Louisville just capped off a great college basketball season with the national championship victory over Michigan Monday night. Will the Cardinals be able to continue the strong play next year?
Before dissecting how the team will fare, it is, of course, important to understand who will be on the Cardinals roster.
The good news is that the team only has one senior of note on the entire roster. Unfortunately, that senior is point guard Peyton Siva, the catalyst for so much the team's success over the past few years.
Although Siva only averaged 10 points a game this past season, his playmaking, outstanding on-ball defense and leadership—on full display as he took over late in the game against Michigan while teammate Russ Smith was struggling—will be tough to replace. A huge loss for Rick Pitino and staff.
In addition, Louisville has a few players that could leave early for the 2013 NBA draft, whether they are ready or not.
According to Michael Rosenberg and Sports Illustrated, Russ Smith's father stated that his son just played his last collegiate game Monday night. Gorgui Dieng could also declare for the draft after a great performance in the final round.
This worst-case scenario of losing its top three players would definitely hurt, but the "next man up" mentality will keep this team very competitive.
Replacing Dieng should not be a problem, despite his defensive prowess. Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese are not 6'11", but they both make up for it in athleticism. Either player would be able to do very well next to Chane Behanan up front.
Sophomore Zach Price has also shown a decent amount of potential in limited playing time.
At shooting guard, Luke Hancock is certain to build off an amazing Final Four performance to have a huge senior season. While he is more often used as a wing, he and Wayne Blackshear could play on the court at the same time and create much more length next year on both ends of the court.
There will certainly be plenty of playing time waiting for Kevin Ware if he can return from his devastating leg injury, but Louisville will be fine without him if not.
The biggest question on next year's team, however, is at point guard. Allowing Smith to run the offense would be a great option, but unfortunately, that no longer seems like a viable prospect.
The best option will now likely be incoming freshman Terry Rozier. The 5-star recruit from the Hargrave Military Academy is an explosive athlete and certainly has the potential to take over the point right away. In addition, his quickness will allow the team to continue running one of the best press defenses in the country.
However, with all freshman point guards come mistakes. Rozier is extremely talented, but his inexperience on the offensive end is certain to cost the team some games next season.
With the amount of skill returning, Louisville should be able to return as one of the top squads in the country. The Cardinals should be the favorite to win the American Athletic Conference (the new name of the reinvented and reorganized Big East Conference).
Unfortunately, the inexperience in the backcourt will likely keep this team from winning a second consecutive national title.
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