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Louisville Basketball: 5 Cardinals Needed to Repeat as NCAA Champs

Marcus HillCorrespondent IIOctober 11, 2013

Louisville Basketball: 5 Cardinals Needed to Repeat as NCAA Champs

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    Louisville will need strong performances from key players.
    Louisville will need strong performances from key players.Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

    Louisville enters the 2013-14 season with a shiny bull's-eye on its back to match the color of the Cardinals' jerseys. 

    The bid for a repeat as NCAA and (technically) conference champions begins Nov. 9, when the Cardinals tip off against the College of Charleston. 

    The Cardinals are without Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng, who were drafted by the Detroit Pistons and Minnesota Timberwolves, respectively.

    The Cardinals have plenty of talent on their roster to make a deep run in the NCAA tournament. However, players returning from 2012-13 will need to excel in their roles to boost Louisville to back-to-back championships. 

    There are nine players returning from Louisville’s emotional run to college basketball’s peak, and that experience will be necessary to assist the younger players as the long college-hoops season progresses.

    Here are some of the vets that will need big seasons for the Cardinals.

5. Montrezl Harrell

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    Harrell's role will expand with the Cardinal's this season.
    Harrell's role will expand with the Cardinal's this season.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Montrezl Harrell probably had two of the most thunderous points in the final game of the season against Michigan.

    That type of energy will now be an expectation every game.

    Harrell has the ability to be a double-double threat each night, especially since he will see an increase in minutes. With Gorgui Dieng missing in the middle, the 6’8”, 235-pound forward will have an increased role on both ends of the court.

    Rick Pitino needs Harrell to be the player he was against Syracuse in the Big East title game in 2012-13, when he put up a career-high 20 points and pulled down seven boards.   

    There will be more on the shoulders of Harrell this season, but expect the sophomore to step up and increase his numbers.

4. Kevin Ware

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    When Kevin Ware returns, he will be vital in this system.
    When Kevin Ware returns, he will be vital in this system.Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    First and foremost, it’s a great story that Kevin Ware will once again be able to grace a basketball court after his gruesome leg injury in the Elite Eight game against Duke.

    After months of rehab, Ware was cleared to practice with the Cardinals.

    Ware is expected to suit up with the team for the season opener, but he may not see action in the first game. Whenever he does return, Ware’s leadership will be needed.

    The junior guard backed up Russ Smith and Peyton Siva in 2012-13, averaging 16.6 minutes per game and 4.5 points per game. However, the box score didn’t show the impact Ware had in the stifling Louisville press or filling in at the point.

    Whenever Coach Pitino decides to insert Ware back into the rotation, his role as a point guard and ability to put pressure on the opposition will be vital.

3. Chane Behanan

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    Behanan will be a force this season.
    Behanan will be a force this season.Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    The performance that Chane Behanan had against Michigan in the title game was nothing short of magnificent.

    The box score will show that he had 15 points and 12 boards, but what it didn’t show was how Behanan fought off various Wolverines, the Stanford band and a zombie invasion to grab those rebounds and score.

    Okay, maybe that’s a little hyperbole, but his relentless assault on the glass was ruthless.

    In 2013-14, Behanan has to be a strong presence in the post for the Cardinals. He and Montrezl Harrell will have to play a similar role to what Gorgui Dieng did last season.   

    Behanan's ability to crash the boards and score in the paint will be essential to Louisville’s offense—especially its shooters—as it will help spread the floor and allow Behanan to kick it out to the perimeter for open threes.

2. Luke Hancock

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    Hancock's shooting is an important part of Louisville's offense.
    Hancock's shooting is an important part of Louisville's offense.Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

    If there is anyone on the current Louisville roster who had a dramatic turnaround after the start of last season, Luke Hancock certainly fit that bill.

    A shoulder injury hindered Hancock and what he was able to do at the beginning of the 2012-13 season. The George Mason transfer connected on just four of his first 29 three-point attempts to start the year.

    Thankfully, that didn’t discourage him.

    Hancock truly was the Most Outstanding Player for Louisville in the championship game—he single-handedly brought the Cardinals back against Michigan, knocking down four straight threes and finishing the game 5-of-5 from beyond the arc.

    Hancock is currently nursing an Achilles injury, but it should not keep him out of the lineup this season. The Cardinals will need the senior’s shooting to make another run in the tourney this season.

    Look for Hancock to put up some astonishing numbers from behind the arc, especially in a depleted American Athletic Conference.

1. Russ Smith

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    Expect Russ Smith to have a big senior year.
    Expect Russ Smith to have a big senior year.Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

    Louisville's dynamic scorer, Russ Smith, has a lot to prove in his last season as a Cardinal—for his team and NBA scouts. 

    There’s no question that Smith was one of Louisville’s best scorers last season, averaging 18.7 points and sinking 222 free throws. Smith also was very involved in helping out teammates, as he dished out 116 assists last year.

    After having an astounding start to the tournament, Smith fizzled in the championship game and was abysmal in almost every category.

    As someone who isn’t afraid to pull the trigger, Smith won’t let his last game of last season bring him down—he’ll start the year out firing on all cylinders.

    His all-around scoring ability will help open up the floor for Louisville, and his ability to penetrate will give the perimeter players more looks at threes.

    In his final season as a Cardinal, fans should expect Smith to have an impressive senior campaign.

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