Louisville, KY (SportsNetwork.com) - The third-ranked Louisville Cardinals
will hit the hardwood for the first time since winning the national
championship a year ago, opening up their 2013-14 season at home on Saturday
against the College of Charleston Cougars.
Rick Pitino's Cardinals enter the season with a 16-game win streak in tow.
Louisville posted a 35-5 overall record last season, with a 14-4 mark in Big
East play, while winning its third national title in school history with an
82-76 win over Michigan in the championship game. Pitino has some work to do
in replacing a couple of high profile players from that squad, but with
All-American candidate Russ Smith, Final Four MVP Luke Hancock and an always
revolving door of talent, the cupboard is still loaded at Louisville, as it
embarks on its first season in the new American Athletic Conference. It may be
the last as well, as Louisville could be moving to the greener pastures of the
ACC as early as next season.
Doug Wojcik's first campaign with the Cougars was highly successful, as
Charleston closed out its stay in the Southern Conference with a 24-11 overall
record that included a 14-4 mark in league play. The team lost in the SoCon
Tournament title game however, and missed out on the NCAA Tournament, instead
taking part in the 2013 CIT, losing in the first round to George Mason
(78-77). The Cougars are also enjoying a move this season, playing now in the
Colonial Athletic Association.
The Cougars will be playing their first season in the CAA and hope to become a
regular among the league's elite, much like they were in the Southern
Conference. Losing First Team All-league guard Andrew Lawrence (13.5 ppg, 1.4
spg) won't be easy though. CofC does have solid depth, with the next six top
scorers from last year returning, led by junior guard Anthony Stitt (11.0
ppg), who shot just over 40 percent from behind the arc a year ago. Adjehi
Baru (9.8 ppg, 8.3 rpg) gives the team a presence in the paint and has obvious
double-double potential on any given night. A couple of youngsters are hoping
to make an immediate impact on the team as well in freshman guards Joe Chealey
(6-3, 180) and Canyon Barry (6-6, 195). A redshirt freshman, Barry is the
youngest son of NBA Hall of Famer Rick Barry.
Despite raising a championship banner prior to the game on Saturday, Pitino
will surely have his Cardinals focused on the task at hand. Smith's decision
to return instead of jumping to the NBA will help lessen the blow caused by
the departures of Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng. Smith is an offensive
nightmare for opponents and averaged 18.7 points per game a year ago. Still,
the Cardinals won't exactly be at full strength to start the season, as Chane
Behanan (9.8 ppg, 6.5 rpg) is suspended indefinitely and Hancock (8.1 ppg),
who had one of the best Final Four performances in recent memory, is still a
week or two away from joining the team after suffering an Achilles' tendon
strain in the off-season. Shouldering the workload early on with be Wayne
Blackshear (7.6 ppg), Montrezl Harrell (5.7 ppg) and juco transfer Chris
Jones. The team will also get Kevin Ware back on the floor as he looks to put
a horrific leg injury suffered in the NCAA Tournament behind him.
The Sports Network