Once again, there is a new powerhouse claiming its spot on the ACC throne. The 2014-2015 ACC should have an electrifying season, picking up from where last year’s left off. Last season, the Syracuse Orange established that they weren’t afraid of being the new kid on the block. This season, the Louisville Cardinals will have the same opportunity. The Cards are coming off of a 30+ win season and will look to compete for a title in their inaugural season in the new look ACC.
Defensive intensity has always been a pillar in the Cardinals’ program. Rick Pitino’s swarming defensive scheme is one of the main reasons why the Cardinals were second in the nation in steals per game (10.1) and 15th in the nation in points allowed (61.1). Opposing ACC guards will have to adjust and learn how to handle the relentless full-court pressure.
Louisville will experience a transitioning period themselves. The majority of the roster who played pivotal roles on the 2012-2013 Championship Team and the 2013-2014 Sweet 16 Team ( Peyton Siva Russ Smith & Luke Hancock) are no longer on the roster. But don’t feel too bad for Pitino’s squad.
Despite losing a good deal of experience and talent, Montrezl Harrell will be returning for his junior season. With his decision to suit up for another season, Louisville could very well be a favorite to winning the ACC. His 6-8 235lb frame, will give opposing coaching staffs nightmares on the scouting report. As a sophomore, he led the team in minutes (29.3) and rebounds (8.4) while averaging 14PPG.
Along with Harrell, Louisville returns important role players and a strong recruiting class. It will be tough to replace the production of Russ Smith. However the future is bright for Cards’ backcourt. Chris Jones will once again handle point guard responsibilities. Expect the senior to be the main distributor while Terry Rozier will take over the role Russ Smith once filled. Harrell might be the heart of the team, but the Cards’ x-factor might be Rozier. He received limited minutes playing behind Smith and Jones. But despite the lack of minutes during his freshman campaign, basketball experts believe Rozier has NBA prospect potential. He is a physically gifted guard with explosive athleticism, great wingspan and a strong frame. Furthermore, he’s a double threat with the ball in hands; he has the ability to create/penetrate off the dribble and finish at the rim strong. With Smith gone, expect Rozier to take a big leap in production his sophomore year.
In order for the Cards to have a chance at competing for an ACC title, Pitino will need multiple players other than Rozier and Harrell to step up for his team. Seattle, Washington freshman Shaqquan Aaron might be the answer. Pitino is known for not guaranteeing freshmen a lot of minutes but Aaron could be an exception. The wing player has a combination of size and skill at his position.
Expect for him to compete for minutes with senior Wayne Blackshear. Blackshear does have experience, but when it comes to Louisville’s signature full court defensive pressure, it’s hard to imagine Pitino not giving the lanky freshman a chance to use his size in their defensive scheme. Other touted freshmen will include Quentin Snider, Chinanu Onuaku and Anas Osama Mahmoud. But don’t expect major roles defined for them just yet.
Most likely rounding up the starting line-up will be Mangok Mathiang. He will be a nice complement to Harrell in the paint. The 6-10 center will be asked to control the paint, rebound finish put backs and alter shots of opposing guards.
The Louisville Cardinals are poised to make a huge splash in the ACC. Don’t be surprised to see the Cards take the ACC hierarchy by storm in pursuit for a fourth straight 30+ win season.