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Louisville Basketball: 5 Reasons the Cardinals Can Repeat Last Season's Success

Alex BaconCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2016

Louisville Basketball: 5 Reasons the Cardinals Can Repeat Last Season's Success

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    The returning 2011-12 Big East Champions Louisville Cardinals will return to the KFC Yum Center in early November to defend last season’s title.

    This season holds high hopes for the Cardinals who should repeat last season’s success.

    Last year, the Cardinals rolled past Seton Hall, Marquette, Notre Dame and Cincinnati to win Rick Pitino his 10th conference tournament championship in 27 years of coaching.

    They also beat three ranked teams en route to the Cardinals ninth final four appearance.

    Pitino runs a balanced offense, so he and the Cardinals should have no problem finding scoring, even though Kyle Kuric and Chris Smith are not returning.

    The loss of only a few players and many other factors will contribute to the Cardinals success this season.

Up-and-Coming Talent

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    The only two freshmen listed on the Cardinals roster, Montrezl Harrell and Mangok Mathiang will look to contribute to the Cardinals as soon as they can.

    Mathiang, the African-born center/forward, will attend Louisville after playing at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla.

    Although he was finally cleared to sign with the Cardinals, Mathiang may not make an impact right away. His size down low will provide an above-average backup to Gorgui Dieng, but in the meantime he has a few parts of his game to work on.

    The other listed freshman, Harrell, most likely will not break the Cardinals starting lineup as a freshman either. Since the Cardinals' frontcourt already is above average, Harrell will probably serve as a backup.

    The young player that fans should look out for though is sophomore Wayne Blackshear. Blackshear, who only played in 15 games last season due to a shoulder injury, will make a big impact as a sophomore.

    Not to mention the talent of sophomore Chane Behanan who had an amazing freshman year.

Chane Behanan

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    The No. 21 recruit in 2011, Chane Behanan, committed to Louisville in hopes of making an immediate impact, according to rivals.com.

    He did just that.

    Behanan averaged 9.5 points per game and 7.5 rebounds per game even with limited playing time. Pitino eased Behanan into the NCAA, only playing him on average 26 minutes per game.

    In the NCAA tournament, Behanan topped his regular season numbers, averaging 13.2 points per game and eight rebounds per game.

    Now that Behanan is accustomed to the NCAA he will receive a bigger role with the Cardinals. Expect him to increase in scoring and rebounding once the 2012-13 season starts.

Mike Marra and Wayne Blackshear Are Returning from Injury

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    The Cardinals would never have expected to do so well last year when they lost Mike Marra for the entire season after only two games.

    Before missing his entire junior year, the senior guard had a solid sophomore campaign averaging 6.4 points per game.

    Marra should be ready by the start of the season when the Manhattan Jaspers come visit Louisville.

    Marra’s return will provide some relaxation for Russ Smith and Peyton Siva.

    Having an upperclassman guard coming off the bench will give the two some rest. They will not need to worry about the team’s production while Marra subs in for them.

    This is Marra's make-or-break year. If he wants to get noticed by the NBA, he will have to be one of the best players on the court for the Cardinals.

    The Cardinals will also see Blackshear return from a shoulder injury suffered last season.

    Blackshear can play forward if needed and will likely see some time at the three.

    The sophomore’s return will provide another scoring threat to an already scary offense.

Depth

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    Last year, the Cardinals were one of the deepest teams in the NCAA.

    A balanced scoring attack saw six players average more than nine points per game last season.

    Four of those six players—Behanan, Smith, Siva and Dieng—are returning. Add those four to the returning Blackshear and Marra, and the Cardinals will once again have at least six players that can score consistently.

    Also don’t count out Harrell and Mathiang who can potentially end up being key contributors, too.

    With such a balanced offense, it will be up to Pitino to decide which players should play in certain situations.

    That being said, the Cardinals are in a good position come this season.

Experience

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    Although the Cardinals do have young talent, most of their production will be coming from veteran players.

    Smith and Dieng are both juniors, and Siva and Marra are seniors.

    These four upperclassmen have all been to the NCAA tournament at least twice each, and have played in two Big East Championship games.

    They will also probably rack up the most minutes for the Cardinals. Marra, Siva and Smith will rotate as guards while Dieng will center.

    Although unlikely, it wouldn’t be too surprising to see Marra get a shot at the three if Pitino wants all of his upperclassmen on the floor at the same time.

    Dieng, Smith and Siva are the top scorers returning from last season, aside from Behanan. The three returning upperclassmen provided almost 43 percent of the scoring last year.

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