The Cardinal Future: What’s Next For Louisville?


This is the second part of a two part post. For part one, click here.

The key question on the guard side is how incoming point guards Chris Jones and Terry Rozier will mesh with Russ. Partway into the 2011-12 season, Peyton clearly seemed to come to terms with Russ’ occasional bursts of irrationality. Of the two big questions the Cards have to answer (who owns the paint and what happens with the guard play) this is the one most about dynamics. How are Jones and Rozier going to feel about/deal with Russ taking the shots and spending time at the point guard spot? How is ‘Russdiculous’ going to perform when he’s in the position of seeing everyone on the floor and distributing the ball rather than just taking the shot or deciding to pass?

The other question, who’s going to replace the team’s leading rebounder and second-best scoring option, Gorgui Dieng, isn’t really a question at all. Why? Because no one can replace Gorgui; his combination of length, hand speed and rapidly developing passing and shooting skills will be missed and are sorely lacking at the 5 spot in the college game right now.

So in what is likely to be a platoon position, at least for the first part of the season, the question is more ‘who does what and when’. If Mangok Mathiang has developed as much as fans hope while training under Gorgui, the starting center position will be his to take; but it seems likely he’ll platoon with Stephan Van Treese to start the season and that they’ll divide much of the playing time through the year. Van Treese proved himself a more than capable center last season, performing admirably – though, it’s true, not spectacularly – when Gorgui wasn’t able to be on the floor. He’s earned his PT, and there shouldn’t be a groan in the house from Card fans when he’s on the floor, but it’s unlikely this team goes very far if he plays the bulk of the minutes next year.

Thankfully, if Mangok isn’t quite ready there are other options, as the roster is also stocked with ‘junior bigs’, guys just slightly shorter than the prototypical center who have the ability to be dominant in the paint at the college level. In a way, the lack of a true preseason starting center is a good problem for the Cards to have, because they’ve got far too much talent at the power forward position next year.

Montrezl Harrell showed more than flashes of that dominant ability last year, with the wingspan and quickness to inspire fear in opposing players on the defensive end – not to mention intimidate and embarrass defenders when he has the ball. If he continues to learn, develops a mid-range shot and gets more comfortable handling the ball, Harrell may be the team’s catalyst for another championship run. Newcomer Akoy Agau looks to be a fearsome defensive presence as well; at 6’9”, he was a very focused defensive force in high school, with 38 blocks in four consecutive state championship games in Nebraska. He’s a winner. Granted, dominating top-tier college players is more difficult than Nebraska kids, but the defensive intensity is there.

And then there’s what could be thought of as the Price Mystery. What, exactly, is Zach Price’s role on this team? After Gorgui’s injury against Missouri in November, Zach had an opportunity to shine, starting the next six games. Unfortunately, he faded in the spotlight; and minutes were increasingly distributed elsewhere. Price played only 9 minutes in the last 24 games of the season, with a total of 18 (with two points) in all of 2013. At this point, it’s hard not to think that Price is wrong for the Cards.

The rest of the questions are about the returning core of the team and how they continue to develop. There’s no doubt that Luke Hancock is a gamer. He’s arguably the best shooter on the team (though Wayne Blackshear and incoming guards Jones, Rozier and Anton Gill may compete for the ‘clutch shooter’ role) and he’s an emotional leader with discipline. He’s also a high energy defender, though it looks like he’ll have to check his hands more with the new NCAA rules.

So does he get a majority of the minutes at the small forward spot? Or is Wayne Blackshear finally ready to capture the All-American greatness inside him and own his right as the player the Chicago Sun-Times thought was better than Anthony Davis; a player whose natural game Cards fans have glimpsed in flashes but has then all-too-often receded from the spotlight?

Can Chane Behanan grab more rebounds, finish at the rim more often – with or without dunking – and be ‘the man’ on a much more consistent basis? Is he going to have a season that launches him into the NBA draft, or another year where no one can be sure whether he’s going to really show up from game to game?

These are questions that will get answered. What’s certain is that Cardinals fans have a reason to be excited for another season. It’s been a generation since the Louisville men were defending National Champions, and this team returns more top-flight talent than many teams that exit the tourney early in the ‘one and done’ era. Maybe next year we’ll be playing Kentucky, or even Wichita State, in the final game. After all, a lot of schools are going to want a rematch, but this team should be ready.

Summer’s great, but a lot of fans are just waiting till it’s over. The 2013-2014 college basketball season is shaping up to be one of the best in history, and the Louisville Cardinals may be set to rule the roost once again.