2013-14 Record: 31-6 (15-3 in American conference)
Key Players Leaving: Russ Smith, Luke Hancock, Stephen Van Treese, Tim Henderson, Kevin Ware
Key Incoming Players: Shaqquan Aaron, Quentin Snider, Chinanu Onuaku, Anas Osama Mahmoud
Projected Starting Five: Chris Jones, Terry Rozier, Aaron, Montrezl Harrell, Mangok Mathiang
When Harrell surprised us by deciding to stay in school for another year, it elevated Louisville from "will compete" to "could win" in the ACC hierarchy.
But rather than waxing poetic about how great Harrell is, our time would be better spent mulling over the rest of the Cardinals' roster.
Smith was unquestionably one of the most valuable players in the country over the past two seasons. His 18.2 points, 4.6 assists and 2.0 steals per game will be sorely missed. But at least it opens the door for us to see what Rozier can do.
(If you think Wayne Blackshear is going to start ahead of Rozier, here's an excerpt from Rick Pitino's comments about Blackshear from the end of March: "The only player I've had in the past four years that hasn't had substantial improvement is Wayne Blackshear." Ouch.)
With Smith gone, not only does Rozier get more playing time, but Jones will really need to elevate his on-court leadership. The JUCO transfer got out to a hot start last season, but faded in the middle months. Louisville can't afford to have those types of lapses from its starting point guard this year.
Who will emerge as Harrell's running mate in the paint? Mathiang is the obvious choice from the list of returning players, but Pitino is also bringing in four freshmen standing 6'9" or taller. It's the type of situation that will inevitably work itself out before the start of conference play, but it should be fun to watch Louisville's interior game find its legs in November and December.
The real X-factor on this team will be Pitino's aversion to freshmen. Save for Chane Behanan in 2011-12, Pitino hasn't been too keen on giving minutes to freshmen. Peyton Siva only averaged 11.3 minutes per game in his first season at Louisville. Smith was only given 5.6 minutes on average.
Will Aaron or Snider be given a chance to shine, or will they be buried on the depth chart like those who came before them?
It might not matter if Harrell is averaging 22 points and 12 rebounds per game, but I'll be interested to watch Blackshear and Aaron battle for the starting small forward job.