ACC Preview: Louisville’s Burning Question

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 5th, 2014

This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage. You will find a list with links to all the team previews on the ACC Microsite Preview Page, located here.

Can Louisville win the ACC crown in its inaugural season?

Rick Pitino’s Louisville Cardinals have won conference championships in two different leagues over the past two seasons. On its way to the NCAA title in  2012-13, the Cardinals shared the Big East regular season championship (with Georgetown and Marquette), and won the conference tournament. Last season Louisville enjoyed a one year stopover in the American Athletic Conference, resulting in the same outcome — a share of the regular season crown (this time with Cincinnati) and another conference tournament championship. Now the Cardinals will try to make history by grabbing both prizes for the third year in a row in yet another league — the ACC, historically the best college basketball conference of them all.

Pitino Has Louisville Easily on Top of This Group (Getty Images).

Rick Pitino becomes the fourth Hall-of-Fame Coach in the ACC this season. (Getty Images).

With the addition of Louisville, the ACC now boasts four current head coaches who are already members of the Basketball Hall of Fame. The only other current NCAA coach with that honor on his resume is SMU’s Larry Brown, who has spent the majority of his coaching days in the NBA. It’s therefore fair to say that the ACC can lay claim to the four most accomplished college coaches in the country. A look at the chart below shows how those four compare in several key areas of achievement. Due to their additional seasons as head coaches, Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski and Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim have gathered significantly more wins then North Carolina’s Roy Williams and Pitino, but the younger duo stacks up very well in overall winning percentage, Final Four appearances and National Champioinships. As the youngest member of the group, Louisville’s leader may also have the best chance of substantially adding to his resume over the next 10 years. After all, Pitino is currently the hottest of the bunch, boasting three consecutive 30-win seasons.


While reasonable arguments can be made for any of the ACC Hall of Famers as the best coach, there is no doubt which is currently the leading the pack defensively. Over the last seven years, Louisville has finished in the final four of Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings an incredible six times. Playing great defense for that span speaks to Pitino’s remarkable ability to coax different groups of players to buy in to locking teams down and consistently executing his system. And unlike some other notable defensively-oriented teams, Louisville does it with multiple schemes: the Cards use elements of zone, full-court pressure and half-court man-to-man to confuse their opponents, making the teaching aspect by Pitino even more impressive.

All-America candidate Montrezl Harrell leads Louisville into its new League. (Getty Images)

All-America candidate Montrezl Harrell leads Louisville into its new league. (Getty Images)

In addition to consistently great defense, Louisville joins the league with a dominant big man in Montrezl Harrell and a potentially explosive backcourt in tow. Harrell arrived at Louisville as a raw athlete with limited skills, but he has developed into a strong all-around player who many thought would be in the NBA this year. Passing up that professional opportunity, Harrell decided his game needs further development. One area that definitely needs improvement is his free throw shooting. While Harrell shot extremely well from the field (61%), using his size and strength to dominate near the basket, he struggled mightily from the stripe (46%).

With the departures of All-American Russ Smith and his spot-up shooter on the wing, Luke Hancock, this year’s backcourt will be manned by two quick guards in their second year in the program. Former JuCo star Chris Jones had a good year as Smith’s primary running mate, but he sometimes struggled to fit in offensively. Look for him to be more comfortable running the show this season. Many believe that sophomore Terry Rozier is primed for a breakout year as well, as he dots mock NBA Draft boards for next spring. According to Pitino, senior Wayne Blackshear is also ready to step up, giving Louisville an excellent shooting group on the perimeter, with each of the three projected starters making over 37 percent from the three-point line last year. The rest of the team is very young and somewhat inexperienced. Big sophomores Mangok Mathiang and Akoy Agau will anchor the post defensively, while another sophomore, Anton Gill, will be a key backcourt reserve. The freshman class is highly regarded but, at least initially, Pitino only mentions two recruits as ready to play right away, 6’10” center Chinanu Onuako and 6’2″ guard Quentin Snider.

It will be interesting to observe how Louisville adapts to playing in a different league for the third time in three seasons. Will the Cards struggle with the many new styles of play they will encounter or the new venues they will visit? Many of Louisville’s conference away games in recent years have been played in big city NBA arenas, so it will be a little different making some of those road trips to college towns with homey gyms. But if the Cardinals play the kind of suffocating defense that we have come to know from them under Pitino, it might just be the ACC that has to adjust to Louisville rather than the other way around.

Brad Jenkins (383 Posts)

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