ROUNDBALL DAILY

DAILY DISH: Why Louisville won’t repeat as NCAA Champs

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John W. McDonough/Sports Illustrated

They had a brilliant run last spring, are the class of their new conference, and will get plenty of Top-5 preseason love from virtually every basketball media outlet coming into 2013-14.

But despite the bold talk in ESPN’s Summer Shootaround, the Cardinals won’t be a national championship contender again next season.

Louisville does return a boatload of talent from 2013, including explosive-yet-enigmatic guard Russ Smith, talented bruiser Chane Behanan, and Final Four Most Oustanding Player Luke Hancock. But without fearless leader Peyton Siva, this just won’t be the same team. Could Michigan State have won the national title the year after Mateen Cleaves left? We think not. How about UConn after Richard Hamilton bolted?

Peyton Siva made the Cardinals go last season. He was more than just their point guard; he was the heart and soul of the team, the mighty-mite-sized motivator who acted as an extension of Rick Pitino on the floor. His impact was much greater than the 10 points, 5.7 assists and 2.3 steals per game he put up on the stat sheet. And as talented as Russ Smith is can be, does anyone think he can thrive in that role this season? (Before you answer that, remember he’s related to J.R.)

It’s not just the loss of Siva that will hurt the Cardinals next season. How about the departure of big man Gorgui Dieng, who was one of the most improved players in the country last season? Dieng was a terrific defensive player and prodigious shot blocker, and it’s not going to be easy to replace his value in the paint. He also became a legitimate offensive threat towards the end of the season, and there weren’t many centers in college basketball who replicated his value. Dieng was a one-man difference maker and a unique commodity that no one else in the nation had.

Louisville simply doesn’t have a replacement for him right now. Sure, the Cards will have 6-8 forward Montrezl Harrell, who will be a sophomore next season, but his production as a freshman (5.7 ppg) isn’t exactly in line with the amount of hype he’s getting.

Louisville does bring in a pair of highly-regarded recruits in guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, who will help ease the loss of Siva and give the ‘Ville some much needed depth in the backcourt, but it’s unrealistic to think that two freshmen could immediately take the reigns of Pitino’s complex system, especially on defense.

In the new-look American Athletic Conference, Louisville, along with UConn and maybe Cincinnati, will be the teams to beat. Memphis, Temple and possibly South Florida look like NCAA Tournament teams, and beyond that, the rest of the conference is uninspiring.

KEVIN WARE UPDATE

After suffering quite possibly the most gruesome injury in the history of sports, Kevin Ware is likely to return to the lineup for Louisville next season. He’s ready to start running later this month and tweeted in July that he was doing leg presses. By all accounts, Ware is doing well and is making a speedy recovery.

It’s going to be great to see him back on the court soon. Get well, Kevin!

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  1. Pingback: College Basketball Preseason Top 25: #6 Louisville

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