A 31-point loss to Providence, a defeat to South Florida on Senior Night and a 49-point performance at Syracuse were all forgotten after Louisville won the Big East Tournament and made it to the Final Four. Most of the prime contributors return, led by point guard Peyton Siva, center Gorgui Dieng and forward Chane Behanan. The Cardinals should also be healthier after losing four players to injuries for at least 25 games last season.
Dieng is the most complete big man in the Big East. The 6-10 defensive menace topped four blocked shots per game last season and averaged nearly a double-double (9.1 ppg, 9.1 rpg) last season. Behanan, a senior, finished last season like a veteran, averaging 13.2 points and 8.0 rebounds in five NCAA tournament games while making 60 percent of his shots. He should team with his best friend, fellow sophomore Wayne Blackshear, to give Pitino the inside-outside blend the coach loves. Blackshear and junior Luke Hancock will form a hybrid combo on the wing -- both are capable of playing either small forward or shooting guard.
Though his confidence was shaken after an ankle injury, Siva excelled in the postseason, improving his shot selection and leadership skills. Fellow starting guard Russ Smith led Louisville in field goal attempts last season, although he made only 35.6 percent. Smith needs to remain a creative shotmaker, but keep learning to share the ball. Kevin Ware should be the first backcourt reserve, but he did not make a three-point shot last season. Pitino believes sophomore Angel Nunez could become a dependable three-point threat.
Luke Hancock made the three-point shot that gave George Mason its upset victory over Villanova in the 2011 NCAA tournament. He's a smart, determined player who can handle the ball. Montrezl Harrell, a physical 6-foot-7 forward, improved his toughness by playing an extra season at Hargrave (Va.) Military Academy. Mangok Mathiang reclassified to the Class of 2012 over the summer and signed with Louisville in August. Point guard Terry Rozier signed with Louisville but will spend the 2012-13 season at a prep school.
The Cardinal faithful grumbled louder than they had in years after Louisville lost three of its final four games to finish the regular season 22?9. Eight straight postseason victories silenced the complaints. Three factors will decide if Louisville will reach its potential -- health, three-point shooting and the maturation of Smith. Departed seniors Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith made 143 of team's 233 three-pointers last season. Somebody must fill that void. And Smith can't keep taking crazy shots.