clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

ACC Preview #12 - Louisville

What’s in the Cards for this season?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Louisville v Duke
DURHAM, NORTH CAROLINA - JANUARY 18: David Johnson #13 of the Louisville Cardinals reacts after a play against the Duke Blue Devils during their game at Cameron Indoor Stadium on January 18, 2020 in Durham, North Carolina.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

There has been a lot of turmoil for Louisville since the middle of the Rick Pitino era. His first major scandal in 2009 involved a woman named Karen Sypher.

Pitino and Sypher had sex in a restaurant - for only 15 seconds he later claimed. She later told him she was pregnant. According to Sypher, he offered to pay for her abortion; according to him, he gave her $3,000 for health insurance.

She later married the Louisville strength coach and ultimately was charged with attempting to extort Pitino (she was in fact convicted).

That was a major hit to his reputation but Pitino survived.

In 2015, Louisville was caught up in another scandal, this one involving an escort who claimed she was hired by a Louisville assistant to have sex with recruits (Pitino denied all knowledge, which we thought was plausible).

This never made sense to us, and for several reasons. One reason it didn’t is because many college football and basketball programs have long had a wink and nod understanding where willing students had sex with recruits. There are even semi-official roles where female students are assigned to recruits for official visits. Few programs actually suggest sex and certainly don’t budget for it, but it happens all the time. Ask former Michigan star Jalen Rose, who quite frankly said he didn’t take a visit unless he was sure he would get laid. Or ask Fresno State, which currently has a Stripper Gate of its own involving wrestling recruits.

We’re not taking any stand or endorsing anything here but just asking a question: why in the world would Louisville pay a middle-aged stripper/escort to entertain teenaged recruits when they could have just done what everyone else does? Even on the most pragmatic level, Katina Powell ended up costing a lot of money. The whole thing was just so bizarre.

As a result of the 2015 escort scandal, Louisville was forced to vacate 123 wins between 2010 and 2014, including the 2013 national championship.

Punishment over the Adidas scandal is under review now but it’s not likely to be pretty. Pitino is a Hall of Fame level coach but he left a big mess at Louisville and the school really had no choice but to fire him before the 2017-18 season, replacing him with Xavier’s Chris Mack.

Voted Most Likely To Be Mistaken For Dobby The House Elf, Mack has done well, all things considered.

And that success is probably to be expected: Louisville, by our count, has had just two losing seasons since 1948. Even David Powell, thrust into the job on an interim basis when Pitino was fired, won 22 games.

Mack is now 44-21 at the ‘Ville for a .677 percent win rate. In his first season, Louisville won 20 games and made the NCAA field. Last season, Louisville was clearly on the way to a bid but of course the tournament was canceled.

This year should be solid too but you have to bear in mind that it takes a while to get your program and principles in place, even if you inherit the most ideal situation possible. If nothing else, any coach wants to have his players in place, and for whatever players he has to understand and trust him.

Mack’s just about there: the only player on the roster that he didn’t recruit is senior center Malik Williams, so that’s a major positive for the coach and program..

Louisville loses Jordan Nwora, Dwayne Sutton, Steven Enoch, Ryan McMahon and Lamarr Kimble. In the what-if category, JUCO phenom Jay Scrubbs opted to go directly to the NBA and not play for Louisville. He’s apparently good enough to do it too, so that’s a hit.

The other returnees besides Williams include 6-5/210 David Johnson, 6-7/210 Samuell Williamson, 6-8/215 Quinn Slazinski, 6-4/205 Josh Nickelberry and 6-10/245 Aidan Igiehon, all sophomores (this team has no seniors and no juniors).

Johnson and Williamson have the potential to be very good, particularly Johnson, who had a great game at Duke last year with Tre Jones on his tail.

You have to be really good to get 19 points, seven assists and four boards against Jones, who Coach K called his best-ever on-ball defender. Unless someone else surprises, we’d expect him to start at point.

We fully expect Johnson to have a big year and Williamson might. The other returnees?

That’s still uncertain.

Nickelberry had a good reputation coming out of Fayetteville but only got 3.7 mpg last year. Clearly he didn't earn Mack’s confidence. Slazinski got 3.0 per game while Igiehon pulled 4.7.

Will they step up? It could be key for Louisville - or it might not matter at all because Mack has a lot of nice new players too.

There are two grad transfer guards, 6-1/185 Carlik Jones from Radford, and 6-4/220 lb. Concord native Charles Minlend who came over from San Francisco.

It’s a significant move up for both guys so we’ll have to see how they hold up in the ACC.

Jones put up 20.0 ppg, 5.5 apg, 5.1 rpg and 1.4 spg for Radford, a Big South school.

Minlend is obviously quite a bit bigger. He averaged 14.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.8 apg and 1.0 spg for USF which plays in the Big West, and while it’s not the ACC, that’s a pretty good basketball conference. He’s physical and a good defender too.

Mack landed a highly regarded freshman class: 6-8/200 lb. JJ Traynor, 6-5/220 lb. D’Andre Davis out of Indianapolis’s famed Lawrence Central, 6-11/240 lb. Gabe Wiznitzer and 6-8/230 lb. Charlotte native Jae’Lyn Withers (actually Withers is a redshirt freshman).

Traynor is long, lean, and the son of former Cardinal Jason Osborn. He has a 7-2 wingspan and is pretty athletic. We’d keep an eye on him.

Davis originally committed to Nebraska before changing his mind. Mack convinced him he could handle ACC basketball and Davis sounds thrilled and like he can barely believe his luck. That’s pretty neat. Mack says he’s getting better fast, which is great news for the ‘Ville.

Wiznitzer was actually due in 2021 but reclassified. He’s got really nice footwork and solid fundamentals. Like most big men, he needs time to mature. It wouldn’t shock us if he redshirted if only because he’s a year early.

Withers has grown about an inch and gone from 215 to 235 during his redshirt year. Apparently he’s really come on and could be a big factor for Louisville and might even see time at center. There’s a lot of buzz about him in the pre-season from Louisville folk.

That still leaves a lot of unanswered questions. Will Igiehon and/or Wiznitzer be ready to help Williams inside? Might Withers?

Will the grad transfers be ready for ACC ball?

The biggest question though is not offense, which will most likely be fine although we have questions about three point shooting. There is a lot of offensive talent on this team and scoring should be the least of Louisville’s problems.

It’s the defense we’re not sure about.

Mack runs a modified Pack Line D and it takes some time to master that which puts guys like Nickelberry at an advantage over some of the new guys. Minlend and Jones have been around for several years and can probably adapt to Louisville’s scheme fairly quickly. The freshmen will have to prove themselves on D and that’s a big wild card.

Nonetheless, this is a really interesting group. It’s young but talented and youth isn’t the handicap it once was. A lot of guys could make sharp improvements this season but there’s no way to know how things will shake out.

Tournament bound?

Well, first there has to be one and second, the NCAA has to allow Mack’s team in it.

Louisville’s case is pending and the charges are quite serious although Louisville has asked to have them reduced and at any rate, the case might not be resolved before this year’s tournament. The NCAA moves slowly in the best of times.

But IF there is a tournament and IF Louisville is eligible, we expect the Cardinals should make it. There’s a lot of talent and Mack is a gifted and proven coach. If Louisville doesn’t get a bid we’d be very surprised.