Head Coach: Chris Mack
2018-19 Record: 20-14, 10-8 Conference
Odds to win Title: +1800
Odds c/o Bovada
Louisville seems to be on the verge of completing a (somewhat painful) rebuild which saw the Cardinals entirely miss the 2018 NCAA tournament, only to make it in 2019 and be knocked out in the Round of 64. Now, Louisville suddenly finds itself with a top-10 preseason ranking and real expectations, which the program is far more accustomed to. Chris Mack has spliced a roster of Pitino leftovers together with two good recruiting classes to put Louisville back where it belongs, in contention in the ACC where it is expected to finish as a runner-up to Duke (of course). Even so, the Cardinals are back.
The frontcourt returns ACC leading scorer Jordan Nwora, after he tallied 17 points and 7.6 rebounds per game last season in his sophomore year. A lower leg injury kept him from testing the NBA waters, but that works out for Louisville as it returns the top player from last year’s team. He is continuing to work on his strength and his three-point shot for a leap to the NBA after this season, in all likelihood. He is paired with 5-man Steven Enoch, who also considered the NBA draft. On his checklist of improvements to make are becoming a better rim protector and extending his shooting range. He also needs to work on his positioning (namely, lower body strength), but with these improvements, he should be a solid NBA prospect at the conclusion of this season.
Dwayne Sutton averaged 10 points per game last year and led the team in scoring five times, and he returns as a vital piece of the frontcourt due both to his consistency and his occasional explosions. Three very highly recruited forwards also join the rotation in Samuell Williamson, Jae’Lyn Withers, and Aidan Igiehon. All will see some time, but as to how much each gets, that is wholly yet to be determined.
The backcourt last season was bolstered by two graduate transfers, and that method will be repeated in 19-20 with Lammar “Fresh” Kimble coming from St. Joe’s, where he was a captain for three seasons while averaging 15.6 points per game. His former coach, Pervis Ellison, compared him to Cassius Winston of Michigan State, citing that both have a lot of basketball IQ and court savvy that helps lead a team. Kimble will be the starter to begin the season, but as to who starts alongside him at the 2-guard, it is not yet determined. Darius Perry had a rough sophomore season and ultimately surrendered his starting role.
Perry will have to play smarter basketball to earn it back. Ryan McMahon is a useful rotation player with clear defensive shortcomings and is probably not the real solution due to that. David Johnson is a local star who could make a difference, but he is out for a few months with a shoulder injury. Josh Nickelberry is another promising freshman in the backcourt.
Just returning Nwora keeps this team on the top in the ACC, right on Duke’s heels. But how good can Louisville be beyond being a conference contender? It is all reliant on how well the backcourt develops and gels. Kimble is certainly talented, but he is definitely making a leap up in competition in coming to the ACC where guards are much tougher defensive covers than in the A-10 conference.
Perry will have to become more consistent, in addition to Kimble “getting it” quickly. So, with these question marks, it is fair to call Louisville more of a “dark horse” contender, than the real thing. Even so, this program is back exactly where it hoped to be, in the realm of teams that cannot be slept on entering the 2019-20 season.