This team preview is part of the RTC ACC microsite’s preseason coverage.
Burning Question: Will members of Louisville’s talented sophomore class make the leap to stardom?
Outside of some of the recent Kentucky and Duke squads that featured freshman superstars, most preseason top-20 teams return at least one double-figure scorer. That is not the case with this year’s Louisville squad — ranked #13 in the preseason AP poll and #14 in the USA Today/Coaches Poll — with Quentin Snider at 9.4 PPG representing the highest returning scoring average. The expectation underlying the Cardinals’ lofty rankings is that head coach Rick Pitino will see a leap in production from a sophomore class that oozes NBA potential. The player Pitino expects to reach stardom soonest is shooting guard Donovan Mitchell, whose high-flying style of play produced some of the best dunks seen anywhere in college basketball a season ago. If the sophomore wants to become a complete player, he must improve a three-point stroke that connected on only 25 percent of his 72 three-point attempts last year.
Mitchell can look to former Louisville backcourt stars Russ Smith and Terry Rozier as examples of shooting guards who blossomed under Pitino. Despite an injury-plagued first campaign, wing Deng Adel is another sophomore who has the attention of NBA scouts. He showed flashes of his vast potential late in the year, starting the last five games. The third member of the class is lanky forward Raymond Spalding, who, according to Pitino, “probably has the most pro potential on the team.” Blessed with a 7’4″ wingspan, Spalding is one of the longest and most versatile defenders in college basketball. But it’s not just the youngsters in the program that have Louisville fans excited. Senior Mangok Mathiang broke a bone in his foot last December and never returned, but he should be fully healthy now. With Chinanu Onuaku gone to the NBA, it’s Mathiang’s turn to man the post by blocking shots, snagging boards, and finishing at the rim. Others available in the Cardinals’ deep frontcourt are juniors Jaylen Johnson, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman. After an offseason of hard work, Pitino is calling Johnson “the most improved player on this team.” Mahmoud and Stockman give Louisville a pair of experienced seven-footers to back up Mathiang. Read the rest of this entry »