Top 4 Season Preview: #2 Louisville Cardinals

by Nick Rapier

While other programs are struggling with depth and age, the Louisville Cardinals do not have that problem. The Cardinals finished last season with a 30-10 record (10-8 in the Big East) and found themselves in the Final Four at the end of the year. Unfortunately for them (to the love of fans) the bracket paired them up against bitter rival Kentucky…and we all know how that turned out. Fresh off an exciting end to the 2011-12 season, Rick Pitino’s squad hopes to impress early and often because of their returning core players as well as the addition of Montrezl Harrell. Cardinal fans have one thing in mind starting this season proving they’re second to none and dancing in Atlanta.

While the December 29th matchup with defending champion Kentucky highlights the nonconference schedule, there is another intriguing matchup pitting the Cardinals against a Memphis squad that will be tough to defeat at home. Aside from the aforementioned, the Cardinals will scarcely be tested in the nonconference portion of the 2012-13 campaign. Once conference play begins, however, the Cardinals will play 5 key games against ranked opponents (2 vs. Syracuse/Notre Dame and another vs. Cincinnati). Other conference teams in the sometimes-shocking Big East promise to be challenging endeavors with at least one Cinderella team emerging, as is every season.

As with last season, the key to Coach Pitino’s flock this year is undoubtedly Peyton Siva. After leading the team by a wide margin in assists last year, Peyton will look to improve upon his game and lead his team deep into March this year. Also returning is leading rebounder Gorgui Dieng who will undoubtedly rule the post. The majority of the 2011-12 starting lineup will return, minus Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith. Unpolished scorer Russ Smith is sure to have refined his skills during the offseason and will look to wow Card fans from his probable 6th man role. Another player who is sure to be improved this year is Chane Behanan, who was fitting into his role as a beast at the end of last season. No matter which perspective you hold for the upcoming season, it would be ignorant to ignore the impact that the Cardinals will potentially have on college basketball this season.

The Cardinals open up the season ranked #2 in both AP and USA Today polls. This is only slightly off the pace Las Vegas projected for this season as they picked the Cardinals as the 3rd favorite to cut down the nets in Atlanta come April. If 17-2 odds (8-1 originally) is a gamble you are willing to take, they may indeed cut down those nets. This certainly is the year if the Cardinals have any chance to fry up some magic in the KFC Yum Center. They have athletes at every position that can flat out play ball. Rick Pitino needs his team to attack this season if they want a title any time soon. After this season Louisville should send two or more players into the NBA draft early. Few, if any, college basketball fan bases are as excited about the upcoming season as they are in “the Ville” and rightfully so. If they play their cards right, avoid serious injury, and hoop like they should… the Cardinals are in the conversation when it’s time to dance. Siva and the rest of the Cards take on Manhattan Sunday at The Bucket at 4pm on ESPN3 and regional broadcast.

Key Games

December 15th: @ #17 Memphis

December 29th: vs. #3 Kentucky

January 19th: vs. #9 Syracuse

February 9th: @ #22 Notre Dame

March 2nd: @ #9 Syracuse

March 4th: vs. #24 Cincinnati

March 9th: vs. #22 Notre Dame

You can follow Nick Rapier on twitter @chroNickTres

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