The Louisville Cardinals may just be hours removed from defeating the Michigan Wolverines, 82-76, to win their first national championship since 1986, but Rick Pitino’s squad should already be looking to 2014.
Louisville has what it takes to not just make its third straight Final Four, but also defend its title.
In fact, the Cardinals are already one of the early favorites to cut down the nets come next season.
ESPN’s Jason King has the Cardinals ranked No. 2 behind their in-state archrival Kentucky Wildcats in his preliminary 2013-14 rankings.
While the Wildcats may edge out Louisville on first glance, King argues a repeat championship “hardly seems far-fetched” for the Cardinals.
Point guard Peyton Siva—who scored 18 points in the title game in Atlanta—is the only senior on the roster. But the Cardinals have two incoming recruits in Terry Rozier and the top junior college player in the nation in Chris Jones set to take up the point guard mantle.
King said the team’s leading scorer Russ Smith and top rebounder Gorgui Dieng could leave school early to enter the NBA draft. While Dieng—who King projects as a mid-first-round pick—may be all but gone, one of Pitino’s most important offseason tasks will be convincing Smith to return for another year.
If Final Four Most Outstanding Player Luke Hancock and forward Chane Behanan—who dropped 15 points and 12 rebounds on the Wolverines—can build on their tournament play next season, the Cardinals will be even more of a tournament threat.
This is also a team coming off of a 16-straight win streak to end the season. The Cardinals have proved they play their best when it matters, which bodes well for another deep postseason run in 2014—no matter who challenges them.
It will take the right pieces to fall into place, but the team is rightfully one of the early favorites to win it all for the second straight year next season.
All statistics via ESPN.