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ACC Basketball Preview #11 - Louisville

If you have Rick Pitino, you're in the hunt.

Rick Pitino has lots of work do but odds are Louisvill will get there.
Rick Pitino has lots of work do but odds are Louisvill will get there.
Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

When Maryland decided to bail on the ACC, the conference essentially had two choices for replacements: UConn and Louisville.

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The ACC chose Louisville, and soon enough, we'll see how the Cardinals do.

Like Duke, UNC and Syracuse, Louisville is blessed to have a world-class coach. As long as Rick Pitino is there, Louisville will be good. He's particularly good at taking players well past what people expect of them. One classic example is Billy Donovan.

Yet at the same time, Pitino's career has been a wild swing between arrogance, being humbled and spectacular redemption. He did a brilliant job at Providence. He coached the Knicks solidly before leaving for Kentucky. At Kentucky, he built a true powerhouse, a phenomenal team which nearly won three titles.

His time with the Celtics was best forgotten.

With Louisville since 2001, Pitino has built the Cardinals into a constant Final Four contender and a thorn in the side of his old school, Kentucky.

Yet at Louisville, Pitino had his lowest professional moments, mostly centering around Karen Cypher's extortion attempt after Pitino's awkward, bumbling 15 second sexual encounter in a restaurant.

He bounced back to win the national title in 2013.

On a personal level, he and his wife lost a child, Daniel, at just six months. And Mrs. Pitino's brother died in the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks.

Pitino is capable of significant failings and failures, and he would probably be the first to acknowledge that he can be arrogant, but his key characteristic is resilience, and his teams have always picked up on that.

So when a Pitino team loses, say, Russ Smith Luke Hancock Chane Benahan, Stephan van Treese and Kevin Ware, it's not cause for panic (and to be fair, for very different reasons, Ware and Benahan really weren't contributors this past season).

But Smith and Hancock were huge. Smith was at times mocked by Pitino for his erratic play and decision making, but he was a passionate leader and he'll be missed.

As for Hancock, we loved that guy. He was tremendous, particularly during Louisville's title run.

Louisville will rebuild around Montrezl Harrell, a kid from Tarboro who originally signed with Virginia Tech and Seth Greenberg.

He's thrived at Louisville and now, like Gaston from Beauty and the Beast, he's roughly the size of a barge. He'll be a major problem for just about every ACC team.

Wayne Blackshear (6-5) and Chris Jones (5-10) should also be reliable.

Terry Rozier (6-1) played extensively last year and should be ready for a bigger role.

Raleigh's Anton Gill got about 5 mpg last year and should be ready for more time.

With time available in the post, sophomore Mangok Mathiang may be ready to step up.

Last year his lack of strength held him back; over the summer he did a lot of lifting and Pitino says he's significantly improved.

That'd be good: Pitino is bringing in a large feshman class of seven, with four players over 6-9. Jaylen Johnson (6-9) is apparently behind after getting NCAA clearance quite late, with Pitino saying he's not in condition and "lost" on both ends of the court.

Fellow frosh Shaqquan Aaron has not yet been cleared.

Anas Mahmoud (7-0, 200) is a skinny kid out of Egypt who played some high school ball here. You'd have to think he's too skinny to do much this year.

Matz Stockman (7-0, 240) is a Norwegian big man via Canarias Basketball Academy. We'll have to see where he is. Both guys may take some time to contribute.

Freshman Quentin Snyder (6-2, 180) is out of Louisville's legendary Ballard High, which has also produced Jerry Eaves, Allen Houston, DeJuan Wheat and former Virginia stars Jeff Lamp and Lee Raker.

Snyder originally committed to Louisville, flipped to Illinois, and then came back to Louisville again. He'll be good; probably really good.

Louisville's core is reasonably solid; the problem is going to be to incorporate the freshmen and to shore up the frontcourt, specifically the inside.

Given Pitino's track record as a motivator and a brilliant coach, we expect he'll have another solid team, even if it takes a bit to pull it all together. Never rule him out.