicate Pitino's trademark stifling defense. Replacing Dieng's shot-blocking presence in the post could be tough, though Harrell offers a nice fallback with a 7-4 wingspan.
CLOSING THE DEAL: That five-overtime loss at Notre Dame was Louisville's last and serves to remind this year's team to put away opponents when the opportunity's there. The Cardinals' high-intensity response after Ware's devastating injury in the Midwest regional final is another example of how they learned to finish games and they're determined to carry that philosophy deep into postseason.
THE SCHEDULE: Unlike last season when Louisville's early season docket featured NCAA tournament teams Duke and Missouri along with the usual Big East Conference heavyweights, things will be much different for the Cardinals and their newcomers in the upstart AAC. Louisville's toughest nonconference games figure to be North Carolina at the Hall of Fame Classic and its annual showdown against in-state rival Kentucky in Lexington. Memphis and UConn might be the Cardinals' hardest league games before they depart next season for the ACC.
BEST OF MAXIM
The word spread pretty fast on Thursday evening as Rick Pitino gave an update on Chane Behanan’s suspension while he was in Owensboro, KY., for a book signing. Pitino told a local reporter who was at the book signing that Behanan would be back with the team “in a short period of time.”
Just one day his comments had went viral, Pitino spoke with Dana O’Neil of ESPN.com to...
The University of Louisville basketball team will have its opener on Tuesday night, playing Kentucky Wesleyan in an exhibition game at the KFC Yum! Center. U of L coach Rick Pitino added a captain and updated the media on his team’s injury report on Monday afternoon during a news conference.
The Louisville Cardinals had no problem dispatching Kentucky Wesleyan on Tuesday night, defeating the Panthers 115-67 in exhibition play. Here are a few videos of Rick Pitino and player post game comments.
Rick Pitino met with the media on Monday afternoon to preview Louisville’s first exhibition game tomorrow evening against Kentucky Wesleyan.
Prior to taking questions from the media, it was announced that sophomore Monrezl Harrell had been named a team captain. Harrell joins seniors Russ Smith and Luke Hancock who were named captains during the offseason.
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AP Photo: Timothy D. Easley
There were 46 total fouls called last night in Louisville 115-67 exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan. We had been warned about how the new rules in college basketball would affect the games, but I don’t think the majority of those who were in attendance at the KFC Yum! Center expected it to be called as tightly as it did.
Louisville was already in...
While there is certainly enough on the plate of Louisville fans, CBS columnist Gary Parrish ponders who might replace coach Rick Pitino upon retirement.
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Bye weeks have proven to be good opportunities for college football staffs around the country to spend a little more time on the recruiting trail than they normally do during the season.
That was exactly the case for Charlie Strong and the Louisville staff on Monday evening.
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Around 1 PM this afternoon, the 2013-14 preseason College Basketball AP Poll will be released. Rick Pitino and the Louisville Cardinals are expected to fall anywhere between the top five. Prior to the suspension of Chane Behanan, Louisville was expected to be No. 1 or No. 2, however without Behanan suspended indefinitely, I’m sure there are some voters who kept that in mind while...
University of Louisville football coach Charlie Strong spoke with the media on the American Athletic Conference teleconference on Monday. Check out what Strong had to say about his team’s play, the open week and injuries.
AP Photo: Timothy Easley
Due to the new rules in college basketball, this wasn’t quite as entertaining as your average Louisville basketball game, but all in all, it’s tough to be disappointed after tonight’s game.
“Overall I was very pleased. We’re going to work on our free throws. We’re a much better free throw shooting team than that,” Pitino said immediately following...