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    Photo courtesy University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Facebook Page
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    Pretty much every fan of the University of Louisville men’s basketball team will tell you that this season was one of Rick Pitino’s best coaching jobs.

    I mean after Chris Jones’ dismissal in mid-February, then a subsequent loss at Syracuse and by-the-skin-of-their-teeth wins over Miami and Georgia Tech, how many people thought the Cardinals would make it to the Elite Eight? Probably not many of the L1C4's. 

    Pitino, however, may have to pull off an even better coaching job next season.

    That’s because UofL will likely lose its top four scorers from a team that finished 27-9 with its 76-70 overtime loss to Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament’s East Region final Sunday afternoon.

    We know for sure that Louisville will lose Montrezl Harrell, Jones and Wayne Blackshear - its second-, third- and fourth-leading scorers this season. And it’s highly likely that leading scorer Terry Rozier will join Harrell in declaring for the NBA Draft. Although we’ve been surprised before (see Russ Smith returning for his senior season and Harrell coming back for his junior year), it’s hard to imagine that Rozier will return to campus after the season he had (17.1 points per game, 5.6 rebounds per game and 3 assists per game).  

    "They're both leaving, 100 percent," Pitino said at his season-ending press conference Monday.

    If Rozier does depart that means Louisville will lose 78 percent of its scoring, 58 percent of its rebounding, 79 percent of its assists and 69 percent of its steals from this season’s squad.

    That would leave the Cards with a very young (three juniors-to-be and seven sophomores-to-be), and fairly inexperienced, roster. Freshman point guard Quentin Snider (pictured above), who came of age after taking over for the jettisoned Jones, would be the team’s top returning scorer (4.1 ppg) and assist man (1.3 apg) while sophomore center Mangok Mathiang would be the squad’s top returning rebounder (4.7 rpg) and freshman big man Chinanu Onuaku its top returning stealer (26). The good news is that all three improved over the course of this season, and should continue to.

    The bad news is that freshmen forwards Shaqquan Aaron (1.3 ppg) and Jaylen Johnson (1.3 ppg), the two first-year players most expected to contribute this season, never lived up to their high school hype. It wouldn’t be too surprising to see one of those two, or Anton Gill, transfer. If they stick it out, though, they’ll need to make some major improvements to their games. As will freshman center Anas Mahmoud (1.1 ppg), who had a couple of nice moments this season.

    If those players don’t produce then Pitino will likely look to a talented recruiting class that ranks in the top five nationally.

    "This is our best freshman class that we're bringing in," Pitino said. 

    Deng Adel, a 6-foot-7 small forward from Bradenton, Fla. and Donovan Mitchell, a 6-3 shooting guard from Connecticut, lead the class that also includes Louisville’s own Raymond Spalding, a 6-9 senior at Trinity High School, and Ryan McMahon, a 6-1 shooting guard from Florida.  

    There is a chance that Pitino could also bring in a fifth-year transfer, who would be immediately eligible to play, or a junior-college player. One possibility there is Louisville native Aaron Cosby, who has already announced that he’s leaving Illinois.

    If Rozier returns, or if the soon-to-be sophomore class can continue to develop and the incoming freshmen can complement those players, the Cards could have a shot at a fifth straight NCAA Sweet 16. If not Louisville could be looking at an NIT season, or maybe worse. But over the years we’ve learned that you can never underestimate a Pitino team, especially one without high expectations.  

    "I don't want to rebuild, I want to reload," Pitino said. 

    Photo courtesy University of Louisville Men’s Basketball Facebook Page

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