Cards anxious to put focus back on the court
Games cannot resume soon enough for the Louisville program, even with the loss of three of the Cardinals’ top five scorers and the school’s legendary head coach. Games will move the discussion on from the tumultuous offseason — one that featured four years of probation being handed down by the NCAA and the ouster of Rick Pitino in unrelated incidents.
David Padgett, a 32-year-old who was the program’s director of operations as recently as 2015, was promoted to interim head coach in late September.
Despite the off-the-court drama, Padgett’s team should remain relevant in the ACC by playing the Cardinals’ trademark defense, which has ranked in the top 10 nationally in points per possession for seven consecutive seasons.
At a Glance
HEAD COACH: David Padgett
2016-17 RECORD (ACC): 25–9 (12–6)
2016-17 POSTSEASON: NCAA: Lost to Michigan 73–69 in the second round
G Tony Hicks (3.7 ppg)
F Jaylen Johnson (8.0 ppg, 5.8 rpg)
C Mangok Mathiang (7.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg)
G Donovan Mitchell (15.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
Deng Adel waited until the deadline before choosing to return for his junior season. A dynamic athlete, Adel was one of the Cards’ best players down the stretch, averaging more than 16 points in the final six games. If he can improve his 3-point shooting (34.6 percent last season), Adel will be one of the ACC’s top wings because he is fearless off the dribble.
The Cards’ frontcourt by committee will continue. Center Anas Mahmoud can defend and shoot a high percentage (.623), but he still needs to add 15-to-20 pounds to his narrow 7-foot frame.
The coaching staff challenged forward Ray Spalding to upgrade his intensity and consistency. Spalding is a terrific weapon in the Cardinals’ full-court press and zone defense but scored three points or fewer in nine of Louisville’s last 16 games.
Louisville’s frontcourt reserves are all freshmen. Malik Williams will play center and power forward, but shooting is his primary strength. Lance Thomas and Jordan Nwora might need some time to develop.
The status of wing Brian Bowen, a top-25 recruit who is at the center of the school’s legal issues, is unknown.
Senior point guards bring value beyond scoring, and that’s certainly true at Louisville, where Quentin Snider has started 61 games over three seasons. Snider is more likely to beat you with savvy than speed. He won’t do the spectacular, but Snider avoids silly plays. He has learned to tune out criticism from Pitino and lead the team.
Sophomore V.J. King is the Cards’ likely breakout star. A former McDonald’s All-American, King averaged under 15 minutes per game last season because Pitino questioned his defense. King is a 42.1 percent 3-point shooter with the length and skills to attack the rim.
Freshman Darius Perry arrived with the announced goal of becoming the best defensive player in the ACC, which will earn him more playing time than shooting jump shots. Ryan McMahon is a zone buster who made five 3-pointers vs. Pittsburgh.
With a veteran point guard in Snider, guys with NBA ability in Adel and King, and veteran post players in Mahmoud and Spalding, the Cardinals will be dangerous in the ACC again.
But replacing Mitchell won’t be easy. He was the guy who delivered late in the game as well as late in the shot clock.
And the coaching situation is obviously a huge question mark as Padgett steps in for Pitino, one the game’s all-time greats.