It’s poetic justice that our Louisville Basketball team will start their 2015-16 campaign on Friday the 13th. There have been a lot of nightmarish distractions off of the court over the past month but that hasn’t slowed down this group of young Cardinals. They have stayed the course and Coach Pitino has placed his focus squarely on getting these guys ready for their tough slate ahead. The Cardinals will play 11 games this season against teams ranked among the nation’s top 25 or are receiving votes in the preseason USA Today coach’s poll, including six games among teams in the top six. They’ll also have trips to some very historically tough venues. This will be a fun ride that will have some bumps along the way but I think we’ve got another group that won’t let us down.
There is still a lot of mystery as to how this group will come together and evolve over the next five months. Louisville has just two players on its roster junior center Mango Mathiang and walk-on junior guard David Levitch that have played with the Cardinals more than a year. The Cards return just 17 percent of their scoring and a quarter of their assists from last season but I’m very optimistic that we could potentially have a decent run. This appears to be a very close group, we have some great size, length, athleticism and these guys are very versatile. We also have a very good freshmen class that will be able to make a solid contribution this season. I also think Coach Pitino may be as motivated as he’s ever been to get this group to reach their full potential.
You can’t really read that much into the exhibitions but these guys are going to be fun to watch. On the defensive side of the ball this group is going to give opponents fits this year. Deflections, Defensive rebounding, hustle and shot blocking are abundant. They pretty much limited Bellarmine to one shot and out for the entire game, and they are a team very fundamentally sound on the offensive end of the floor. They didn’t really ever allow them to have a clean look. On the offensive end of the court this group has size and skill everywhere. They all hit the offensive glass, all can play out on the perimeter and all of these guys are very good passers. I think you’ll see a lot of activity and movement this year. Get ready for the pick and roll and the give and go.
-Jaylen Johnson is a guy that really didn’t show me much during the Puerto Rico trip but in the exhibition games looked like a man on a mission. I do think he has made a lot of progress since seeing him this summer. The kid has cut his weight and body fat and that has resulted in a faster more versatile player on the floor. He was much more active around the basket and has developed into a player that can score facing the basket or with his back to the basket. And he can create his own scoring opportunities. If he continues down this improvement path he will be a beast this season.
-Quentin Snider made his impact felt immediately when he hit the floor in the exhibition games. His ability to run smooth offensive sets is unmatched by any guard on the team. He is the best guard on the team getting the offense into a good rhythm by finding open guys for open shots. The kid is a silent general on the basketball court. That experience he had in the Tourney last year has carried over and he is going to be big for us.
-Damion Lee will be the foundation of this group off of the court and he will keep them focused on their task ahead, and he is another smooth operator when he gets on the floor. He is a very good ball handler that has the ability to blow past his guy on the perimeter or to stop and pop on a dime for the bucket. He can also get hit the three point shot with consistency. I think he will give us our most consistent three point threat we’ve had in a while.
-Trey Lewis is another guy much like Quentin Snider who has that great court awareness and can find the open man. He threaded the needle many times on Sunday. He is also a great stop and pop shooter who really doesn’t have to have his set shot for it to go down with consistency. Once he fully feels at home he will be a solid floor general for this group.
-Magok Mathiang will also be a big part of everything this team does on the offensive and defensive side of the floor. When he played in the World Games this summer he rebounded the ball very well. That has carried over and he has rebounded well both on the Puerto Rico trip, the scrimmages and will hopefully continue through the season. Mango has improved every year and this season will be big for him.
-Chinanu Onuaku is another very important part of this team. He was very active around the basket in both of the exhibition games and really defended well. Most think he will end up being the most important part of this team and I think he’ll have a big season with hopes of getting to the next level after it’s over.
-Matz Stockman and Anas Mahmoud are more confident and have also transformed themselves physically. Anas showed off his athleticism and ability to make big plays in the scrimmages. Matz attempted a dunk from the free-throw line over three Bellarmine players. Talk about confidence. Looking forward to seeing these guys continue to improve and I think they’ll help out a lot this season.
-As I mentioned above I think a few of the freshman can really contribute some valuable minutes this season, but believe that Deng Adel will see significant time. He is slated for the start in the season opener on Friday night. He already has the strength and size to compete on the college level. He is a match-up nightmare and can score in a lot of ways. He can come at you off of the dribble or take it to the rack with power. He is going to be a fun one to watch.
We might not contend for a title and I’m not ready to even think about that at this point. I do think this group could be top 10ish and make a deep tourney run. We have one of the tallest and athletic teams in school history it just all has to come together. I know I’m really excited and ready for the season to start. GO CARDS!