2013-2014 Season Preview: No. 3 Louisville Cardinals

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. The rest of our Top 25 Countdown can be found here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 35-5, 14-4 Big East (t-1st); Won the National Title

Head Coach: Rick Pitino (13th season at Louisville: 310-111 overall, 137-67 CUSA/Big East)

Key Losses: Gorgui Dieng, Peyton Siva

Newcomers: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Akoy Agau, Anton Gill

Projected Lineup

G: Chris Jones, Jr.
G: Russ Smith, Sr.
F: Luke Hancock, Sr.
F: Stephen Van Treese, Sr.
C: Montrezl Harrell, So.
Bench: Terry Rozier, Fr.; Wayne Blackshear, Jr.; Akoy Agau, Fr.; Mangok Mathiang, So.; Kevin Ware, Jr. Chane Behanan, Jr.*

They’ll be good because …: Well, they’re really, really good. Russ Smith is back for a senior season in which he should once again shine. For all the criticism that Smith gets for being Russdiculous, the fact of the matter is that he posted an offensive rating 108.9 despite posting a usage rate of 32.0%. For those that aren’t well-versed in advanced analytics, that means that Smith was quite efficient on the offensive end of the floor despite being one of the most high-volume shooters in the country.

He’s not alone, either. Final Four MOP Luke Hancock is back for his senior season while Montrezl Harrell returns for what many expect to be a huge sophomore year. Chris Jones is a former top 50 recruit that spent the past two seasons winning titles and earning individual accolades as a JuCo point guard at Northwest Florida State. Terry Rozier did a prep year at Hargrave Military Academy last season and is expected to have an immediate impact off the bench. Wayne Blackshear should finally be healthy and in shape this season. Even Kevin Ware is expected to be back in the lineup by the time Louisville starts playing games that matter.

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AP photo

But they might disappoint because …: Losing Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng is going to hurt more than people realize. Siva was this team’s leader a season ago. He was the coach on the floor, the guy with the ball in his hands in crunch. He was also a terrific on-ball defender and, along with Smith, made this team so tough to score against. Most importantly, Siva was a calming influence alongside Russdiciulous, which is a factor that cannot be underrated. Jones may be talented, but he’d be hard-pressed to provide the same presence and leadership on the floor that Siva provided.

Harrell should be able to replace the scoring and the rebounding that Dieng provided last season. Where Dieng’s graduation will hurt is as a shot-blocker. Part of the reason that Louisville could put so much pressure on the ball is that they knew they had an eraser at the rim if they hadn’t to get beat on the perimeter. Harrell’s a junkyard dog and a potential first-team all-AAC player, but he’s not the same kind of defensive presence. Dieng also proved to be a good passer, which helped Louisville, who lack some perimeter shooting, against zone defenses they went up against.

There’s no replacement for talent, which Louisville has plenty of, but Siva and Dieng were indispensable pieces that made Louisville’s lineup fit together.

Outlook: Obviously, the x-factor for this Louisville team will be the presence of Chane Behanan. If you’ve forgotten, Louisville’s starting power forward — who averaged 9.8 points and 6.5 boards a season ago — was suspended indefinitely from the team earlier this month for issues he has off the court. when Pitino initially announced the suspension, he made the situation seem dire; that Behanan may not actually be able to work his way back onto the team. More recent comments have made it seem like the big fella can be back in the lineup before the Cardinals play Kentucky (on 12/28), perhaps before the end of November.

Louisville is a national title contender with or without Behanan. But without him, the Cardinal’s just don’t have all that much front court depth. Harrell will be a beast this season, I think every prognosticator will agree. But after that? Stephen Van Treese? Akoy Agau? Mangok Mathiang? Kentucky’s sixth-best big man, Derek Willis, is better than those three.

Maybe I’m cynical, but I expect Behanan to be back in the lineup sooner rather than later, which means that the Cardinals will be a serious contender come March.

Diallo withdrawing from draft, returning to Kentucky

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It took plenty of time for the news to make its way public, but it was a wait that proved welcome for Kentucky fans.

Wildcat freshman Hamidou Diallo will withdraw his name from the NBA Draft and return to Kentucky, the school announced

Diallo’s situation was one of the more interesting in college basketball as he became an incredibly intriguing pro prospect despite being on a college roster and never playing a minute.

The five-star recruit enrolled at Kentucky in January after attending a semester of prep school with the plan to redshirt the season and then play for the Wildcats in 2017-18. There were rumblings and rumors about Diallo potentially playing for John Calipari’s group last year, but ultimately they stuck to the plan to keep him on the bench and preserve his eligibility. Throughout it all, there was always the specter that Diallo could just decide to go the professional route anyway.

That possibility moved fully into the forefront earlier this month when Diallo showed off a 44.5-inch vertical leap at the NBA Draft combine in Chicago. The 6-foot-5 guard also recorded a wingspan that nearly measured 7-feet. With those types of physical traits, he makes for an awfully interesting professional prospect, regardless of refinement or experience.

Given Diallo’s lack of high-level experience, though, there was no guarantee he’d be a first-round selection as teams would be wary of drafting solely on potential, rather than the mostly they typically do.

“I hope to play in the NBA one day — just not this season,” Diallo said in a statement. “Based on the information I received by testing the waters, I believe it’s in my best interests to return to school. Although I was a part of the team last season and trained with my teammates, I never fulfilled another one of my dreams, which was to play for a major college program and win a national title.

“I am excited about returning to Kentucky for the 2017-18 season. I can’t wait to play in a Kentucky jersey for the first time.”

Going back to Lexington to play college basketball gives Diallo a chance to showcase his skills against competition the NBA will be able to evaluate him against. It also makes Kentucky – surprise, surprise – extremely formidable this season as they, once again, restock the roster with potential lottery- and first-round picks. With Diallo officially in the fold, Kentucky is a no-doubt top-five team that will be among the favorites to cut down the nets in April 2018.

“I’m really proud of Hami,” Calipari said in a statement. “He took in all the information, asked a lot of questions, including questions to the NBA teams. I love the fact that he wants to put himself in a better position and help lead this new team to a championship.
“I can’t wait to get him on the court and have all of you fans see what I know.  He’s a special player and a special person.”

LaVar Ball selling “Stay In Yo Lane” shirts

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Create controversy. Profit from controversy.

It’s not an especially new or original strategy, but it’s one that LaVar Ball continues to try to exploit.

The infamous basketball dad is at it again, looking to capitalize on the uproar/kerfuffle/news cycle/debate/ickiness he created when he belittled FS1’s Kristine Leahy, telling her to “stay in your lane” on multiple occasions when claiming the Big Baller Brand didn’t need to market to women.

Well, they are now, with a nod to Ball’s proclamation, selling “STAY IN YO LANE” tees, for both men and women.

Marketing misogyny. Isn’t that nice.

It’s clear that LaVar Ball isn’t going to shy away from the public spotlight anytime soon, especially with eldest son Lonzo looking destined for the Lakers and middle son LiAngelo set to join UCLA, and he’s going to do his best to use that light to push the BBB franchise that scared away the world’s biggest apparel companies.

This plan has no mystery, subtlety or taste. Which might as well be the Big Baller Brand slogan.

Mykhailiuk returning to Kansas for senior season

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Kansas’ attempt for a 14th consecutive Big 12 title, and run for Bill Self’s second national title, got a shot in the arm Wednesday.

Svi Mykhailiuk announced that he will return to Lawrence for his final season of eligibility. “Senior year going to be fun,” he wrote on his Instagram page.

Senior year gonna be fun😈👌🏼🤘🏼 #KUCMB

A post shared by Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk (@sviat_10) on

The Jayhawks were already going to be loaded this season with Devonte Graham, a potential All-American, returning for his senior season and Udoka Azubuike healthy after missing last year due to injury along with Malik Newman becoming eligible after a transfer from Mississippi State and recruits Billy Preston and Marcus Garrett bolstering the ranks. The return of Mykhailiuk, though, only solidifies Kansas’ place not only atop the Big 12, but in the country.

Mykhailiuk, a 6-foot-8 forward, had something of a breakthrough season as a junior, posting career highs nearly across the board, including shooting 39.8 percent on nearly five 3-point shot attempts per game. With his size and shooting ability, Mykhailiuk was sure to garner professional interest, even though it would have been more likely than not he would been drafted in the second round of next month’s draft.

Mykhailiuk’s situation is certainly a unique one for college basketball as the Ukraine native enrolled at Kansas in 2014 just after his 17th birthday. He won’t turn 20 until next month, making him the same age as many sophomores and more likely to be viewed by NBA teams in the future as having upside, rather than a typical 22- or 23-year-old senior who scouts look at as having come close to reaching their ceiling.

Mykhailiuk wasn’t going to be the linchpin of Kansas’ success next season, but his decision to return shouldn’t be underestimated. His size, experience, skill and versatility provide the Jayhawks with a real weapon that will help alleviate pressure and expectations from other players up and down the roster. He’s very much a difference-maker for a team that will be contending for a spot in the Final Four.

Caleb Swanigan to stay in NBA draft

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Caleb Swanigan is leaving Purdue and staying in the NBA draft.

The Boilermaker big man held as much sway on the college basketball landscape with his decision as nearly any player who declared for the draft without an agent. After a season in which he became a double-double machine and averaged 18.5 points, 12.5 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, Swanigan would have been one of – if not the – favorites for National Player of the Year while also making Purdue right at the top of the Big Ten with Michigan State.

Instead, he’ll end his collegiate career after a pair of seasons and one Sweet 16 appearance in West Lafayette. As a professional prospect, Swanigan is an interesting case. He was as productive of player as college basketball has seen in recent years as a sophomore, putting up 20-20 games with ridiculous consistency. He’s got some range, but limited quickness and athleticism. The question will be how his game – and frame – will translate into the new NBA that prioritizes versatility, shooting and athleticism. Right now, not many have him pegged as a sure-fire first-round pick.

The loss for Purdue is hard to overstate given just how good “Biggie” was. There’s just no replacing that type of production in the lineup. Still, Matt Painter and the Boilermakers still have an intriguing group, with Isaac Haas and Vince Edwards both electing to return to school after dipping their toes in the NBA waters. There’s some other intriguing young pieces there that will keep Purdue interesting in the Big Ten race.

Florida State picks up late commit from McDonald’s All-American

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The losses sustained by Florida State have been numerous and significant. Three players declared early for the NBA Draft. Another two contributors were lost to graduation. All in all, the Seminoles haven’t had the greatest of springs.

Wednesday, though, they got some good news.

McDonald’s All-American wing M.J. Walker committed Leonard Hamilton’s program to give Florida State a late, and important, addition to its 2017 recruiting class, beating the likes of Ohio State, Georgia Tech and UCLA.

Walker, a 6-foot-5 guard, gives the Seminoles yet another five-star prospect after landing Dwayne Bacon and Jonathan Isaac in the last two recruiting classes. Walker will help Hamilton and Co. reboot after both Bacon and Isaac, along with Xavier Rathan-Mayes, all left school to pursue professional careers after the Seminoles’ 26-9 season that saw them advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Walker becomes the sixth member of Hamilton’s 2017 recruiting class that was previously headlined by four-star 7-footer Ikechukwu Obiagu. That group will be tasked to retool a team losing not only major NBA-level talent, but also major production. The Seminoles won’t return a single player who averaged double-digit points per-game last year and just one who played at least 20 minutes per night.