ACC Preseason Predictions: #2-Louisville

By Mychal Hunter

So, I grew up in the tropical climate of central Maine. In the north, in the winter, we go ice fishing, or, as it’s more affectionately called, ice drinking. My mother, a childcare/preschool provider, never learned how to swim, so she has never been a huge fan of hanging out on a frozen lake, with a fire, in a shack, with a bunch of Northeast rednecks slugging Dr. McGillicuddy and fucking around on machines that are capable of going 100 mph.

One year when we were spending the weekend “up ta camp”, and we were planning a sled ride and my uncle was telling my mother, “Mary, nobody ever goes through the ice, everything will be fine.” As he is saying this there is an infomercial playing on the television behind him showing a man on snowmobile, in slow motion, sinking into a slushy lake with the words “ICE KILLS” flashing on the screen. Needless to say we did not go for a ride that day, we drank all day and when mum went to bed we jumped on the sleds and went for a far more dangerous ride. Because, like I said, northeast rednecks.

What the fuck was the point of that story, right? Well that’s sort of what happened to me  this week. Monday I released a post on how fan-fucking-tastic Jim Larranaga is, and have another post in the can to talk about how Louisville is going cram it in and break it off in a lot of teams this year (on the court, not in a restaurant bathroom after hours) and 18 hours later, here comes the camp television, with big blinking words “CHEATING MOTHERFUCKERS”. The only thing that would have been more fitting would have been if Tiger Woods and Bobby Flay had been partnered up doing a telethon to support monogamy awareness while I wrote both pieces.

Now, we all kind of knew about Pitino right? Right. Larranaga just seems like such a good dude, but now there are whispers that his public persona is not who he is behind closed doors at all. But that is for a different piece on another day.

In the last four days Louisville has lost its former Hall of Fame coach, its AD, a five star player who was supposed to join the team this year, (suspended indefinitely, will more than likely never play college basketball in my opinion) along with two 5 star guys for next year in Anfernee Simons and Courtney Ramey. One of the top recruits for 2018, Romeo Langford, has also removed the Cardinals from consideration. As of right now, David Johnson is still committed for 2019. Louisville had already stopped recruiting Darius Days, and on Wednesday the father of 5 star big man Moses Brown stated he had not heard from Louisville.

The sky is effectively falling in Louisville, KY, and Big Blue Nation is loudly rejoicing. They should probably pipe down a bit as the investigation into Nike is just beginning with the EYBL. The current status of all AAU summer leagues:

Anyways, former Pitino recruit David Padgett has taken over on a interim basis, because, when you’re in the throes of what is widely considered the largest scandal in NCAA Men’s College Basketball history, you obviously want to maintain continuity.

This program should be expected to, at the very least, be banned from this years tournament, but up until the Marvin Bagley signing by Duke, the Cardinals were my favorite to win the ACC this year. I’ll move along and talk about why in a second, but first let’s take a quick look at what Louisville lost in addition to their dignity this off season.

THE BAD

The roster did take a bit of a hit in the off season in both the front and back courts, but when you’re throwing $100k at recruits, you tend to just restock not rebuild.

Key Losses:

  • Donovan Mitchell exploded last year to become one of the premier players in the conference. His average points per game doubled from 7.4 to 15.6 and his 3pt% went from 25% his freshman year, to 35% last year. He also led the ACC in steals at over 2 a game, and snagged 5 boards a game out of the off guard position.
  • Tony Hicks is gone after kind of a let down year at Louisville. The transfer from Penn St averaged 13 ppg in three years in State College but only contributed 3.7 ppg in his lone year with the Cardinals. He looked as if he was  getting comfortable when he broke a bone in his hand in January and missed a month. The two games before he broke that bone he averaged 13 points a game.
  • In the front court Louisville lost Jaylen Johnson ( 8 points, 5.8 rips) a year early to the draft, and Mangok Mathiang (7.8 points 6 rips and a block per game) to graduation.

So, losing 60% of your starting five is never a good thing, and even though Mathiang and Johnson weren’t full time starters, but they were very good players. The front court is a bit more uncertain than the guard play, as it is going to be dependent on some guys breaking out, but they certainly have that talent and ability.

THE GOOD

The best thing that happened to this program during the off season was the return of Deng Adel, who flirted with the NBA, yet ultimately decided to return. You have to wonder if he is regretting that decision now.

Key Returnees:

  • College Basketball is all about guard play, and the Cardinals get Quentin Snider back, coming off a junior season where  he was eighth in assists (4.1) with a 2.7 a/to and top ten in defensive rating. In conference last year Snider averaged less than 2 turnovers per 40 minutes which is incredible. He set career highs in points, assists, rebounds and minutes played while decreasing his personal fouls per game. Q is poised to have a giant season as long as he can stay healthy, he missed time last year due to a strained hip flexor.
  • As mentioned above, Deng Adel has decided to return for his junior season to give Padgett a gifted wing scorer to hopefully fill the void left by the Mitchell departure. Adel does have the ability to score on all three levels, so watch for his 3pt fga to increase by around 1.5-2x as he will become the primary threat from deep, and will need to stretch the defense to give the Cardinals athletic front court room to work on the block.
  • Anas Mahmoud and Ray Spaulding both return and will now be the primary post forward and pivot players for the Cardinals. Mahmoud is a quietly effective player who has moments of real brilliance on offense to go along with his great rim protecting defense (2.1 bpg in 18mpg). He can’t shoot free throws (46%) and is foul prone (2.6 per game), so expect Padgett to slide Spaulding to the five spot when the Cardinals are protecting a lead, though Ray only shoots a slightly better 54% from the line. Spaulding is a 6’10 post forward who isn’t a great rim protector, but is a really good rebounder, grabbing 24% of available rebounds while he was on the floor last year as a sophomore, and also shoots 59% from the floor.
  • VJ King is the guy that is really is going to have to step up if this team wants to achieve their goal of winning 25 games and not playing in the tournament. He certainly has the talent, and had a freshman campaign that is pretty consistent with a player who will make a leap during year two of his eligibility. In 13.5 mpg last year, King averaged 5.5 points and 2.1 rebounds while shooting 42% from deep (38 attempts) and 82% from the line. I would look for both his points and rebound numbers to double this year.
  • Ryan McMahon also returns as a redshirt sophomore. The former 4 star guard played only 6 minutes per game over 28 games last year, but was able to connect on 19-52 attempts from deep on the season (36.5%). He may be a sneaky weapon for the Cardinals off the bench this season.

Newcomers:

As of this post, the 2017 recruiting class is still intact for Louisville with the exception of Brian Bowen, who has been suspended indefinitely, and my guess would be, he will eventually be declared ineligible by the NCAA and we will never see him play college basketball. However, this class is still as loaded as a Bruce Pearl BBQ with Darius Perry, Jordan Nwora, Malik Williams and Lance Thomas. Perry and Thomas are both 4 star players, the former a point guard and the latter a combo forward, while Williams is a 5 star seven footer who runs the floor and blocks shots at a very high level. Nwora is considered a 3 star (Verbal Commits) and #87 overall (247 composite) player in the 2017 class. Let me tell you something my friends, that’s horse shit. This kid is a player. The 6’8 215 lb Buffalo native does everything on the offensive end. He runs the floor, he can post up, and he is an absolute sniper from anywhere inside half court and he ain’t bashful. Jordan will quickly become a fan favorite in Louisville, and may be a very nice positive story in the years to come as long as he sticks with a program that is surely to get fucking ham-town by the NCAA over the next 12-18 months.

OVERVIEW

Bottom line is these guys are playing for pride this year because there is no way they will be allowed to compete in the tournament. I wouldn’t be shocked to see more attrition with the program in the coming weeks, but its difficult as classes have already started and then you’re sitting out a year, and no one knows if these kids are innocent are not. I have zero doubt that there is a player on this team that received some kind of impermissible benefit. Keeping a low profile is probably in everyone’s best interest here.

Projected Starting 5: Snider, Adel, King, Spaulding, Mahmoud

 

By the way, if I was 18 years old and some guy wants to give me $100k, you bet your ass I am going to take that money. I would also be much more impressed if Pitino would just  own his shit instead of the Hans Schultz act. Own it Rick, everyone knows better anyway.

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