Louisville 2014-15 Record: 27-9, 12-6 in the ACC
Key Players Lost: Montrezl Harrell, Terry Rozier, Wayne Blackshear, Anton Gill, Chris Jones, Shaqquan Aaron, Trent Gilbert and Akoy Agau.
Key Players Coming Back: Mangok Mathiang, Quentin Snider, Jaylen Johnson, Chinanu Onuaku, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman.
New Recruits/Transfers: Damion Lee (transfer from Drexel), Trey Lewis (transfer from Cleveland State), Donovan Mitchell, Ryan McMahon, Deng Adel and Raymond Spalding.
Once again, it was another outstanding season for Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals’ squad. It was business as usual, as they made their ninth straight tournament appearance under Pitino and the 12th time in his 14 years with the school. While they came up short of reaching the Final Four, an Elite Eight appearance is obviously nothing to sneeze at.
The Cardinals started out red hot and raced out to a 11-0 record, which resulted in them rising up to No. 4 in the national polls. Along the way they knocked off some solid Big Ten teams in Ohio State, Indiana and Minnesota— the latter of which is when Pitino went head to head with his son, Richard, to open the season.
At 11-0, the Cardinals were rolling and set themselves up for a clash with hated in-state rivals, the Kentucky Wildcats in the event of the non-conference last December at the Yum Center. However, Kentucky’s length and defense proved to be too much for the Cardinals to overcome, as they lost 58-50.
Still, the non-conference portion of their schedule was a success, as they entered ACC play at 12-1. The Cardinals would go on to have a great first season in the ACC, as they finished with a 12-6 record (finishing 4th in the conference), while beating NCAA squads like North Carolina and Virginia in the process.
Things could have gone a lot better if not for the dismissal of Chris Jones (13.7 points per game) from the team in February, as he was key component of the Cardinals’ offense.
Louisville’s first foray into the ACC Tournament was a short one, as they were bounced by North Carolina in the quarterfinals. Regardless, the Cardinals had a fine season and were awarded a No.4-seed in the East region of the NCAA Tournament.
From there, the Cardinals would survive a scare from UC-Irvine and then blitz by Northern Iowa in the Round of 32 to advance to the Sweet 16. While conference foe N.C. State (who previously beat the Cardinals in February) gave them a game, Louisville had enough to outlast the upstart Pack.
That would set up a great matchup between two of the better coaches in the land in Pitino’s Cardinals’ against Tom Izzo’s Michigan State Spartans. The billing lived up to the hype, but unfortunately for the Cardinals they dropped the game in overtime.
Individually, both Montrezl Harrell and Terry Rozier had fine seasons, as they were good enough to declare early for the NBA draft.
Harrell ended his career with the Cardinals by being named to the All-ACC Second Team after averaging 15.7 points and a team-high 9.2 rebounds per game. He was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the second round.
Rozier also was named to the All-ACC Second Team after leading the Cardinals with 17.1 points per game to go with 5.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals per game. Rozier was recently drafted by the Boston Celtics with the 16th pick.
2015-16 Look Ahead:
You can never discount a Hall of Fame coach like Rick Pitino, as he always gets the best out of his team, but he’ll have to do one of his better jobs next season if he wants his Cardinals challenging for an ACC title and/or a another deep run in March.
Gone are the top four scorers—Harrell, Rozier, Jones and Wayne Blackshear (11.6 points per game). The leading returning scorer for the Cardinals is Quentin Snider at 4.1 points per game. True, Snider is a very talented point guard, but the point is Pitino is losing a ton of scoring.
Expect to see Snider mature under Pitino, as he is a former four-star recruit. He will be paired with Trey Lewis, a grad transfer from Cleveland State who averaged 16.3 points, 4.4 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game last season for the Vikings, in the backcourt. With Lewis providing experience, Pitino is hoping for a seamless transition in the backcourt.
Also transferring into Louisville for one season is scorer-deluxe Damion Lee from Drexel. Lee averaged 21.4 points per game last season, which was fourth in the nation. So, as you can surmise, he is a huge addition to the Cardinals. He will bring some much-needed offense from the wing.
The maturation and development of big men Mangok Mathiang (2.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per game) and Chinanu Onuaku (3.0 points and 4.6 rebounds per game) will be something to watch. While a little rough around the edges, Mathiang and Onuaku possess a lot of upside. If their games expand and if they can reach their potential, the Cards will be in good shape.
As usual, Pitino welcomes in a fine recruiting class too, as he brings in three three-star recruits in wings Donovan Mitchell and Ryan McMahon, as well as big man Raymond Spalding. 6’7” wing Deng Adel offers promise, too. All could be in line for big minutes next season.
Right now there is a lot of unknown in Louisville, as the Cardinals head into the 2015-16 season with some question marks. Pitino will be counting on a lot of newcomers as well as asking players to step into roles they’re not used to. But if there is a coach who can coax a team and get the maximum out of his team, it is Pitino.
That said, this team is far from a mediocre team, as this a vastly-talented team and one that you should expect to at least be fighting for an NCAA bid. Getting to a fifth-straight Sweet 16 , well, that’s another hurdle that may be difficult to accomplish.