Like every year in the immediate postseason, the college basketball world looks ahead to the next season via ridiculously early polls, but I’ll tell you why Louisville basketball not being included is just plain ridiculous.
If you’re anything like me and have been desperate for something positive to read sports-related, you’ve probably been pretty confused by why Louisville basketball hasn’t been included in nearly any of the ridiculously early top 25 polls for 2020-21.
First of all, let me clearly state that I acknowledge Louisville basketball is losing a lot of experienced players. Let me also state definitively that there is more raw talent and upside left over across the board than what is departing.
Not to throw shade at this year’s senior class or at early departures Jordan Nwora (NBA) and Darius Perry (transfer), but for the majority, these players were recruited for a specific scheme under Coach Rick Pitino, and if this season’s inconsistency was any indication, a lot of them just never really gelled with the new system under Coach Chris Mack.
On the other hand, this season’s freshman class showed more than a few flashes of greatness. Look at David Johnson’s emergence at point guard (another local kid vaulted into the position as a true freshman). By the way, he only started four games, though it sure seemed like a lot more. Sam Williamson exhibited his crafty shot creation this season, though it’s tough playing second fiddle at wing to ACC Preseason Player of the Year, Nwora.
Though Johnson’s and Williamson’s stat lines will not raise eyebrows, their presence on the floor was evident throughout the year. They’ll be mainstays in the starting lineup next season, and it should be a lot of fun to watch.
Another player we have not talked about enough in this young offseason is freshman Aidan Igiehon. The third big man in line this season (behind Steven Enoch and Malik Williams), had a tough way to go as he was injured at the same time Williams suffered his injury, thus negating his opportunity to showcase himself late in the season. Look for Ighiehon to make a huge sophomore leap next year.
Returning for his senior season is Williams, who is expected to anchor the starting position down low. In the gauntlet of the schedule, he really started to demonstrate his worth, posting double-doubles and bringing that coveted defensive energy in the post. Expect him to up his average point total for the fourth straight season.
Now for the purple elephant in the room, no. 1 JUCO player Jay Scrubb’s decision to jump to the NBA seems an inevitable outcome lately, and the Cards ceiling certainly depends on it, though even if Scrubb decides to make the jump, don’t count Louisville out. For there are other variables in play as well.
Josh Nickelberry and Jaelyn Withers are perhaps the most intriguing players on this roster. With Nickelberry buried behind experienced guards and Withers deciding to redshirt for his freshman year, there is so much to ponder about what could become of these two.
Let’s start with Nickelberry. You may not find a more confident disposition on the team. The kid is a legit scorer, as we all know, he broke Michael Jordan’s high school scoring record in the state of North Carolina. Look for him to nestle just fine into a solid supporting role off the bench.
Now for my dark horse for the most-productive player next season: Withers. People are going to be very taken aback by the natural feel and intensity that he brings to the floor. By all accounts, he should see a plethora of playing time, and judging by recent photographs, he has added more lean muscle to his already athletic frame.
Louisville isn’t done either. With as many as four spots remaining to be filled, Chris Mack still has the potential to add to what is already a solid recruiting class with Scrubb, D’Andre Davis, and JJ Traynor all signed. The Cards are in the final seven for EJ Anosike, a player that Jacob Lane compared to a hybrid between Chane Behanan and Dwayne Sutton, and also have been in communication with Justin Turner (a First-Team All-MAC player from 2019-20) as well as Jordan Bruner of Yale, and Kevin Marfo of Quinnipiac who led the nation in rebounding last season.
I’m going to say this, and I don’t feel it’s a bold prediction…Louisville is a top 25 team, and not only that…with Jay Scrubb on the roster, they have the potential to crack the top 10 or top 15 next season.
The Way Too Early Top 25 is grasping at straws and playing it conservatively regarding the Cardinals, which is understandable in March of the offseason, but the talent waiting in the wings at Louisville is potentially lethal.