College Basketball Preseason Top 25: #2 Louisville


The Cardinals will be Russ Smith’s team this season, for better or worse. (Chris Keane/Reuters)

2. Louisville Cardinals

We already told you why Louisville won’t repeat as NCAA champs, but hey, No. 2 in the nation ain’t bad. The Cardinals did lose heart-and-soul playmaker Peyton Siva (10.7 ppg, 5.7 apg, 2.3 spg), and stringy big man Gorgui Dieng (9.8 ppg, 9.4 rpg, 2.5 bpg), but there’s still plenty of talent for coach Rick Pitino to work with. In fact, Siva thinks the Cardinals will be even better this season.

Siva told ESPN that the 2014 Cards will be “more talented” than last year’s version. He expects JuCo transfer Chris Jones to fill his role at the point guard slot very well.

“People haven’t seen Chris and a lot of people don’t know who he is, but he can shoot, can really score and is as quick — if not quicker than Russ,” Siva told ESPN. “He’s got a bulldog mentality and loves to pick guys up full-court. He’s shorter than me, but he’s so strong and athletic and won’t be pushed around. He can go for 30 any night.”

Senior guard Russ Smith (18.7 ppg) is another guy who can go for 30 any night. He can also go 4-for-30 any night. Pitino expects his decision-making and shot selection to improve this year, and for most of the Russ-diculous plays to be of the positive variety. This team could go as Smith goes, and that’s a scary thought for both Louisville and opponents alike.

Also back is Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock (8.1 ppg, 39% 3-point FG), who is a deadly shooter and could take on even more of a role in the offense this season. 6-5 junior guard Wayne Blackshear could be on the verge of a breakout season, as he averaged only 7.6 points per game last year but is talented and skilled enough to double that output. 6-6 junior forward Chane Behanan (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) was a big-time recruit two years ago and could also become a star for Louisville. He’s got the talent to vie for Conference Player of the Year honors if he applies himself more. Sophomore forward Montrezl Harrell is in the same boat. He made great strides in the NCAA Tournament and might be counted on to become a major factor down low for the Cards.

The school has said that Kevin Ware will be ready to practice in mid-October, but don’t expect him to be ready to play early on. Pitino said that there is a chance Ware could still miss a large chunk of this season.

BOTTOM LINE: Louisville fans couldn’t have scripted last year any better. It’s almost debatable which they enjoyed more: the national title, or the fact that arch-nemesis Kentucky lost to Bobby Morris in the first round of the NIT. OK, so they probably enjoyed the ‘ship a little bit more. But still. The ‘Cards didn’t even give Kentucky a year to enjoy its national title before answering right back with one of their own. It was like “rebuttal” in beer pong, and Louisville sank both cups. This year may serve as the rubber match. Will John Calipari and his teenage Evil Empire strike back again, like Alabama did to Auburn by bookending the Tigers’ 2010 national title with three of their own? This rivalry has never been better.

Click here to see our Entire Top 25.




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