Editor's Note: The BIG EAST will be previewing both the men's and women's team from each BIG EAST member each weekday from October 22 to November 9 in advance of the 2012-13 season. Use hashtag #BECountdown to join the conversation on Twitter.
Louisville Cardinals Men's Basketball
The Big Picture:
The Cardinals made it all the way to the Final Four last season and finished 31-6. It was the school’s ninth Final Four appearance and the second since 2005. The postseason run began in New York when Louisville, as the seventh seed, won The BIG EAST Championship by winning four games in four days. Then, the Cardinals headed to the West Regional where they knocked off, in order, Davidson, New Mexico, No. 1 seed Michigan State and Florida. The Cardinals have piled up nine straight 20-win seasons under coach Rick Pitino. They have advanced to at least the NCAA Elite Eight in three of the last five seasons. Since joining the BIG EAST in 2005-06, Louisville’s 81-41 conference record is the best in the league.
Who’s Back:Pitino welcomes back three starters and an effective sixth man. Guard Russ Smith filled the sixth man role, scored 11.5 ppg and was third in the BIG EAST with a 2.2 steals mark while playing just more than 21 minutes per game. Peyton Siva returns for his senior season at point guard. He averaged 9.1 points and was fourth in the league in assists at 5.6. Siva won the Dave Gavitt Trophy as the Most Outstanding Player at The BIG EAST Championship. Forward Chane Behanan made the BIG EAST All-Rookie Team after averaging 9.5 points and 7.5 rebounds. Center Gorgui Dieng averaged 9.1 points, 9.1 rebounds and 3.2 blocked shots. His blocked shot mark led the BIG EAST and he was third in rebounding. Mike Marra, a 6-foot-5 perimeter shooter, missed last season with a knee injury and suffered another knee injury in the 2012-13 preseason. Also on the wing, Wayne Blackshear got his feet wet in 15 games, averaging 2.5 points. Guard Kevin Ware had a similar experience. Sophomore Angel Nunez saw limited duty on the wing. Closer to the basket, 6-foot-8 forward Stephan Van Treese missed most of the season with a knee injury.
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Forward Kyle Kuric was the team’s scoring leader, averaging 12.6 points. Dependable guard Chris Smith averaged 9.7 points. Both were veterans who supplied strong leadership. Reserve forwards Rakeem Buckles (4.0, 3.8) and Jared Swopshire (3.3, 2.8) transferred.
The Cardinals have appeared close to the top of early preseason national polls. The 2012-13 team appears deeper and more experienced than last year’s Final Four squad. Pitino will be looking for another strong season defensively. Last year, his team limited its opponents to 60 or fewer points in 23 of its 40 games. The Cardinals allowed an average of 61.0 points per game. Dieng returns to anchor the defense in the paint. Siva and Russ Smith are ball hawks in the backcourt. Offensively, Pitino appears to have more options at guard and forward, including transfer Luke Hancock. Freshman Montrezl Harrell is the most heralded newcomer. He will push Behanan at power forward. A late addition to the roster, freshman Mangok Mathiang brings more quickness and agility to the center position.