It is truly a testament to the coaching ability of Rick Pitino that last season’s offensively challenged Louisville team made the Final Four after finishing the regular season seventh in the conference. The Cardinals had trouble scoring and dealt with a rash of injuries all season, and yet when most of the dust had cleared, there was Pitino and his team, scrapping with an overpowering Kentucky team in the Final Four. In the end, Kentucky was too much, but now the roles have reversed. The team in Lexington has a lot of questions to answer, while the team in Louisville returns four of its top six scorers, including the reigning conference defensive player of the year and one of the favorites for this season’s conference player of the year. Assuming some of the team’s underclassmen progress as expected and most of the team can stay healthy, there are very few squads in the country who can match the Cardinals’ combination of talent and depth. Now it will be up to Pitino and his staff to put all the pieces together. There are still plenty of questions about where the offense will come from and the roster’s one weakness may be its lack of an accomplished outside shooter. But the Cardinals’ defense was the most efficient in the country last season and it should be almost as good if not better this season. Anything less than a return trip to the Final Four will probably be viewed as a disappointment, especially if that team in Lexington makes it back instead.
2011-12 Record: 30-10, 10-8
2011-12 Postseason: NCAA Tournament Final Four, lost to Kentucky 69-61.
Schedule: Just a quick glance at the Cardinals’ non-conference slate should make it plainly obvious that Louisville will have little trouble with the opposition in the early part of the season. A December trip to Memphis and the home bout with Kentucky right before the New Year represent what should be the only two challenging non-conference opponents Louisville will face. As for the conference schedule, aside from a four-game stretch in the middle of January where a home date with Syracuse is sandwiched between road games at Connecticut and Villanova and then Georgetown, the rest of the conference slate should be manageable for a team as experienced, deep, and physical as the Cardinals.