No. 17 Louisville’s 78-56 win over Western Kentucky Saturday afternoon came with a price, as a key member of their front court rotation was lost due to injury.
Junior forward Mangok Mathiang left the game in the second half and did not return, with it being revealed following the game that he’d broken a bone in his left foot. Due to undergo surgery to repair the break in the coming days, Mathiang is expected to miss anywhere from six to eight weeks.
Mathiang is the third Louisville front court player to suffer an injury over the last month. Freshman Deng Adel has been out since mid-November due to a sprained knee, and sophomore center Anas Mahmoud has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle.
Without Mathiang there will be even more minutes to distribute amongst freshman Raymond Spalding and sophomores Chinanu Onuaku and Jaylen Johnson. Onuaku posted a double-double against WKU with ten points and 12 rebounds, and Johnson added eight points and six rebounds in 16 minutes off the bench.
Louisville’s Mangok Mathiang posts double-double in World University Games opener
With Montrezl Harrell moving on to the NBA, Louisville has to account for the loss of its most productive front court player in 2015-16 (they also lost guard Terry Rozier to the NBA). One of the big men who will be expected to step forward for the Cardinals is rising junior forward Mangok Mathiang, who will be Rick Pitino’s second-most productive returnee when next season begins.
Mathiang, who made nine starts and averaged 2.6 points and 4.7 rebounds per contest last season, is playing with Australia in this month’s World University Games and the experience could serve as a springboard into next season. Mathiang’s off to a good start in Gwangju, South Korea too, as he posted a double-double in the team’s comfortable win over Chinese Taipei on Friday.
Mathiang finished the night with 23 points and 11 rebounds, shooting 11-for-15 from the field against Australia’s overmatched opposition. Mathiang reached double figures in scoring twice last season, tallying 11 points in a win over Virginia Tech and 12 in a win over Pittsburgh. But given the loss of Harrell, Louisville will need more consistent play from the 6-foot-10 Mathiang if they’re to make a run at another Elite Eight appearance.
He won’t be the only option for Louisville inside, as the Cardinals return Chinanu Onuaku, Jaylen Johnson, Anas Mahmoud and Matz Stockman, and add Raymond Spalding. The Cardinals will certainly have bodies to call upon in the post; what they’ll need from those options is consistency.
Mathiang and his teammates, which include Albany senior Peter Hooley (who scored 15 points Friday) and former collegians Hugh Greenwood (New Mexico) and Mitch McCarron (Division II Player of the Year at Metro State last season), will face stiffer competition in South Korea beginning with France in their next game. But the 93-47 win is a good start for the Australians, especially if Mathiang can build on his performance.
Beginning on October 3rd and running up until November 14th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2014-2015 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package. We continue our countdown today with No. 10 Louisville.
– G: Chris Jones, Sr.
– G: Terry Rozier, So.
– G: Wayne Blackshear, Sr.
– F: Montrezl Harrell, Jr.
– C: Mongok Mathiang, So.
– Bench: Quentin Snider, Fr.; Anton Gill, So.; Shaqquan Aaron, Fr.; Chinanu Onuaku, Fr., Jaylen Johnson, Fr.; Akoy Agau, So.
They’ll be good because … : Rick Pitino should have one of the best guards and one of the best big men in the country. By now, everyone should know about Montrezl Harrell. He’s a powerful front court presence, the kind of power forward that seems to have passed the game by. There’s nothing pretty about what Harrell does on a basketball court. He’s attacks the glass, he runs the floor hard, he assaults the rim when he dunks. Everything is strength and power with him. Oh, and he may have added a jumper this season. There’s a reason he’s going to be on a lot of Preseason All-American teams.
Terry Rozier is a different story, as he’s not quite as well-known as Harrell. Rozier was originally a member of the Class of 2012, but he was forced to spend a season prepping at Hargrave Military Academy for a year before enrolling with the Cardinals. An athletic, 6-foot-2 combo-guard, Rozier is going to be the focal point of this season’s perimeter attack after what was a promising freshman season backing up Russ Smith. He’s got the ability to be a star at this level and, eventually, a lottery pick.
But they might disappoint because … : Once you get past Rozier and Harrell, there is quite a bit of unknown on this Louisville roster. Two seniors find themselves in the starting lineup this season, but both have been more enigmatic than consistent during their time with the Cardinals. Wayne Blackshear seemed poised to have a breakout season after an impressive performance in the NCAA tournament as a freshman, but due to injuries and inconsistency, he’s never lived up to those expectations.
Senior point guard Chris Jones had some promising moments last season after transferring into the program as the reigning Junior College Player of the Year, but he didn’t have the kind of season that Louisville fans were hoping for. He shot the ball too much (and at just a 39.5% clip) and, for much of the year, he wasn’t the point guard that Pitino needed alongside Russ Smith.
The emergence of those two will be key, but even more important will be Louisville’s youngsters. Every other player in Louisville’s rotation will either be a freshman or a sophomore that didn’t play much. Anton Gill, Quentin Snider and Shaqquan Aaron make up the perimeter depth, while Mangok Mathiang will likely start with a slew of big bodies backing him up.
Outlook: Louisville is a tough team to read this season because so much of their roster is a question mark. We know how good Harrell is going to be, but will Rozier live up to the vaunted expectations that have been set for him? There have been rumblings that he was the best pro prospect on the roster since this time last season. Will Jones and Blackshear be able to provide the senior leadership and veteran presence on the floor that guys like Luke Hancock and Peyton Siva have in the past?
That becomes all-the-more critical when the inexperience on the rest of Louisville’s roster gets factored in. The Cardinals will have a number of options on their bench, particularly in the front court, but how many of those options are going to be ready to play in a loaded ACC this season? And that is another major question mark for the Cards. How will they adjust to playing in a new conference with new refs and new arenas and some of the nation’s best talent and coaching?
Personally, I think that depth is overrated and that it’s hard to bet against any team with two potential all-americans and Rick Pitino coaching them. But it’s not crazy to suggest that Louisville is closer to a fringe top 25 team than a top ten team.